We chat to widely published and widely travelled author Antony Loewenstein about his path to the journalism trade and the place of news today, ahead of his freelancing and journalism workshop…
How did you get into journalism? Can you describe your early career?
I started freelancing in Melbourne in the early 2000s, writing for free street press newspapers. I reviewed music CDs and live gigs. It paid terribly but gave me early and vital experience with editors and deadlines. Even at this young age I didn’t think I wanted to write about music for the rest of my life (though it’s a fascinating subject), and I wasn’t overly precious about the content of my published work. My focus was getting published by-lines (in an age before the internet) and hopefully convincing editors of more major publications that I was committed and could deliver clean copy on deadline (far rarer than many people realise, editors have told me over the years).
Your work has taken you to challenging locations all over the world, including South Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine. Is there a memory or story that might surprise us?
In 2015 I travelled to the heart of insurgent territory in Afghanistan to visit a proposed mining site owned by the Chinese government. Local Afghans were caught in the middle between the Taliban, corrupt people and government officials and nobody was listening to them. I wanted to get their perspective because the longest war in US history was too often ignored in the media. I was often scared during that trip but believed that my trusted colleagues would keep me safe. A key lesson for journalists is that although you could always be in the wrong place at the wrong time it’s worth taking the time to build trust with locals in dangerous places—and take calculated risks to get the story.
Recent international events have created an environment where political figures and parties seem more fractured than ever, and fear is spreading “fake news”. What do you think is the current role of journalists and news sources?
Journalists should always be sceptical of government and business power. I’m highly suspicious of this term “fake news”, not just because it’s used and abused by Donald Trump but because there’s a long history of reporters being the conduits for officialdom. Read widely—including material with which you vehemently disagree. Our own journalism improves when we know what the opposing perspectives think and feel.
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in stepping into freelancing?
Don’t be too precious about where your work appears but get writing and published, whether it’s the local newspaper or community blog. The only way to improve your writing is to write daily and write often. Work out what you know best and practice different styles and tones. Get published with an editor with whom you can hopefully discuss your work. Ignore anybody who says that you should start trying to publish in the major media outlets first. It’s great if that happens but often it won’t. You’ll need to build up your experience first. Publish in Australia or overseas. Identity which publications suit you. If you’re asked to write 1000 words, don’t submit 1500 words. Stick to the word limit. Don’t miss your deadline.
What can we expect from your upcoming Journalism and Freelancing masterclass?
A hands-on discussion on what’s possible with freelance journalism in Australia and globally, including how to pitch to editors, finding the right publication for you, being realistic about earning money from writing and embracing the wide variety of writing in the digital age. Explanation about my own career and how it’s possible to work in both the mainstream and alternative media universes. Examining writing, podcasting, video production and book writing in the freelance world. And finally, gaining confidence in being an effective communicator and change maker in your chosen field, from social issues to politics.
Antony will be presenting a workshop on freelancing and journalism at the ACT Writers Centre on 16 September—find out more
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, documentarian and blogger who has written for the BBC, New York Times, The Nation, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age, Huffington Post and Haaretz, amongst many others. He has worked in South Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, Honduras, Israel/Palestine, West Africa, remote Australia and many other challenging locations around the world.
He is the author of three bestselling books, ‘My Israel Question’, ‘The Blogging Revolution’ and ‘Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World’. He also co-wrote ‘For God’s Sake’ and co-edited ‘Left Turn and After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine’. His latest book is Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.