Interview - Tim Wallace

Interview with Tim Wallace, Freelance Journalist - 15th May 2003

What's your background?

I grew up in Perth. I have a degree from Curtin University, where I majored in Politics and Journalism and edited the student newspaper. I moved to Canberra in 1997 after being offered a job in the public service, where I got a cadetship at the The Canberra Times. I worked there for two and half years then went to work for the Australian Financial Review. I quit in late 2001 to pursue freelancing.

What do you prefer to write about and why?

I'm broadly interested in public policy, politics, economics and social issues. I'm more specifically interested in sustainability and economic democracy. I also write about management and media. I try to write about what I think is important. I see the media's role very much as the fourth estate, providing the information necessary for an informed citizenry to participate in democratic decision-making.

Did you choose the media business, or did it choose you? - explain?

I chose it, with a little help. I struck out on jobs all over the place, including making it to the penultimate round at the West Australian and The Age before the editor of The Canberra Times, Jack Waterford, took pity on me and gave me a job.

How has the internet helped and hindered you?

It's a huge resource. I can't imagine how I survived without it. That said, it's important to recognise that the internet is an imperfect and incomplete reflection of the world, and real journalism should reach out and explain that world rather than just what makes it online.

What other media figures and journalists do you respect the most and why?

It would be easier to ask who I don't respect, but two who I respect enormously are Michael Travis and Tom Phelan, both veteran subeditors who I was privileged to work with. Both taught me very different lessons about the craft - Michael more a pedant, Tom more a word-player - but both demonstrated the beauty of journalism as a life-long vocation

What's the biggest news story you have broke?

The story I'm still probably the proudest of was a feature on serious deficiencies for the funding procedures of the National Landcare Program, which indicated a clear lack of accountability of funds that were already insufficient to redress large-scale environmental degradation like dry-land salinity. It was published just as I left the Canberra Times and seemed to change nothing.

What aspect of media do you most enjoy?

Personally I like the fact journalism is one of very few jobs in this day and age that I can think and say what I like and not have to think about the need sell a line or product. I don't want to be a salesman. I want to have independence of mind. I have colleagues who have jumped across to public relations but to me that is a quantum leap - the antithesis of what attracts me to journalism.

What are your aims and objectives?

In line with the above, but with more money attached.

Who do you balance the media business and having a social life?l life?

I try not to work too many night shifts.

What is the most dangerous work situation you have been in?

I was doing something I didn't like but was getting well-paid for it.

What motivates you?

A mix of social conscience and self-obsession.

What advice do you have for others looking to break into journalism?

It's an unglamorous business, so be in it for the right reasons. Be prepared for your high-flying career to take a lot longer to pan out than you anticipated. At least, that's my experience. But don't give up. Or in.

What news media websites do you most often frequent?

The SMH, The Age (for AFL news), The Guardian, Crikey and Indymedia (though the latter two less and less). I also like Arts and Letters Daily.

What is next for Tim Wallace?

Well, if you've got any rich mates who want to bankroll a magazine, let me know.