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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Anna Freeland, Arts Journalist at the ABC

12 June, 2024

Today, Medianet is joined by Arts Journalist for the ABC, Anna Freeland. Here, Anna shares what makes for a memorable piece of Arts journalism, giving us insight on what to keep in mind when pitching content to journalists and outlets.  


Hi Anna! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! Firstly, I wanted to ask how you came about writing? Your background is in performance and teaching, and so I was interested in how you made the career switch/built up your writing portfolio?

AnnaFreelandWriting has always been a part of my work, whether as a Performer, Video Producer or Journalist. But when I shifted from a career in theatre to media about eight years ago, I essentially had to start from scratch. I was exceedingly fortunate to get a foot in the door with the then TV Arts department at the ABC and learned a lot on the job. I supplemented that with a journalism degree at UTS and juggled full-time work and full-time study for three years, before worming my way into video production. That was when I started writing professionally but in a very different format to what I do now. 

For the last five years, I’ve worked as a Digital Journalist and Producer, working mostly on long-form feature stories. My former Editor, Dee Jefferson, was instrumental in my development as a Features Writer. She’s one of the few managers I’ve had who was also a mentor. She taught me to conceptualise features as a tapestry full of carefully woven ideas. She also weeded dangling modifiers out of my writing, for which I am eternally grateful for!


What do you think separates arts journalism from arts writing/criticism? Is there a difference, and how did you keep afloat of the happenings in the art sphere when you worked as a Freelance Journalist?

There is certainly a difference. Arts writing in the broadest sense is any story that engages with art. It can be conceptual, academic, practice or process-oriented, news or issues-based coverage, or human interest. Arts criticism, on the other hand, tends to fall squarely into review or opinion. There is value in both, though sadly most Australian media outlets have stripped back, if not altogether axed, their arts reporting teams. Arts writers and reviewers are an endangered species, with the vast majority working as Freelancers. 

In terms of staying abreast of what’s happening in the arts, I rely mostly on personal contacts (artists, institutions and publicists), but also press releases and the news/internet. I have a content calendar I use to keep track of the enormous amount of events and to forward-plan.


As an Arts Journalist for the ABC, what does your media cycle look like? How far in advance do you need to plan content and is there anything you wished publicists and PRs knew about your work?

It really depends on the kind of content. For topical coverage or breaking news, we don’t need a great deal of notice. For an artist profile or a long-form feature, we need at least a week, and the more material that can be supplied in advance the better. For a data-heavy feature, or a photo essay or interactive piece, we need several weeks, sometimes months. One of the most time-consuming parts of digital production is sourcing and producing images.

The thing I wish more publicists better understood is the ABC audience. Often they’ll pitch a story that is straight promotion, which is not the ABC’s remit, or something that is too narrow for our readership. It can be niche, we love niche, but it still has to be relevant. Our audience is national and fairly news-literate, so the strongest stories tend to have a newsworthy hook and, ideally, national relevance.


You cover everything from performance art, to fashion to ‘traditional’ visual art events. What draws you into a story? What’s your research process on artists like and how do you craft lines of inquiries to make them trust you, or to allow them to reveal something new (and vulnerable) about their work/practice?

What draws me into a story is mostly the “why”. Why is this artist making this statement? Why has this company programmed this show, and why now? But it’s also the individual artist or the company. Who are they? How do they make art? What is their inner world? 

I spend a lot of time researching, possibly too much. I devour everything that’s been written previously about the artist and their work and identify angles that haven’t been covered. I’ll also look at their back catalogue or, if it’s a theatre or live work, attend in person or watch an archival. I think I probably develop trust with interviewees by being transparent about the angle I’m taking and inviting input. I’ll often ask them what they want to talk about and whether I’ve missed anything.


I’m sure you’re sick to death about being asked, but what are your thoughts on AI and the impact it’s had on journos and artists? Have you used it personally and how do you think AI’s impact varies depending on the industry? (I’m of the mind that, as of right now, more creative fields have nothing to worry about but that might just be a hopeful naivete).

I’m in two minds. I think history has shown us that human beings panic at the onset of any new technology but that with time (and regulation), we simply adapt and integrate it into our lives. I suspect AI will mostly follow that trajectory. But I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet. 

It poses serious risks to the creative workforce and particularly news media, which has already been radically changed by, and remains vulnerable to, technological disruption. The threat of misinformation from AI-produced content and the likely job losses associated with increased automation are top of my list of worries. 


What has been the most memorable experience in your career so far? And where else do you hope your Arts writing can take you?

I had the opportunity to interview Kae Tempest when they came to Sydney for World Pride. I’d done a lot of research ahead of the interview, which spanned their life, music and journey with their gender identity. I saw their show at Sydney Opera House after publishing the story—which was incredibly memorable in and of itself—and they read a poem at the end which I’d asked them about in the interview. When I did, it brought them to tears, and they remarked that no one had asked about it before. When they recited the poem on stage at the Opera House, it felt like a little nod to say, thanks for asking.

In terms of future hopes, I’d love to one day head up a team of arts content-makers or lead a project that expands the role of arts in Australian media. No biggie.


Lastly, what do you think makes a memorable pitch? Have there been ones that stood out to you recently and what advice would you give to Freelance Writers and Journalists on how to pitch to different publications?

A great yarn, something unexpected or heart-rending. It has to pique the reader’s curiosity or appeal to their humanity. When pitching, ask yourself, would you read this story? If the answer is no, don’t bother. If the answer is yes, why would you read it? What’s compelling about it and why should other readers care? If you have clear answers to those questions, fire away.

For Freelancers, take the time to look at the types of stories published by the outlet you’re pitching to and the styles/formats they work with. What haven’t they covered? Start there and pitch it in a format they use. There’s probably a good reason they work in that format, and it’ll be easier for the Editor to envision your story alongside existing output. Where you can, pitch exclusives.

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