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5 Questions with Kate McClymont AM

Kate McClymont

Award winning investigative journalist Kate McClymont AM will be giving the inaugural Women in Media Oration Honouring Caroline Jones AO on 8 August, a gala dinner taking place the evening before the 2024 WiM Conference.


A ten-time Walkley winner, McClymont is one of Australia’s most celebrated investigative journalists. Since starting out as a cadet on The Sydney Morning Herald in 1985, Kate has become known for exposing corruption in politics, trade unions, sport and horse racing – despite multiple threats to her safety. She won the 2002 Gold Walkley for uncovering the Canterbury Bulldogs salary-cap breaches, and her investigations led to a five-year jail term for corrupt former Labor MP Eddie Obeid.



Q1. What has been your best career move?


Choosing journalism over law. I started out studying arts-law at Sydney University, but swapped to do an honours year in English literature. It was really just running into somebody at a party who’d got a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald; I thought, “I’d love that.” The next year, I picked her brain and got a cadetship. In journalism, every day you learn something new, you talk to different people, and it's sometimes like being part of history. I absolutely love it. When people say, “Do you think you're about to retire?” I say, “No, I'll be found face-down dead on the typewriter.” I couldn't think of a better way to go.


Q2. What do you think the media industry will look like in 10 years’ time?


A: We’ll probably see the end of the print product. It worries me as to where advertising is going to come from, how journalism is going to be sustainable, but I think one thing that’s emerged in recent years is the trust people have in quality products. It's good for people to know that there are certain journalists, certain outlets, where the story’s been fact-checked and it's reliable. Digital is actually a fabulous way of telling stories. You can see how long people are engaged in certain stories, what people like to read about, and the analytics make you more conscious of storytelling. It doesn't matter how fabulous your investigative piece is, if you don't make it interesting and accessible, people turn off.


Q3. Do you have a professional hero?


Mine were the women I worked with: Marian Wilkinson, Colleen Ryan and Sue Spencer. I met Marian and Colleen at The Times on Sunday and Sue Spencer when I worked at Four Corners for two years in the late ’80s. Marian and Sue went on to be executive producers of Four Corners, and Colleen became editor of the Fin Review. Not only did they make it seem possible, they were willing to share values, ideas and the craft of journalism – how to go about it. The first Walkley I won was for a story with Colleen Ryan on the missing millions that a partner from law firm Allen, Allen and Hemsley had taken [predecessor of what is now known as Allens]. Working with her as a young journalist was fabulous.


Q4. What’s the best advice you've been given?


When I was a cadet in 1985, one of the long-term Herald news reporters, Malcolm Brown, gave us a pep talk, and I remember him so clearly saying to treat all people with equal respect, whether you're interviewing a prime minister or an accused murderer. If you give your word, keep it; don't ever become a churn-and-burn journalist. You only have one name, so make sure it's a good one. He also said things like, “Make people feel like they matter. After you've done a story, write them a letter and thank them for their help.” To this day, I still do that. On the weekend, we did a story on Channel Seven, and there was a woman who had given me information and then said, “I've changed my mind. Please don't use that information.” It was absolutely crucial to the story, but you just have to say, “Okay, I respect your change of mind. I'm sorry that you're going to do that.” And then sometimes people come back to you. You just have to be patient and try not to give journalism a bad name.


Q5. What is your proudest achievement?


When it was announced that Eddie Obeid was going to jail, I sat at my desk and wept. It was 20 years of really hard work and I think I suffered a lot covering that. I mean, we were successfully sued by Eddie Obeid, he said dreadful things about me in Parliament, he hired private investigators to follow me. I don't know whether it was my proudest moment or just a great sense of relief. It's rare that you have a job where you can actually make a difference – you can hold people to account. You can do things for people who don't have a voice. It's something you have to cherish, but it also comes at a cost. It's not easy. And the night before some of the big stories are about to be published, you feel nothing but sick. Have I got everything right? Have I double-checked those quotes? It's incredibly stressful, but also incredibly worthwhile.





Kate McClymont AM epitomises the pinnacle of journalistic excellence. She is an unparalleled storyteller whose candid voice, delightful wit and forthcoming remarks as the inaugural Women in Media Oration Honouring Caroline Jones AO speaker promise to captivate us all.

Interview by Susan Horsburgh


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