Daniel worked as a sportswriter for The Age and a freelancer for various digital media companies.
Highlights from the episode:
- When he started his passion in sports journalism
- His influencers and mentors
- Challenges and what he learned from it
- How he deals with public judgment
- Fave movie or tv series
- Ashley Browne
- Caroline Wilson
- Wayne Carey
- Peter Ryan
- Jake Niall
- Michael Gleeson
- John Peric
- Charlie Hapel
- Mitch Cleary
- Mark Mcgowan
- Peter Wright
Jack: Hi, I’m your host, Jack McLean. And tonight my guest is Daniel Cherny. Daniel works at CODE, he’s previously worked as a sports writer for The Age and a freelancer for various digital media companies. Highlights for this episode: we discuss the importance of having initiative and being curious to develop your craft. The key to writing a good story is including the best content at the start and thinking of what people would be talking about at the pub, also known as the ‘pub test’. Why developing your process is critical to perform at your best? How Daniel manages public scrutiny and a pressure to produce high-quality content with speed and accuracy?
Before we start this episode, for those who want our Football High-Performance Program, hit our website preparelikeapro.com, where you can sign up for a free 14-day trial. This program has everything you need to ensure you’re well-recovered and ready to attack the next game.
Now, let’s get into today’s episode with Daniel Cherny. Enjoy.
Welcome, Daniel. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Daniel: Pleasure to be here. Thanks, Jack.
Jack: Let’s dive in the very beginning of your career. At what age did you discover that you had a passion for sports journalism?
Daniel: When I think back, it was probably there even from as a very young kid, probably from as early as I can remember, which is about the age of five or six. This seems great, I suppose, developing probably before I could. Devouring the sports pages we used to get delivered at home.
Probably at the very early days I was looking through whoever I’m tipped and maybe looking through the teams. And as my grasp of English language got better, I probably read more of the actual stories themselves and looked at the pictures. And I remember going to the games as a kid and I would love to get the Footy Record and read through that stuff. My dad would record games, night games, back in the HS days, and watch it the following morning.
So, certainly I immersed myself alight. I listened to the games on the radio from very young age and commentated games in the corridor or in the backyard. So, I probably always had that sort of interest in sport, particularly footy, but other sports as well.
I played a little bit of junior sport as a kid. I was never particularly good. I generally enjoyed it, but it was very clear from a very early age, that I was never going to go into any great heights there. So, I suppose, probably from a young age, I was interested and it looked like the next best thing or the cool thing to be a sports commentator, or sports journalist, or writer, or a reporter.
I was probably always a little bit interested even in my school newspaper when I was in year 12, I always had a bit of a passion for that. I finished school in 2008 and I didn’t initially go into sports journalism. I actually studied a Commerce Law degree at Monash. To cut to the chase, I did finish it eventually, but I struggled my way through it. My heart was probably never really in it. I’d probably always had the passion for sport and media, but didn’t necessarily think it was a realistic goal to start with. Maybe I sort of thought, I never got the marks, and I’d go down a more conventional path as the others in my family had done, or some of my friends were doing. But probably after a couple of years of that, I thought, ‘Nah, I’m not really enjoying this. I want to dabble a bit on the side in sports media.’
I started up a website with a bunch of mates. I got the idea from a website in the UK called Test Match Sofa. We were doing a lighthearted footy commentary off a couch in England. And we started doing something called ‘Footy Couch’, which was streaming an AFL commentary thing for couple of years. And we actually did some shows at the company festival as well. But anyway, one thing led to another, I started doing a bit of writing for a website called Backpage Lead and did some local footy commentary and increasingly was putting my feelers out for jobs. And I’ve got a big break in like 2013, early 2014 when I was put forward for a contract at The Age. And I was very lucky to get that. And I did that for almost eight years after that and just recently moved to CODE Sports, this new startup.
I was very lucky in that respect, but, I suppose to answer the initial question in a long-winded way, it was probably from a pretty young age that there were certainly elements of passion there and it probably had to evolve over a period of time to get to 2013, 2014 and then today.
Jack: Thanks for sharing, mate. And for the openness and honesty. I think that would resonate with a few people in that you were passionate about it from a very young age. That’s not that common, but following the feeling of following the conventional path certainly is, from peers and family, and friends, and what everyone else is doing.
And you mentioned, for three to five year patch there, you were sort of exploring different avenues and trying some things out. How important, looking back now, do you think that was, like starting up a website with your mates and doing the ‘Footy Couch’, and playing around with things at the laboratory phase, let’s call it?
When you look back now, do you think that’s quite important, for those listening that might want to be a sports journalist or sports commentator, like you said?
Daniel: Yeah, I think, overall, it was. And you probably don’t necessarily realize it at the time. And, you know, I’m still myself. I’m reasonably experienced, but I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran by any stretch. But one thing I always try to impress when I talk to younger people, or even older people who are trying to make inroads into the field and it can be difficult, is that I think, more than anything, you need initiative. It’s not gonna just happen. It doesn’t just happen.
You can get luck along the way. I do believe that you make your own luck. And, for instance, my big break was definitely getting the job at The Age, but that came about after. And I was lucky in the sense that it probably didn’t take me that long. For some people it might take 10 years. I was lucky. It probably took two or three of sort of race of reasonable unpaid grit, so to speak. I think it was good. I think you show to prospective employers that you came, that you have initiative, you have ideas, you have creativity and you also probably hone some of the skills at that point as well.
And it’s interesting. At that stage in 2010, 2011, 2012, even 2013, I was probably more thinking along the lines of I was one into sports broadcasting or commentary. But I was also doing a bit of writing on the side and the writing which sort of came about as a result of some of the commentary, at least through ‘Footy Couch’. So, it was a good example of how sometimes if you go down a certain path, that can then open doors to other skillsets and in that early laboratory phase, as you called it, you end up trying a lot of different things. And initially some of the writing I was doing was quite lighthearted and almost comedic sort of writing.
I’d probably taken a little bit of that with me now, even to this probably more serious phase or genuine phase of my career. So, you do end up taking bits and pieces from it from across those early days. I suppose we’re all products of our own upbringings and experiences and journeys. And, certainly, I take things from various parts of my journey. Even though there’re probably moments you look back on thinking, ‘Oh, that was a bit cringe-worthy,’ or ‘Wasn’t that a strange period of my life?’ or something like that. But it all plays a part and it all sort of shapes who you are. And I wouldn’t change anything, really. No. It’s all made me the person I am today.
Jack: Yeah. And then, you mentioned almost like that phase where you’re building those skill sets, let’s call it ‘generalist’, which will resonate with strength & conditioning coaches listening. Two things. The importance of building different skillsets and playing around with things through experimentation, building those generalist skill sets before you specialize. And then also the hard work that you need to put in to create luck. The two to three years of unpaid work.
Talk us through your mindset in that phase. How often did you have doubt on, ‘Is there ever going to be a career here? Am I going to be a professional in this space?’ Like two to three years is a long stretch. How were you making ends meet? Talk us through sort of how you got through that phase and what your motivation was to keep yourself going for that long?
Daniel: It’s a really good question. I was lucky on a couple of fronts. Lucky, I was still living at home. I was in my late teens, early twenties, at that stage, and I was still living at home with a very good, supportive family. I had my family and everything. Even though at times you might get frustrated by some of the things they do or maybe their decisions in moments weren’t necessarily the right ones. But I always felt loved and supported. And, ultimately, my parents were always going to support me in whatever I wanted to try to do or achieve. That clearly played a big part in giving me freedom. I had a couple of part-time jobs. They gave me the money to keep me going, just have good money to live up to the uni student life. And I was still studying as well. So, it was kind of a balance at that point.
I think, ultimately, what it came down to at that point it was a passion, and I usually wouldn’t have done it, all that stuff, commentating local footy. I grew up around Melbourne, South-Eastern suburbs, and I was driving out sort of an hour every week to come and take games in the MPFL and the KCK in Young Leagues. So, far away from where I was living at the time and voluntary I was learning players’ names during the week. And we were printing off sheets and trying to find out who was number seven to two in Beaconsfield and trying to make mental shortcuts to remember names and things like that.
But, ultimately, I enjoyed it. Even though at the moments it might’ve been tedious or you might’ve been busy, or you might have had to sacrifice social arrangements, or my uni probably went by the wayside a bit. But I think, ultimately, when I look back at the things I was doing at that period of my life, I was doing it because I wanted to have a proper crack at it. And I don’t think I would’ve done that.
And I don’t want to sound like I was a hero or anything like that. I wasn’t slowing the atom or flying off, going on fighting wars or anything. I mean, it was going out and commentating footy games and stuff like that. But I think, if you have the passion, you’re willing to go and do that sort of unpaid toil and practice your writing.
And I remember I was writing for this website Backpage Lead. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but it was the most noteworthy thing I did before The Age. And I remember the first time they said, ‘Oh, we’d like to pay you a bit.’ It was like 50 bucks for an article or something like that. And the first time they said, ‘Oh, we’d like to pay you for your work. You would feel like we really appreciate it, while you’re doing the writing.’ And I said, ‘I feel bad that I’m not doing it for free.’ And they said, ‘We’d like to actually pay you something.’
There’ve been a handful of moments in my professional life where you get a real buzz. And that was a moment I thought, ‘Wow!’ Like, I know it’s not much, and it wasn’t something I was going to live off at that point. But it was like, ‘Well, my work has some sort of financial value.’ And it’s just sort of reinforced. It was the moment I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can do this. Maybe there is actually something here.’
Because until that point, when it’s just voluntary, you think, ‘Ah, am I just misguided here? Am I just like a lot of kids who would like to sort of do this? Where’s this future actually going? Is this just gonna be a little phase in my life and I’ll end up just going off and working in administration somewhere as a lawyer or sort of conventional desk job?’ Not to downplay that.
But it was a passion project and I do remember that moment. Sort of like 2013 or so, where I thought, ‘Oh, okay. Maybe there’s something here.’
Jack: Yeah. It’s a good message for those that do want to give and how much of an impact that can have. There could have been the crossroads at the start to give you a little bit, like you said, that confidence, and those little winds where they can lead to.
So, I think there’s a lot in that, there’s a lot of gems for whether it’d be developing athletes, coaches, business owners, everyone’s going to have a drive and passion for something. I certainly believe that. So, discovering it, you were lucky enough to find it at the age of five, which is very well-done. For others it might take a little bit longer, but listening to your sticking to it is inspirational, mate.
And you mentioned the importance of putting in the work in the consistency over that time and initiative. What were some ways that you would action that initiative? Is that like emails, building a network base? What an initiative mean to you?
Daniel: Yeah, I think the biggest initiative there was starting this commentary channel, this Footy Couch, which was pretty shambolic exercise in hindsight. A lot of technical difficulties. It was with a bunch of mates and we had our blues, because it wasn’t a job for us, it was a hobby. We were all trying to balance the rest of our lives around that. Rostering was an issue, and we had to go out and get some equipment and things like that. And not many people were listening. But, I suppose, from an initiative perspective that was a stand up because at least it got the ball rolling and probably opened up a couple of other doors. And it pushed that idea that, at least from personal note, I was keen to take.
And at that point it was probably just taking that somewhere. I didn’t know where that would end up. I can’t even remember what the long-term goal for that was. Because we saw this thing in the UK, which we thought was moderately successful. And from the Test Match Sofa in the UK some people have gone on to become professional broadcasters from that. So, in a weird way, it sort of has proven a bit of a pathway, that model. But yeah, that was probably the biggest initiative.
And then from there it’s just a lot of that repeat stuff. Whether it’s within that Footy Couch realm, trying to push through website redesign or advertisers or social media, which, I mean, it wasn’t an embryonic phase, but we’re talking more than 10 years ago now. So, it was a different base then. Advertising. When we started doing these comedy festival shows, which are sort of these live shows, I remember we went off and got all these flyers printed and we stood outside Richmond station handing out flyers of some early season AFL games and people getting off, and I’m not sure how many of those end up going in, but it was something. It’s emails, having ideas for stories, when I was starting to write for Backpage Lead, applying for jobs, trying to organize network, coffees, asking experienced people for advice.
None of it was groundbreaking. It was all pretty conventional, standard networking mechanisms, but it all adds up. And I say that in many respects, that actually is a great pathway for journalism, because so much of journalism is about relationships. I think most of the professional life is about relationships. Not most, but a lot of professional life is about relationships. Certainly, journalism is. And having initiative and curiosity and being willing to cold call people, cold email, cold message, whatever it is, people is a big part of it.
You want people to respond. So, you might annoy people a bit, but I think both at that stage and in the long-run, that willingness to put yourself out there is probably the only way. If you don’t do anything, nothing’s going to get done. I mean, it’s obvious. But when you talk to kids or young people trying to get into media or anything, you just say, ‘Look, you just got to do it.’ The only way to do it is to do it, if that makes sense.
Jack: Yeah, one hundred percent. And what about for yourself, like were there strong influences that you looked up to or mentors, so to speak, that you would catch up for coffees or remotely over the phone, however it might look? Or was that something that wasn’t really possible until you were working in a place like The Age and you were in environments?
Daniel: I was lucky. I didn’t grow up having an enormous network. I didn’t know a heap of people. I never used to do family background in it or anything like that in media. It was a bit of a networking thing, like my dad knew someone who was loosely involved in it and they caught up for coffee with them, and little things like that. Taking any sort of half connection you might have here or there, and trying to get some sort of advice. But in terms of major mentors early days, a couple of people I’m very grateful for. I owe a lot to them.
Ash Brown, who’s still very much in the sports media and a senior writer at the AFL Record and works for SEN, former Croc media. Just some stuff on there, but more as a writer. And he was an AFL media veteran, a long career. He was at The Age years ago and Sportle. I knew him loosely through the Jewish community, immigrants and the Jewish community. And he was someone who’d done it and provided opportunity at Backpage Lead. He was involved in Backpage Lead and he helped with that.
And the other guy was Charlie Happle, who was running Backpage Lead at the moment at that stage. So, he was giving me my regular gigs there. And it was a very good and he was a former The Age sports writer and started giving me a lot of good guidance and counsel.
So, it was probably somewhat irregular. It wasn’t as though I had someone who I was constantly asking. I wouldn’t say I had like a journalism whisperer that you would talk to every week, like saying, ‘Oh, this is what I should do this week.’ But there were just some good people, who along the journey would try to support me. They’re probably the two key ones that really pushed me along my journey, but there are several others, who through just mutual contacts I would get in touch with, or that were put on to me as sort of, ‘You know, you should talk to this person.’
And there’s been a host of people, not across my life, but across all phases of this journey continuing through my career. I’m very grateful for people for giving me their time. And even now, with younger people who are trying to break into the industry, I try to reciprocate that. Because I do think back to when I was trying to break in and you think, ‘That really does resonate.’ So, I try as much as I can.
You know, when you get a message or a call or an email or whatever, just to respond and try to organize to catch up with people or to talk to them on the phone. And even when, as a young journalist, I would have a lot of time, well, I don’t forget the people that early in my career just even came with more club contacts and things like that. Senior industry people, who were happy to give me the time of day, they’ll listen to me as a young journalist starting out.
And then when I got to The Age, I’ve been blessed really to walk into an incredible team. I’ll never forget the first Monday morning I walked in, it was early in the 2014 season. We were having a Monday meeting, Monday morning fully meeting. And I looked around. There was Caroline Wilson and Roman Connolly and Greg Baum and Mcquail, Jake Niall. These people who, growing up, I was a bit geeky, I was sort of idolizing these journalists. Well, I didn’t idolize them, I looked up to them and they were the biggest names in the industry.
Well, for one, Kerry as a columnist was there and I was just like, ‘What am I doing here?’ What am I, this 23-year-old kid with very little experience, doing here? And in their own ways all of the people I worked with at The Age have taught me a lot. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of very good mentors and sounding boards, in the very early days. A guy like John Pyrrhic, who was excellent to me. Peter Ryan in the last few years when he moved from AFL media.
But I’m a bit reluctant to even talk through, to start to individualize. I sound like a coach, but I’m reluctant to individualize, because a lot of very good advice and mentors. And there really couldn’t have been any better place to walk into, because you’re just dealing with some of the best and really all the greats of the sports media industry in this country. So, an incredible place to work.
Jack: One hundred percent, mate. You must’ve been pinching yourself in that moment, being in that meeting. What about from a mental point of view? How did you feel? Like you said, you were younger than the rest of the guy sitting in that space. So, how did you feel from a connection point of view? How did you go about building relationships? For those listening in, that are maybe just in that space now where they’re not feeling overwhelmed, but they’re like, ‘Wow, I’m in it now and now I’ve got to prove myself.’ How did you feel, looking back now? What would you say, if someone could have given you advice to help support that phase?
Daniel: That’s a really interesting thought. I suppose, I survived. I was on a 12-month contract to start with. And I got through that and I kept on there. So, I I must have handled it okay or well enough. But I think, you’re lucky, there are certain people that you’d be a natural rapport too, and some people who were always looking out for you. And I think it’s tricky, because senior people, they’ve got their own jobs to go about, and just go about their own work and everyone’s busy, and you’re in a very fast-paced, competitive environment.
And there’s no room for breathing in the newspaper space, because you’ve got the daily paper to put out and you’ve got a website to keep up and you’re always looking at short-term, long-term, medium-term, it’s all just happening quickly. I know it’s very intense at a footy club, but, conversely, in the footy club, for instance, you know you’re building up towards a pre-season. Whereas there isn’t a real pre-season segment at a 24/7/365 news outlet. It’s all the time. Every day and every minute. And that’s what’s really changed in an online setting.
I think I was probably overeager and probably stepped on a few toes. I don’t think I was terrible in that sense, but there were probably a few times where I was maybe a bit too keen. I don’t necessarily regret that. I think, you’re trying to make an impression. And it’s interesting, because people can be… Not that people want to protect their patch necessarily, but people are comfortable in their own seniority and I can understand people thinking, ‘Who’s this upstart kid, who thinks he knows everything?’ And there were probably times when I could’ve held back 10 or 20% of it in terms of exuberance or maybe played the political situation a touch better. It would’ve been well-advised. But I think, it’s never going to be absolutely perfect in that respect. But, overall, I try to be respectful.
I think, overall, I was reasonably respectful of the senior people and not interested of everyone. And I think, ultimately, you want to try to treat everyone around the office well. You just want to try to treat people well and treat them how you’d like to be treated. And that can be hard because when you come in here, you want to make a really good impression. And particularly in a job like that, where you need to have initiative and you need to have a bit of edge just to go above and beyond, probably, a lot of the best people stepped on toes at some point. So, it is a balance and I think you’d rather die wondering than not, but probably it is also worthwhile, and I imagine, it’s similar in any field, just to still remain respectful and, I woudn’t say differential, but certainly be aware of the people.
Just continue to keep in mind that the people that you’re working with have a lot of experience and they’ve probably seen it all before and they’re always worth listening to. And I think over the journey, I have taken a lot of that. That’s one thing I did do, take advice on board. I’m not saying that I always unfailingly stuck to it. I’ve made errors, continue to make errors today. You’re never perfect and you always try to learn and improve. But, for anyone, try to take on board the advice of those senior people around you.
Jack: Great advice, mate. Love that. Be yourself, go for it and push the boundaries, like you said, go above and beyond, but then also have the awareness, like you said, to pull back at times and be able to manage it. I think that’s a really sound advice for anyone listening.
What about some challenges? Is there one that stands out? A particular challenge in your career today and what did you learn and how did you grow from it?
Daniel: I think the challenges are ongoing and every day you face challenges, which makes it an interesting job and a stimulating job, but also hence sometimes a stressful job. So, that sort of the eternal tension between that is that you’re always onto the next one. Even if you have a good day, you’re usually onto the next one.
I think the hardest days have been ones where I realized I’ve got things wrong or at least gone in too early or a bit too hard or too far on things. There’re probably a couple of stories, there’s not many, but there’s probably two or three over the years. And it’s never done in the sense of you trying to make stuff up. And I think that’s where probably people misunderstand media. I’ve never known a journalist to try to make stuff up or fabricate things. It’s where you’re maybe either too trusting or not diligent enough.
And there were probably a couple of times, where I… One was quite early in my career. There’s a story that I had a couple of sources. It was about a Senkiar Football Club and a potential move to Elsternwick Park. They’ve been knocked back off junction, I think because of a state election result, and they were maybe going to be back to Moorabbin, they were unhappy at Seaford. This is more than seven or eight years ago now. And in the end it wasn’t a huge deal, but I probably wasn’t quite diligent enough in terms of going through processes. It was around New Year as well, and I think some of their staff weren’t there at the time. And I probably just rushed, jumped the gun and thought, ‘Here’s a really cool story.’ I think there was probably an element of truth to it, but it was not enough. I probably overplayed it as well.
And it was just an example of where you need to be careful. There just would have been a better way to go about it and maybe hold back for a second. I think, where journalists run into trouble and where even now we run into trouble, is that challenge of speed versus accuracy. Because at the end of the day, that’s the eternal challenge. I think that’s where most journalists get into trouble.
Ultimately, your job is to get things right and to be accurate, and to be fair. But also part of it is, especially if you’re in the news breaking scene, or even if you’re not necessarily in the news breaking scene, but you’re in the storytelling, or you’re more in a review analysis, even if you’re a feature writer, or a columnist or whatever, there’s still a timeliness element to it. So, even if you’re more writing a feature or analysis, there’s still time pressure. But particularly the news breaking sense. And sometimes you just get let down, things change and sometimes you probably just need to take a fraction of hate off a story.
Well, here’s an example that’s relatively recent. We had a story in 2020, it was during the COVID cuts and there was uncertainty about what was gonna happen with the AFL competition. And there was some strong mail that North Melbourne were pretty much going to get rid of their AFL program after one year of being a standalone again. And I knew that they made a couple of the key AFL staff redundant, I think the coach and the head of AFL. I’d had it confirmed by someone in the know that I can sort of put to them to, like ‘Are you going to AFL next year?’ And that person said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And I reached a point where I had to bring all that together. I was pretty confident this was not going to happen, they’re going to be out. And I think I wrote a story that the line was ‘the North Melbourne’s AFL program is dead or was effectively dead’.
And within a couple of months they had gathered the resources. And they have a team now. To cut to the chase, they had a team in 2021 and 2022. And I think when they announced that, I had a couple of flags from people on social media, which is fair enough, because you have to be held to account to what you write.
And that’s probably an example of a situation where I think I went through every step of the process to a reasonable degree. I used care and caution instructive at trying to solidify my facts. But it’s a good example of a time where I might have said, ‘North Melbourne’s AFL program is imperiled or is unlikely or there were grave doubts’, rather than just try to get the sensational, ‘they’re dead’.
And the truth is, you may want to do stuff with a little bit more rigor because things change, even though you’re probably right at the time. And I feel like I was always right at the time. If I’d probably given myself a little bit more of an hour, that would have been good. And that’s a good learning example.
And that was not a huge story, there wasn’t a huge amount of grief over that. But it still sits a little bit uneasily, things like that. And stuff like that, others where you rush to get stuff out, because you’ve been given good, as you believe, good sources, but you probably should be better off double or triple checking or pass it through other people. So, that’s the biggest challenge. And that’s an eternal challenge. Even today you deal with stuff like that. Every day at some level you deal with that sort of stuff.
But I think, overall, because every single moment, when you get a morsel of a story that you think you want to break it, you want it to be that sugar hit. But, ultimately, what I do at least, it’s good to remind yourself that you’d rather be second and right than first and wrong. I mean, you’d like to be both, first and right. And maybe a lot of the time you can get away with being first and 90% or 95% right. You you want to ideally get a production where you can be a hundred percent right. And sometimes to be a hundred percent right, you’re actually better off shaving off 10% of the story. So that, even if you might miss a more sensational bit, it’s more watertight, if that makes sense.
Jack: Yeah. It’s fascinating, mate. I can imagine how challenging that would be, because, like you said, every second counts and it’s super competitive. Plus, there’s high demand. So, I can’t imagine how you’d manage that. Two sides. One, it’d be interesting to hear about what coping strategies you do to be able to thrive in that environment from a mental point of view and stress?
But we’ll go first for the how competitive is it? Are you aware of other journalists, that have heard of these morsels as you’re hearing them? And then there’s a bit of banter between journos and things like that? Or is it pretty much you don’t have time to worry about what everyone else is doing, you’re just focusing on your story and then you’re waiting? Once you’ve gone through your process, the competition doesn’t matter. Talk us through about that.
Daniel: I think rarely will you know what someone else is doing, maybe within your own outlet you might know what they’re working on. Certainly, at The Age we were quite a big footy, for instance, or cricket team. And you usually have some idea of what they are working on in any given day. You do not generally have an idea of what other outlets are working on, only occasionally, very occasionally you might be tipped off. You might’ve been, say, waiting for a response from an interested party on a story or waiting for them to update you on a key detail, before you run with the story, just to make it a better story or to give a bit of due diligence, a bit more time. And then occasionally you might be tipped off, say, ‘You probably should do this now, because someone else is onto it.’ That does happen from time to time.
I enjoy having it both ways. I’m sure there have been times when I’ve been the one to benefit or to lose from that sort of thing. But I try to remain very conscious of what others are doing in the sense of, I suppose before I publish anything of any sort of breaking news significance… What might happen is sometimes you might get a piece of information and you think, ‘Oh, has that been out yet?’ Because it’s impossible to keep track of absolutely everything. And the easiest way is to search Twitter and Google to see, has anyone reported this yet? And if they have, I’ll often just drop the thing, because it’s out there and I’ve just missed it. That happens sometimes.
Usually it’s a big enough story. You’ve probably seen it. Given that it’s my job to stay on top of things. I mean, I suppose that the nature of the competitions, it’s probably like with anything with IP, you don’t want others to be aware of what you’re doing, because you don’t want them to scoop you and vice versa. But occasionally you’ll know.
And then in terms of how you deal with those stresses, I think it’s tricky because of social media and because of the internet. It can be all the time and probably early in my career, and even now you still struggle. But probably earlier in my career, I would really struggle to switch off and now I’m better at it. And because it can be a matter of seconds, rarely it’s a matter of seconds, often it’s a matter of minutes and plenty of time it’s a matter of hours. But I will try to every now and again even for a few hours a week whether it’s switching my phone off. I’ve made a considerable effort actually just before COVID, but done so for a couple of years to sort of not sleep with my phone in my room. Just because I found it very hard to switch off searching through social media or websites. Because you just get in that rabbit hole, because there’s always something more to know, and to search, and to look at, and they call it doom scrolling. And I think it’s really important to stay free. And I can tell, if there are periods where you’re like I don’t feel fresh, and you need to be able to freshen up. So, that’s a good mechanism on a daily basis.
And then for a weekly basis, maybe it’s a few hours of just putting your phone down, putting it on flight mode for a few hours. And you’d rather risk it, if you miss the call that’s bloody the story of the year. Because, unfortunately, it’s not that kind of job. If it was a nine to five job and you could sit there and you knew, if I put in the hard work for these 38 hours a week, then I’ll get X results, that’d be great, but it doesn’t work like that. So, there is a trade-off, but I think in the long-run I’ll get more out of my performance, if my time off is genuine time off. Try to make it like: when I’m working, I’m working, and when I’m not, I’m not. And try to eliminate to an extent. It can be tricky, but at least try to find some sort of clear head, like this is a time when I’m just trying not to think about it, and trying to remove myself from my phone and just spend some quality time with loved ones or just by myself, go for a walk around or something like that, all that sort of stuff.
Jack: And what about like those stories where, like you said, you reflect on them and you’re like, I still went through my process that has served you, but there was just a timing judgment, where you went a little bit earlier, particularly in hindsight, and then you cop it in social media and the way it unfolds, like the North Melbourne. How do you manage that? I mean, that would be very similar for our performance athletes, celebrities. How do you deal with that judgment on a public scenario like that?
Daniel: Look, it’s hard. It can be and a whole bunch of time it’s hard. It’s funny, like, if it’s just people who abuse you, I’m actually not as upset. Often it’s more water off a duck’s back. They just sort of outright abuse and they don’t respect someone’s opinion, and I can just tell they’re just trolling. That’s actually almost easier. Because I just disregard their opinion, because I feel as though they’re doing it to get a rise out of you. Whereas sometimes if it’s someone who you might actually respect or someone within the industry or credibility, and sometimes people should go at you, even if it’s not on social media. It might be a marketing message from someone in the industry who just was unhappy with the way something was reported.
And sometimes they’re just gonna be unhappy. And the truth is when you’re in this, you’re going to make some people unhappy by the things you reported, that you just got to cope with that. And it’s constantly sort of trying to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and trying to remind yourself, that look, this is why this has happened. I think it’s probably going through the process. But it can be emotionally draining. Because you need to try to reassure yourself that you’ve gone through the correct process. And sometimes you need to think through it.
But I think that again it’s really important that, even if you get that negative feedback, to take that on board. Because sometimes, like I know social media could be a cesspit, but there are things that you can learn from and from people, and sometimes people make valid points, and sometimes you make a minor error in the story that people pick it up. That’s one of the good things about social media. People pick it up in a minute and you change a line. But I think it’s about taking it on board.
And I think that, ultimately, what it comes down to is having people whose opinions you value and trust. If you could have people whose opinion you respect and if they are giving you feedback, you’re more likely to take it on board. And you’ll go to them, and maybe if there’s something that happens, it’s having someone to say, ‘Look, what do you think of this? What do you think of this issue?’ And talking it through with them, and then you often feel a lot more comfortable having actually spoken, talked it through with them, and they often will empathize with you. And then the other thing is just being able to put a bit of a full stop on it at least for the day, and just not taking it to bed with you, just trying to have it where you can zone out and be able to remove yourself from that spiral.
You know, have other things in your life, go and read a book. Recently, I talked to my wife about her life and her day and watched a show with her, or just anything, just take your mind off it. And I think that you try to learn, but you also try to make sure it doesn’t completely control your life. Because you can always get sucked into these sorts of vortexes, so to speak.
Jack: Yeah. And you’ve mentioned processes a few times. Over your experience what are some of the best ways that you’ve refined your processes? Is it through making mistakes and then reflecting on it or is it speaking to other mentors with experience that you work with? Talk us through that.
Daniel: I think, Jack, both of those are very good. Certainly, I think you do learn from mistakes. I wouldn’t say I’ve never repeated mistakes, but I think over the course of, say, a 10 year period or so, now I feel like certain mistakes I was making earlier are not the ones I’m making nearly as much or sort of walled them down.
Probably sometimes the emotional impact of things, like those stories, and stuffing up actually the discomfort, I don’t want to say pain because I don’t think it’s necessarily high, but sort of the embarrassment or the feeling of dissatisfaction, the feeling of I should have done better there, does drive you and does guide you. And you might only have one or two of these moments a year, where they were really quite heavy, but I think over the course of 10 years there’s probably been, say, a dozen moments like that, where you think you’ve really learned something.
And it does not settle. I’ve learned a lot, all the time. You’re always learning at some level, but I think those moments where you stuff up a bit doing it, are becoming huge learning moments because they just sit in your mind and the next time your mind recognizes patterns and you’re like, ‘Hang on, I’ve been in this position before. This is where it came to trouble.’
You know, if another situation like that North Melbourne would come up again or St Kilda… There was a story about a player injury that a couple of years ago I thought I had good mail on, but probably didn’t. That was more speed and accuracy thing. But again, it just says, ‘Oh, I’ve been here.’ And you have thought about this because you’ve been there.
And then you’re also learning from mentors and from senior people. And I was very lucky to work with some excellent people. I’ve learned from Jake Nile, a lot from certain messages, certain things that he instilled in me from very early in my career resonate to this day. Being able to write at The Age was an excellent sounding board.
I’m just lucky to have a lot of very good senior journalists I worked with. And even sometimes it’s people at other outlets who are sort of rivals or competitors. Even though you’re probably not necessarily going to talk as many of the specifics, but I don’t think he’d mind me saying, someone like Mitch Cleary at Channel 7 now, who I hugely respect and I get along with well, sometimes you can just empathize and use some war stories and it helps you in your own mind say, ‘Okay, yeah, I’m not the only one here. This person is going through this as well.’ Mark McGowan, who’s sort of now stable, made it at News Corp, is another person who I bounce things off like that a bit.
So, you end up learning from a whole range of people and from experiences. And I think ultimately that’s just professional settings in life. And you just got to continually try to make sure that you take any negative experience and turn it into, even if it’s not a positive, you turn it into something that you can learn from.
Jack: I love that, mate. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned the importance of freshening up through watching movies, reading books. That’s a good segue for the next part, which is a lighter section of the podcast, a get-to-know-you section. So, first one on that note, which movie or TV series, can be a book as well, has impacted you the most and why? This has nothing to do with journalism.
Daniel: I think it’s probably The Simpsons or Seinfeld, just because I sort of immersed myself in it as a kid and even into my adolescents and probably twenties. Both of those shows, but particularly The Simpsons, I just grew up with the Simpsons, I quote it all the time. I don’t think I necessarily learned any great philosophical things from it, but it probably shaped my sense of humor, and probably Seinfeld did too.
There were some books that we did at high school, like ‘Catcher In The Rye’, that really resonated with me. It’s quite a famous book and I remember in year 12, that was a period which was quite a transformative time in my life. And that resonated. But it’s probably The Simpsons.
Jack: Awesome. The Simpsons and Seinfeld. You can’t go wrong, relaxing session. A favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Daniel: I think the one that I said earlier today, the one that resonated. I don’t know who said it initially, but I think the idea of the pain of hard work being better than the pain of regret. I think something along those lines, I butchered that slightly. But that sort of mantra of you’d rather, I suppose it’s sort of an idea of you’d rather not die wondering, so it’s that sort of idea. You get into a situation, I’d rather scratch that itch, so to speak. And I think in my life I’ve tried to be on that side.
And sometimes you get into situations in journalism, and it’s not even necessarily about hard work, it’s just about you have to make a really awkward call or chase up a lead that’s going to be tedious and painful, but you just force yourself to do it. And often enough it ends up being worthwhile and that extra call, that extra call back or, say, someone calls you back at an inconvenient time and you just can’t really be bothered to listen to that person now, but it’s generally worth it.
I mean, obviously, as I said, it can be overkill and you’re always balancing. You know, if I take that call, I might not get a good night’s sleep and I’m better off actually waiting until tomorrow. So, there’s a balance to be struck, but I think I’ve on the side of technical most of the time.
Jack: And what about in your work life what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Daniel: I think what makes you angry as a journalist, there’s two things I ask of people who I sit on the other side of, I suppose, subjects of journalism or media managers or things like that, is not to lie and to be… I’m not saying text me back in five seconds, but to respond to you within a somewhat reasonable timeframe. So, those are probably the two things that I’ve long insisted on. Those are the only two things I think should be taken almost as a given.
Then the rest I find is almost a bonus. And I understand when there’s times people can say, ‘Look, I can’t tell you this or that.’ And occasionally, while it can be frustrating at the moment, I understand that. But I suppose it’s the lack of respect in the sense of not respecting that I have a job to do, so at least show me the dignity. Not just me, anyone that you meet, just acknowledge that I made contact with you at some point.
So, those are probably the two things that normally when people don’t adhere to, I find there’s probably been times when people tell half-truths and managed to have plausible deniability.
But when I know someone’s lied to me or someone just hasn’t got back to me for days or whatever, in some respects I forefoot in my eyes the right to not trust them the next time. You don’t necessarily warrant that. And I still will try to do so, where possible, but don’t necessarily warrant that, ‘Heads up, cool!’ or something like that. Because if they haven’t treated you with that sort of respect, then it’s questionable as to whether they deserve those. So, those are the two things that do annoy me.
Jack: That makes sense. And what about in a COVID free world what’s your favorite way to spend your day off?
Daniel: I love just being able to switch off. On a nice day I’m just going for a drive in a nice area, wherever it is. Just explore, be it driving or walks. Go down to country town or something and walk around the shops and walk around the nature. I like that. Or on the beach, or anything like that. I just like to be able to switch off. Just exploring places that I haven’t been before on a day off and it doesn’t need to be anywhere exotic, it could be another part of Melbourne that I haven’t been to for a long time, just stuff like that. Usually with my wife, occasionally by myself as well. That sort of stuff, nothing too extreme.
Jack: And you mentioned off-air, you’ve started a new job with The Code. Take us through that transition from The Age and what does a typical day look like and what are you excited about as well for the rest of the year, mate, for 2022?
Daniel: A really tough call to leave The Age who had been obviously a very renown institution in Melbourne and probably nationally, maybe internationally. So, very tough call and I’ve spent so much time with the people there, can’t thank them enough for the chance I got there. It was just probably the chance for a bit more opportunity and freedom and the chance to sink my teeth into something new, which was sort of one of those things, that was too good to pass up.
It doesn’t necessarily change my life enormously. I mean, the job is pretty similar. Probably, I’m trying not to be quite as reactive to the daily news cycle and have a bit more time to explore leads and stories and be a bit more free in terms of flexibility around the day, which has been a nice change. Again, not having to put out a newspaper as well means you probably got a bit more flexibility there, because you’re not as bound by newspaper deadlines and that sort of thing. It’s been great to get the chance to sink my teeth into some longer form stuff and I have the chance to explore various stories and be proud to provide a new offering in the market.
I think there’s a lot going for the site. So, for the rest of the year, we’re sort of pretty fresh into the men’s footy season, so it’s still probably a little bit about finding what a standard week looks like. But it’s, hopefully, trying to, just given the chance, to remove ourselves from the daily news cycle a little bit, and that’s not to say I’m not still trying to break news, because I am.
But to be able to tell some stories that maybe haven’t necessarily been as explored or even just tell stories that at the time might be a little bit off to the side, but to explore a bit more deeply. And I talk to some players that maybe are a bit off the beaten track, some issues in the game, in footy and cricket, the two sports I’m going to cover, and some just different titles and, hopefully, provide some nuance and analysis and insight and provide the reader with something that, I think, is interesting and worth subscribing to.
So, that’s ultimately it. And that can come in various guises, but that’s sort of it. Just trying to provide good, engaging contents and try to continue to produce good journalism.
Jack: And on that note, for the young journos out there, what is your philosophy with a good story? Like how do you engage a reader? How do you hook a reader on with the title? And then, of course, provide good content that follows up with that title? What are some key pillars, I guess, to a good story?
Daniel: It’s a great question. And it’s one we still grapple with every day. Headlines are important and because of the social media headline agent… 40 years ago you would just pick up the newspaper and whatever was in it that was the news. And you just read the whole thing and you’d say, ‘Oh, that was interesting, that headline and that picture.’ Or you turn on the TV and whatever’s there is there and it caught your attention or it didn’t. Whereas now it’s such a shouting contest because there’s so much out there.
I think it’s really important if you’re writing, to try to get the best stuff at the top, whatever that is, just whatever’s most interesting. A few of the really good principles I was taught were, if there’s an anecdote or a story, say, you’ve done a profile piece on someone or even on a team, get that most interesting anecdote up to the top as a hook, whatever the most interesting topic is.
Michael Gleason, who is my former colleague at The Age, gave me a really good tip pretty early on after I’d sort of slightly not bundled, but probably just hadn’t caught up with the most newsy thing at the top. And he goes, ‘What are people talking about at the pub?’ The pub test, you know. Imagine having three or four mates sitting in the pub, what’s the thing they’re talking about? Put that thing at the top, whatever it is, just whatever’s interesting. It’s a little things like that.
I think clickbait can be problematic. And I’ve done clickbait stories myself. Clickbait is probably a bad name, because, ultimately, it’s trying to get people into your story. So, at some level there’s always a bit of clickbait, because, you know, if you’ve got a story, you want people to read it. But don’t oversell. Don’t give it something that it’s not. Don’t pretend like your story is something that it’s not. Don’t be afraid to, if there’s something good in there, don’t bury it, just because it might be a bit controversial or a bit edgy. If it’s worth it, like if you’re including it in the story, give it a prominence, because there’s no point having something good and bearing it.
If it’s good, sell it. If it’s not really there, don’t try to sell it. Don’t add, don’t pretend that it’s something it’s not. Those probably are some of the main principles that I think I try to adhere to, and I think it’s worth adhering to, as you’re practicing your writing. Probably across all media there’s an element of that, but certainly in the written word.
Jack: I think there’re some takeaways there for social media. Like you mentioned, the thumbnails and YouTube clips and headings. You can transfer that to anyone that’s listening. And that’s something that I’ll practice from that sound advice. And, hopefully, this does reach out to a few journos that are aspiring to be like yourself, Daniel.
I really appreciate your time, mate, for coming on and sharing with us your journey. Obviously, you’re still well and truly in it, but being a decade in it you’ve had some great stories and experiences. So, thanks so much for sharing what’s worked for you. You know, success leaves clues, and you’ve had plenty of that. But then also being open and honest about the mistakes and what you learned from that and how you’ve grown professionally and personally as well, mate.
So, thanks for jumping on.
Daniel: No, it’s a pleasure, Jack. And great work with the podcast and what you’re doing on your channel. All the best for the rest of the year.
Jack: I’d actually see you, hopefully, at a crowd one day. You know, with crowds back at MCG.
Daniel: It’d be great to see you. Looking forward to it.
Jack: Awesome. Thanks for everyone that’s listening as well. If you tuned in late, make sure to watch the full episode. You can watch that on our YouTube channel. And next week we’ll release the episode on our podcast channel, which will be on all the podcast directories on Spotify, iTunes, and all the rest.
Our next live chat will be next Thursday. It’s a live collaborative event with Nathan Chapman, Mark “Choco” Williams, Kevin Ball, and Josh Growden. So, for AFL king experts, there’ll be like a workshop. They’ll present on a topic specifically to improving your kicking performance. So, if you are a footballer out there or maybe a coach, definitely tune in for that one.
It’s the 31st of March at 8:30 PM. We’ll see you guys then.
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