Meet the new Centre for Advancing Journalism Director

In January this year, broadcaster and academic Andrew Dodd commenced as Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism (CAJ). We sat down with Andrew to discuss the future of journalism and his vision for CAJ.

As the new Director of the Centre, what are your plans?

Well, the Centre is here to advance journalism. The task is as simple and complex as that. We do this in all sorts of ways, including research and teaching and by engaging in public discussions about the important role that journalism plays in society. There's probably never been an era when journalism has been so complicated. It is, arguably, the industry most affected by digital disruption and this creates all sorts of threats to quality reporting. But at the same time countless new forms of storytelling are emerging and there are now wonderful opportunities to report in new and exciting ways.

So I'm very happy to be here in the midst of all this change. On the teaching front the Centre hosts two Masters degrees, the Master of Journalism and the brand new Master of International Journalism. These are taught by some of the best practitioners in the business - multi award winning reporters with decades of experience and loads of passion for the craft of reporting complex stories for wide audiences. The University of Melbourne journalism program will keep on developing as a centre of excellence for teaching, so that students are producing great work while they’re with us and so they are ready to make valuable contributions when they graduate.

We've placed the centre's publication, The Citizen, at the heart of what we do. Students are encouraged to publish their work early and often during their degree. Jo Chandler, the editor of The Citizen, and all the teaching team, mentor work to publication-standard. I believe the only way to really learn how to do journalism is by actually doing it. And the doing may as well be relevant and useful for broad audiences, which can benefit from the investigations and reporting being done by students.

You speak about learning through doing, but are we talking about new ways of doing, given how much the industry has changed in the last ten years?

The traditional skills of reporting, including researching, interviewing, writing and fact checking, haven't gone away. In fact, they're probably more important now than ever. But nowadays there is also a never ending quest to stay connected to what's new and what's about to emerge. We know students are more employable when they have multimedia and social media skills and are across the latest apps and trends, but we also know that the most important attributes are the curiosity and rigour to know what a story is and the dedication and skill to report it well. That's what drives the way we teach.

One of the things I enjoy as a journalism academic is finding ways for journalism students to make a real impact. In 2014, I initiated a project called UniPollWatch which brought together a bunch of unis across Victoria to cover the state election. That was then rolled out at a national level in 2016, when we brought together 28 universities across Australia for the federal election.

Now I'm editing a new publication called The Junction, launching in August or September. This will create a publication that sits above all of the journalism schools and is about aggregating the very best of all the student journalism from around the country and putting it on one platform. The students will get access to national audiences and several universities can join forces to provide coverage of complex topics.

Doing things with impact and creating new channels for students to produce meaningful work is an important way for the Centre to further its mission.

What about the Centre's work in research and engagement?

We're currently involved in several research projects. One is about mapping the seismic shifts that have affected Australian journalism since 2012, and what the loss of 3000 jobs has meant to the industry. I've been looking at how journalists have reinvented themselves and found new ways and platforms to continue journalism work. Within the Centre there is expertise on ethics and privacy, and in the use of social media. The Centre has led research projects about Indigenous storytelling, new forms of newsrooms, engaged journalism pedagogy, reporting on family violence and several other topics. Excitingly, the Centre is developing expertise in podcasting and teaching audio techniques. Louisa Lim's podcast, The Masterclass is a powerful showcase for some of these skills.

Engagement-wise, the centre has a key role in keeping the conversations going about how to make journalism better and how to give it a secure future while adapting to change. We recently announced a new partnership with the Guardian; and Walter Robinson, editor-at-large of the Boston Globe and leader of the Spotlight Team's investigations into abuse in the Catholic Church, delivered the 2018 A.N Smith Lecture for Journalism on the power of investigative journalism against the excesses of power. We also teamed up with the Dart Asia Pacific Centre to provide workshops for working journalists and our own students.

What is the new partnership that the Centre has with the Guardian Australia?

The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust has been established to provide funding for journalism projects at the Guardian and educational activities at the Centre for Advancing Journalism.The aim is to advance public discourse and citizen participation in issues such as the environment, Indigenous affairs, human rights, inequality and governance and accountability. This partnership with the Guardian is unique because donors are able to support investigative journalism and also invest in the next generation of journalists at the Centre for Advancing Journalism.

As a result of this partnership, which is generously supported by philanthropists, there are some exciting investigative journalism projects at the Guardian. Our students are involved as interns. In addition, The Guardian is helping to mentor students in the journalism program as they write on complex topics, some of which are considered for publication by the Guardian. So what's not to like? The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust is supporting investigative journalism and it is ensuring our graduates have the best opportunities to be ready for a career as working journalists.

How has journalism changed in the last ten years?

Andrew Dodd
Andrew Dodd

Journalism has gone through profound changes. We're moving from industrial newsrooms to post-industrial environments, meaning that many of the traditional processes, like sub-editing, reporting rounds and specialist photography, can no longer be relied on.

The funding sources have been severely challenged and the advertising has migrated to platforms like Facebook and Google, which ordinarily don't create journalism. The audiences have shifted from analogue delivery platforms to very fractured, sparse, disparate environments, but on the plus side everyone has a platform now to publish and the barriers to entry for journalists have almost disappeared.

The key skills of journalism are still required. Researching, writing and making sense of it all still matters, particularly amid the plethora of fake news. Approaching the reporting task in thorough, non-partisan ways and seeking to inform audiences so that people can make up their minds is still a worthwhile cause.

The appetite for good reporting has not gone away. People still want to read great stories and they want to trust what they’re reading and watching.

Compare training a journalist today back to when you were a student, what has changed?

When I was trained, journalists tended to simply impart information. These days, you are part of an ongoing conversation with your audience, which generates news to a degree that it never did, the audience answers back immediately and corrects you on the spot. And increasingly as a journalist you have to be able to create and sustain your own audience.

The days where you walked into a traditional media house such as Fairfax or the ABC or Channel Nine and were given a job for life have gone. Work is more precarious, but work in every sphere is like that, so journalism is like many other industries. But it still has the capacity to take you places and open doors and allow you to satiate your curiosity and question people in power.

Prior to your role at the Centre for Advancing Journalism, what did you work on?

I was the coordinator of the Journalism program at Swinburne University from 2011. Before that, I was at The Australian newspaper as a media, business and features writer, after working as a reporter at the 7.30 Report. I was also a broadcaster at ABC Radio National, where I started a program called The Media Report and worked across the network as a program presenter and as a documentary and feature maker. I've also worked for Crikey as a regular media writer after stints in public radio and at Radio Netherlands where I was a broadcaster.

Most people in this industry have moved around a bit. I think I've been lucky in that I've had grounding in radio, TV, print and online. The various mediums are similar in many ways, while being different in others, but I feel comfortable working in any of them. These days it's vital reporters have the skills to move across media to tell stories in the best ways.

Why did you want to become a journalist?

I think curiosity. Like any job, journalism can be dull. But it can also be a bit of a lurk, in that you get to observe the most extraordinary things up close. You get to be in the room when really wonderful, interesting and challenging things happen, and you get to go to the field and see the full panoply of life's experiences. For people with wanderlust or insatiable curiosity, journalism can be a great life.

Do you have a highlight?

I have done a lot of reporting overseas, and I can't think of many jobs where you can be in the Antarctic reporting from a zodiac floating around icebergs, and then in Iceland speaking to the President, or interviewing people during a famine in Africa or sitting down with a future leader of South Korea. I think of some of the tense on-air interviews as highlights. They're scary and challenging but when they work, they can be very rewarding.

What advice do you have to give to the next generation of journalists?

Be realistic that some journalism jobs have changed in character. But remember it has always been the case that those who show aptitude and are committed to finding outlets for their work, and who are prepared to challenge themselves by working in regional or less glamorous areas of journalism, are likely to be the people who get ahead.

One of the things I think the Centre for Advancing Journalism is good at is helping students make connections with industry, so that students who want to give it a real go have the very best opportunities and the best possible training to enable them to get there.

Find out more about the Guardian Australia partnership