Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Duncan Hughes started his journalism career in school and university newspapers, before a cadetship in 1980 at The Herald, Melbourne, led to opportunities in Europe, Asia and the US.
Duncan says the move overseas landed him in the world of finance, where he has worked since.
“I left Australia with two skills basically. One was police reporting and the other was politics, and when you arrive in London, especially a competitive place like Fleet Street, it’s pretty useless really,” he says.
“You’ve got the basic reporting skills but you don’t have the local knowledge, and that’s what they’re after. So I had to go onto the trade papers and work my way onto The (London) Daily Telegraph.”
Duncan went on to report in Hong Kong and later New York as a Wall Street correspondent. He returned to Australia in the early 2000s and has worked in various roles at The Age and AFR for the past 18 years.
He describes the changes to the media industry throughout his career as “revolutionary”.
“In those days [when I started] as a news reporter, if I went out on a job one of the first things you had to do was do a reconnaissance to find out where the public telephone box was, and if you couldn’t find one you literally had to bang on a door and ask to use someone’s phone,” he says.
“You didn’t go back to the office to write the story, you telephoned it in. You compose it mentally and then you speak it on the phone to a copy taker. From the production perspective, it was just a completely different era. The change has been huge and fast.”
Duncan says the trick to surviving as a reporter in the rapidly changing digital world is to continue focusing on writing news the public wants to read.
“Overall I’m reasonably optimistic. People these days, their appetites for consuming media has changed. They’re using mobile phones and other digital technologies a lot more. The actual readership is increasing, it’s about monetising that readership,” he says.
“Papers like the Australian Financial Review — they’re doing really well. It’s really a matter of adjusting to the new environment.”
Duncan focuses on personal finance, often writing about property investment.
“You can normally find an angle from major events that are happening around us at any time… All those issues have a personal finance twist to them, so it gives you an opportunity to go out into the world and talk to people,” he says.
“You have to use your imagination in this game, look at different angles, talk to different people.”
Duncan’s pitching preferences:
“[Put] the story in the intro. What’s happening? What’s new? Why would anyone be interested in it? How can they use this information? Basic stuff like that.
“It’s about news judgement. Something which is topical, fresh, interesting, new, and succinctly expressed. Just saying crisply what’s going on and why.”