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Writing phrases that people can’t forget

April 30, 2021

This week, I had the great honour of introducing a panel session featuring four of the leading figures in Australia’s technology media sector over the past 40 years. The event was part of the regular Pearcey Conversations webinar series. These are monthly panel discussions capturing the stories and experiences from people involved in the Australian ICT industry to inspire the next generation.

Tech Scribes – telling the stories of digital disruption’ was moderated by InnovationAus founder and editorial director James Riley, with a panel comprising former technology editor at both The Australian and the AFR, Helen Meredith; former technology editor of the AFR Beverley Head; and former publisher at Allure (now Pedestrian Group), former editorial director at CNET and current publisher of Byteside Seamus Byrne.

There was a lot of reminiscing about the days before digital (hardcopy and faxed press releases, writing up stories on typewriters, newspaper layouts on bromides) and the incredible ‘rivers of gold’ in tech publishing and advertising in the 1980s and 90s when there was a plethora of IT publications and The Australian’s weekly technology section took up 40 pages.

Digital technology really changed things for tech journalists from the perspective of the growth of the internet, the accessibility and removal of the barriers to entry for start-up publishers and writers with low-cost blogs and website platforms.

The other hotly discussed topic was the initial struggle to have technology stories recognised and promoted by the mainstream, something that’s now ironically suffering the reverse problem. With technology now embedded as a part of just about everything we do, the difficulty is not in getting on the front page; it’s getting the technology angle to the story effectively and accurately covered.

There were two refrains throughout from the panel – how technology journalists today no longer have the luxury of time to write their stories and the importance for publishers and editors to invest in great writing.

The issue of time is a real problem. With so much competition to get breaking stories out quickly, how do you find the time and put in the effort to produce great content?

Unfortunately, we ran out of time all too quickly, and the panel probably needed another hour to really get into the future of technology journalism in Australia.

Beverley Head did end the session neatly though with a Clive James quote on producing great writing:

“One thought at a time. Clear. Articulate. And above all, memorable, if you can be. You’d like to write phrases that people can’t forget as soon as they read them.”

Keep an eye out for a recording of the session, which should go up here in the next few days.

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