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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Tom Hartley, Freelance Journalist

06 June, 2024

This week, Medianet is joined by Freelance Journalist and Director of Middleman Media, Tom Hartley. As a Broadcast Journalist, Tom delves into how this medium has been impacted by social media’s growing presence, as well as how PRs can be taken off the digital page and onto the screen. 


feadb1a904dc79c8Hi Tom! After having worked for Seven Network for over a decade, I want to ask what prompted the shift to become a Freelance Journalist?

There’s no simple answer. Many of us, of all professions, face such moments in our careers. What else can I achieve here? When’s the right time to move on? 

Seven was a supportive environment, the newsroom was a tremendous place to work and my bosses allowed me to push the TV news envelope every day. Ultimately though, I wasn’t satisfied, so I left to explore my creative and professional potential.  

I’ve since found support from colleagues across the industry, and feel privileged to work in newsrooms with people and programs I’ve always admired. I’m balancing that with running my own media business, Middleman, specialising in media training, consulting, PR workshops, and media production. 


What does your media cycle look like now compared to before? And as a Freelancer, what are some differences that you’ve noticed in regard to how different outlets plan and produce their content?

Every show is different, so every newsroom functions differently. Like every business, operations are limited by resources and manpower. In my experience, success often depends on the ability to do the best work with the cards you’ve been dealt with. Some teams are smaller, with tighter deadlines, but find success and triumph by making quicker decisions and not spreading themselves too thin. 

Some things are also inherent in every newsroom, at least those I’ve chosen to work in. Journalists are proud, integritous and competitive. They want to tell interesting and important stories. They’re all up against deadlines and everyone wishes they had a longer duration or word count for their story.


Have you always wanted a career in journalism? How has the industry changed, particularly in the advent of social media and AI?

Pretty much but not as a reporter. When I was a boy, a ‘7 Local News’ crew came to my primary school to do a story about Easter. I thought the camera was the coolest thing ever so I wanted to be a news cameraman then. Come adulthood and a passion for presenting stories to people, I signed up for Journalism at QUT who ran an incredibly hands-on degree. There I took to broadcast news like a pig to mud. 

The industry’s changed immensely though. In 2013, as an Associate Producer in Brisbane, part of my job was writing a few, brief news posts daily on the 7 News Facebook page. Now there are hundreds of digital media news roles across the country, such is our audience’s insatiable appetite for news content. 

Social media allows everyday people to make their own news, to tell stories and share content without having to go through mainstream media channels. That in itself comes with its own risks because online is where misinformation stews and festers. In a way, social media is also driving competition in mainstream media circles. Everyone’s competing for the same eyeballs and we all want to engage our audiences for as long as possible.  

Most Australian newsrooms are now fine-tuning their ‘digital-first’ approach. Viewers and readers don’t have to wait for the nightly news or the morning paper for the details. They get it right away. But that means journalists need to be extra careful when verifying information. We’ve seen plenty of failures in this space this year. You’re better to be second and accurate, than be first with false news. 

AI in Australia demands more attention and regulation. We don’t want to end up with robots or deepfake news readers presenting information written by chatbots, though in other parts of the world, it’s already happening! AI can’t yet replicate the soul of a creatively produced piece of news or feature writing but I fear the day any of us solely rely on AI to do our job. What happens to independent commentary and scrutiny then?


What role do PRs play in your journalistic practice? And what makes an effective and/or memorable PR?

I cover this extensively in my workshops. Simply put, the most successful PRs are those who know exactly what a journalist needs to tell a news story.

Journalists are not mouthpieces for your clients’ products. There are 6 key elements every story needs, and if you prepare and position your pitch with those in mind, you’re in for a certain shot at getting published or broadcasted.


Could you also tell me more about Middleman Media? Where do you want to take this venture and how do you hope it can impact the Australian media/news landscape?

There’s a huge gap between Journalists and PRs. If you’re in either role, you can see it, you can feel it. The relationship is fractured. 

In my experience, most PRs don’t understand what journalists need, and journalists don’t give you much leeway. If you’re in a PR or comms role, you know what I’m talking about. Your emails and texts get ignored, and your clients get frustrated. The pressure’s on. 

Middleman Media fills the gap, acting as the name suggests, a conduit between businesses and audiences. For PR, I help them prepare, position and pitch stories and content that journalists actually want. The end goal for my clients is to build their reputation to the point where they’re considered a reliable source of news content. 

I also have a really unique and personalised media training platform that goes beyond the typical ‘what to say and how to say it’. We think of the bigger picture: the audience, the platform, the outlets you should be targeting, and the reputation you’re building. It’s a combo of strategy and performance training. 

My favourite service remains storytelling so I’m also passionately making video productions for companies who don’t want just another generic corporate video. You know the ones.


Besides the medium and form of content produced, how does broadcast journalism differ from ‘traditional’, written journalism? How has it evolved and what are the particular challenges that Freelance Broadcast Journalists face?

I think the biggest standout difference between broadcast and traditional written journalism is perhaps an obvious one. Broadcast journalism, to me, is far more visceral. You can hear the quiver in someone’s voice, you can see a tear forming in their eye, you can feel what they’re going through. Broadcast comes with visual and audio aids that, when used creatively and deliberately, can create more of a cut-through than the written word. 

The biggest changes facing the sector at the moment is a mix of viewer despondency, as well as resourcing and budgets. We’re competing for eyeballs and attention (i.e. revenue) with social media and streaming services. So naturally, the budgets go down while the workloads increase. 

Journalists are required to do more with less, often driving them to exhaustion. It was hardly a decade ago that an entire TV newsroom produced only the 6 pm news. Nowadays there seems to be fewer people producing much much more. Morning, afternoon, late, digital. All of the news. I’ve also witnessed a lot of industry colleagues, very young and very enthusiastic, suffer burnout at an early stage in their career as a result. The most successful workplaces are those that ensure their people are giving their best at all times, not giving their all at the best of times.


And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?

I open emails that have simple, intriguing subject lines. I continue reading if the pitch has a genuinely newsworthy hook. My interest piques further if it’s topical, and relevant to my viewers and my interests. 

I respond to pitches that are sent to me directly, by someone who’s put thought into their pitch and knows I’ve covered similar stories. The big winners are those who’ve done the above and pitched all the elements I need to take this idea off paper and onto TV. 

The aforementioned is exactly what I teach in my workshops. I want to help clients help my journalism colleagues who are always receptive to a good idea, and a good story.

Medianet is the ultimate PR platform connecting you with media contacts and outlets to get your story told.

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