Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Nic Stuart, Editor-in-Chief at abilityNEWS
Nic Stuart was incredibly lucky.
When he was working as the ABC's Bangkok Correspondent in the '90s, another car smashed into the back of his. A tuk-tuk driver plucked him from the wreckage and he kept breathing until he was being examined by a doctor. Now, decades later, he's beginning a new start-up, abilityNEWS, dedicated to providing news and information for other people with disabilities like himself.
What is abilityNEWS and how will it be different from other outlets in reporting relevant information for the disability community?
What we won't be doing is 'disability porn'. Those are the stories about how marvellous so-and-so is, because they've overcome their problems to do something normal. Instead, we'll be dissecting what's really happening - true journalism and not pap pieces. We'll be running stories about people with disabilities, sure. But this sector is a rapidly developing $40 billion business story that's not being properly told. It's a finance story. It's a political story. It's a technology story. What we're going to do is report it like the huge news it is, in every dimension. Disability is the vital background - but that doesn't mean it will be the focus of every piece.
Before founding abilityNEWS you had a long and successful career as a journalist, reporting on both foreign affairs and domestic politics. What led you to focus on providing information and reportage for the disability community?
Writing a column (and three books) on politics helped me understand Australia, and reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq allowed me to feel as if I'd closed off that personal need to work as a foreign correspondent. But what's led to the creation of abilityNEWS is opportunity. It's a huge story which, until now, hasn't been properly reported. Disability shouldn't be relegated, providing the 'soft' news at the end of the bulletin. It's a huge story and one we intend to cover properly.
Disability is often seen as a monolithic issue/community. How can abilityNEWS be a platform that caters to the diversity of people and needs within this community?
We'll simply be representing reality. If we're going to report what's really happening we've got to be prepared to engage with the diversity of what's happening in society. People are different. Although our media usually focuses on the so-called 'hard news' - like politics and business - the reality is, life is complex. We want to expand our offerings to meet that reality - not just in terms of subject matter but in the way we report, using audio and video to help stories really come alive.
You’ve taught journalism for the University of Canberra and have mentioned that students undertaking journalism degrees are often uninterested in what they consider to be a ‘niche’ topic. What misconceptions do you want to disabuse the general public about regarding disability?
The critical thing is to understand that abilityNEWS is not just about doing the same old journalism in the same old way. We're about creating a community. We want to explore the frontier of journalism and find new ways of working and find new ways of engaging with society. Although much of our journalism will be traditional reporting, sometimes our product will look more like creative writing as it challenges established patterns of thought. We want to be on the frontier of journalism and take risks to tell the real stories in all their complexity.
What perspectives and stories are you most interested in featuring, and how can writers across Australia reach out to contribute?
We're a start-up. What's critical is moving to scale quickly. This means generating copy, trying out new things, and getting it online. It would be great to hear from anyone who wants to be involved. We're based in Canberra but we want to offer stories from everywhere, so I'm really keen to listen to any ideas. The internet means journalists and editors can be based anywhere. The one thing we can't create is the enthusiasm and desire to get involved.
In what other ways or areas can people help abilityNEWS?
We're keen to hear from anyone who wants to get on board with our start-up. We're just beginning, so there's a lot of opportunity for people who want to carve out their own way of working. Our publication is about difference and we will be working hard to ensure that we embed this understanding in the way we work. We've got (a bit) of money; what we need to do now is turn that into brilliant journalism!
And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?
Ideas and enthusiasm are the key attributes I'm looking for. These are far more important than experience because we can work with you when you come across problems. What we need are journalists who are keen to follow projects through and who want to create change in our society. We're really keen to hear from anyone who wants to contribute. Please feel free to reach out to me via email!