Editor, The Australian
Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) 1995
Editor of News Corp’s national daily newspaper, The Australian, Clive Mathieson began his career as a cadet at The Advertiser in Adelaide 23 years ago. The product of a style of in-house training that has disappeared from many news outlets, he has witnessed some massive changes in news delivery over the past two decades.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from UniSA in 1995, Clive cut his teeth working in The Advertiser's business section, before moving to Sydney to be business reporter at The Australian. He spent three years as business correspondent at The Times in London before returning to The Australian in 2002 to become business editor. After working in several senior editorial roles at the paper he was appointed editor in 2011. He enjoyed a stint on secondment with The Wall Street Journal in New York in 2013.
Clive shares some of his career highlights and insights into the craft of journalism in the digital age.
Which stand-out moments in your career are you most proud of?
Personally, getting a page one splash in The Times of London, one of the world’s great newspapers, stands out. Professionally, seeing the positive effects of some of the campaigns we have run on issues such as the education and living conditions of indigenous Australians. It might sound like a marketing line, but getting justice or action for the voiceless, changing the place for the better, is what it’s all about.
With the pressures of the 24 hour news cycle, fragmented audiences and multiple delivery platforms, what are key challenges you face to keep a national daily newspaper afloat?
There’s been an enormous change in the newspaper industry in the past 20 years. When I started at The Advertiser in Adelaide, there were words and pictures published once a day (in black and white). Today, we publish 24 hours a day on multiple platforms – the newspaper, tablets, websites, mobiles and, soon, watches and who knows what else.
But the underlying business has not changed; it’s quality content that keeps readers coming back and, hopefully, paying for it. If, like The Australian, you hope to charge readers for your content, you need to provide something that is unique, compelling and not available elsewhere. We can’t compete with the Daily Mail for celebrity news, for example. Chasing traffic with ‘clickbait’ would just destroy what the paper stands for. Instead, we can provide the best political and business news in the nation - news that a smaller but dedicated audience is prepared to pay for.
Some outlets – new, like Buzzfeed, and established, like the Daily Mail – will give their content away for free in the hope of building an audience large enough to make money through advertising. Others, like The Australian and other major newspaper groups, believe subscriptions are the way to go. Some have a mix. It’s a real challenge and no media outlet has found the perfect solution.
You must have met some impressive people in your time as a journalist in London and Sydney. Can you think of three or four with whom you'd like to share a long Sunday lunch?
I’ve had fleeting interactions with Clive James, in London 15 years ago and in my current role more recently. He’s one of the nation’s greatest exports, a true genius, and would definitely be there. This will sound like sycophancy, but one of the advantages of working at News Corp is the opportunity to spend time with Rupert Murdoch. He’s controversial, of course, but he’s among our most successful global business leaders, he’s incredibly insightful, passionate about topics such as education and health, and constantly curious – about the world, about technology, about the future of the media. More recently, I’ve met the former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir. I’d often wondered what the fuss was about when others raved about her, but she truly is an extraordinary, deeply engaging woman. What she has given to the country, and to worthy causes, is beyond measure. If there’s a theme there, it’s older Australians who’ve lived a life and have something to offer younger generations.
What advice do you have for today's graduating journalists trying to break into news — is deep-end therapy still part of the learning curve?
Despite all the technological advances, it’s the story-telling that keeps people coming back. And the basic rules apply: break news; be concise; be fair to all sides; be accurate; keep comment out of straight news reports; humanise stories.
Sadly, there are fewer old hands in journalism these days to help the younger ones. There’s less formal training so it’s much easier to pick up bad habits (I see so much commentary masquerading as news these days – and some grammatical howlers). Thankfully, some outlets, like News and the ABC, remain committed to in-house training. There is nothing better than learning on the job.
Despite all you read about the decline of ‘old media’ there is no more exciting time to be in journalism. Your opportunities for story-telling are greatly expanded – words, pictures, video, graphics, documents posted online. For good or bad, your interaction with readers is immediate. Your news-gathering sources are limitless thanks to the digital age. You have far greater access to people and information from all over the world.
It’s daunting because new competitors come along every week. But that keeps you on your toes and your journalism at its best.
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