Interview - Belinda Weaver

I/V: Belinda Weaver, Journalist, Creator of JournOz, Educator & Librarian: 1st December 2003


What's your background?

I am a librarian and Internet trainer. I have worked in Sydney and London as well as Brisbane. I have worked at the University of Queensland Library since January, 1996. During that time, I have also worked as a lecturer with the School of Journalism and Communication at UQ teaching first Computer-Assisted Reporting and then Multimedia Journalism.

I published my first book, Catch the Wave: find good information on the Internet fast, in 2003, with RMIT Publishing. I also contributed the chapter 'The computer as an essential tool' to Journalism: investigation and research, edited by Stephen Tanner, published by Pearson Education, 2003.

I created the Web site, Guide to Internet information sources for Australian journalists ( in 1998 and have been keeping it updated ever since.

I am the list owner of the OZCAR mailing list on Internet and computer-based resources for Australian journalists. This list has been running for more than three years now and has more than 320 subscribers.

I maintain the Web log, journoz:updates for Australian journalists (ISSN 1448-2762). This blog has been running since late 2002 and the full archive of entries is searchable by date or by category.

I have written a Web advice column, FindIT, for the Courier-Mail 's e-Mail section since August, 2000 and a monthly what's new column, Weaver's Web, for inCite, the news magazine of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) since July, 1999. I also contribute to the journal Online Currents and to other publications.

How, when and why did you get involved in media, and specifically journalism?

I was a liaison librarian for the Journalism Department at UQ, and became interested in improving journalists' access to online information after I realised most journalism students had no real clue about using the net for background, research or finding contacts. (When I visited the Courier-Mail in 1999, I realised that not many journalists knew much either.) I set up my Web site, Guide to Internet Information Services for Australian Journalists in June, 1998. I then set up the OZCAR mailing list so people could swap information about computerised and Web sources of information via email. I enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Journalism and taught Computer-Assisted Reporting at UQ in 2000, standing in for a journalism lecturer on sabbatical. I have since taught the CAR component of the UQ Multimedia Journalism course in 2002 and 2003. I began writing a Web advice column for the Courier-Mail in 2000 and have been doing it ever since, along with other freelance work for other publications, including some radio spots about the Net for 4BH. I set up another Web site in 1998, Foreign Correspondent, but have since transferred the ownership of this site to staff at Griffith University. I have also run a lot of training for journalists - workshops at the Canberra Times, for journalists from the Asia Pacific and for regional journalists in Australia.

What motivates you?

I like to try new things and new ways of doing things. I also like to empower other people by showing them new ways of finding and using information.

What do you prefer to report on?

I mostly write about the Internet - searching, software, tips and tricks. I would be happy to do more technology reporting and am also interested in business.

Describe your professional and personal style?

Organised, but approachable. I expect a lot from students but I give a lot back if people try. I aim high.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Getting my Courier-Mail column, getting other freelance work commissioned, having journalists and students tell me they value the work that I do, speaking successfully at conferences such as the Mediating Globalisation Conference, getting my book, Catch the Wave: find good information on the Internet fast published in 2003.

How has the Australian media landscape changed over the years, in ways that have affected you the most?

I think there is too much ill-advised opinion in papers and not enough hard news. News is also too shallow - concentrating on conflict, personalities, human interest and not enough on the issues. Also not enough background (facts, figures, statistics) is given to help people make up their own minds - there is too much 'he said, she said', most of which is achingly predictable and doesn't advance knowledge. However the growth of specialist sections has been good to me since I have been able to find a niche.

How do technologies like the Internet assist you?

They are the basis of what I do.

Describe freedom of the press in Australia?

What press freedom?

Has the Australian public become more cynical of the media, and is it deserved?

Certain sections of the media such as A Current Affair etc are a disgrace. Also news is just so shallow - the supposed 'deep' analysis is often predictable too - why not get in outside experts who really know their stuff more?

What media companies and individuals do you respect?

I generally turn to the ABC for news, and also make extensive use of the BBC and the UK Guardian. I enjoy the SMH though I think it is much too concerned with lifestyle. I respect anyone who tries to do a proper job of reporting the truth.

What are the pros and cons of new media blogs?

Great for tips, ideas, inspiration, new directions and so on. They are also wonderful mechanisms for soliciting feedback and collaboration. Cons would be self-indulgence, and an inability to sustain the medium. Starting a blog is easy - keeping it going, and keeping it interesting and relevant is the hard part.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Blogs, email newsletters, alerting services, newspapers - and just constantly thinking 'what if…?'.

Why is it important to be unique, and to find your own style?

The market is very crowded - you have to have a unique selling point, or an angle to be noticed. And I am not interested in being a clone - I have my own ideas to push.

How does one, or yourself, recognise real news from spin?

If you have sufficient information to get a balanced picture and to be able to draw your own conclusions, then it's probably real news. If something is very one-sided or superficially presented, glossing over questions that need answering, or if it seems to be just too much 'good news', then it's probably spin.

What % of a typical Australian newspaper is PR?

Far too much.

Why does some media prefer to stay away from real news, and run with spin? (I think I know the answer, but I would like you to document your answer, if your comfortable to)

It's easier. Journalists are getting lazy. They don't want to leave the newsroom and find stories - they want stories to come to them. With the millions of words pouring in to newsrooms each day from PR flaks and press releases, the easy option is to reuse them. It's harder for downsized newsrooms to find the time - or the money - to allow a journalist to follow a hunch. I also think it's a training issue - so many journalists are clueless about information online - where it comes from, which are the trustworthy sources, how does one get reliable, deep background? If more journos were trained properly, they could incorporate those skills into their reporting.

Why is your local community a great source of real news?

Because it's about what happens, and the things that affect people's lives.

Should "current affairs" programs pay for news?

No, but they probably will continue to do so - again it's laziness. Once money comes in, who knows what happens to accuracy - people getting paid for stories would have a powerful incentive to invent information, or 'spice up' the facts.

Should "current affairs" programs engage in product placement, under any conditions?

No, and certainly not without clear disclaimers.

What's your views of new car models being passed off as news?


Will the media business ever stop prostituting itself?

I'm not the best person to ask.

How do you make a positive difference in the media?

Do a good job. Be ethical and honest in your dealings.

What's your motto?

Why not?

What are your current projects?

My journoz Web log, and a new, practical book on incorporating Web research and computer-assisted reporting techniques into the daily round.


Editors note: This journalist knows her stuff. If you want real news, from someone who respects the craft of journalism, and respects their readers, you need to keep logging on to JournOz!