We’ve given the mic to the industry’s future leaders. Henry Cooke, a senior political reporter for Stuff shares his thoughts on the media industry.
How did you get into media? What sparked your interest in getting into the industry?
I have always loved working out how the world works. I don’t think anyone really knows but sometimes I feel like journalists can help all of us get a little bit closer. I slowly worked out that journalism was a serious career prospect rather than just a fun thing to do on the side during university while writing for my student magazine and working part-time for Stuff.
Can you explain your career path so far?
I was extremely lucky. Just before I finished high school I had the chance to meet some higher-ups at Stuff during a workshop where local media students were invited.
This got my foot in the door enough for a summer job doing odds and ends during university – mostly photo captions and eventually a tech blog. I wrote features for my student magazine Salient through uni and through that got some experience with actual reporting, which I found extremely fun.
That inspired me to apply for a full-time Stuff internship after uni, which eventually turned into a reporting role in the online-focused Stuff reporters team. I worked in that job just under two years before applying for a role in the gallery team in Parliament, where I’ve wanted to work for a long time.
What’s your favourite piece of work so far?
Some of the most exhilarating stuff is the most ephemeral – things like live coverage of the Kaikoura quakes and the coalition talks. In terms of stories that stand as interesting today I would say my piece explaining the “meth house” myth, where I tried to break down one of the biggest public policy failures in years through the story of an 87-year-old pensioner kicked out of her state home of 60 years.
What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve had to deal with in your role?
Covering politicians you end up as the target yourself sometimes, with people from both sides digging through your LinkedIn and other social media to try and embarrass you. That is never fun. But probably the most challenging thing for me has been the Christchurch attacks – we were reporting on them while we were all still processing the events ourselves. And I wasn’t even down there on the Friday – a lot of people were.
I get to do things with my journalism today that would just not have been possible twenty years ago.
People say print is dying and media companies are changing up the way they fund journalism – how do you feel about the future?
Today we have a very strange situation where more people are reading our journalism than ever before, but we’re finding it extremely hard to make any money out of that. Digital advertising doesn’t feel like it will ever match what we used to make on classifieds and print, and even if it did Facebook and Google are eating up most of the pie.
That is worrying and financial pressures do flow through to the journalism, particularly the number of journalists. There are now about three times as many PR professionals as there are print reporters, and many of those PR professionals are former reporters who may have wanted to stay in the industry! That said the transformation is also extremely exciting. I get to do things with my journalism today that would just not have been possible twenty years ago – in particular live coverage, which is exhilarating. I think the industry is doing some of its best work in years right now. Journalists are at our best in a crisis.
What’s your advice you would give to those entering the industry?
Read everything. Write for whoever will take your work. If you’re at uni get involved with your student rag – the things you will learn and the connections you make there will last for life. Be prepared to not be doing your dream job right away. Learn to be extremely comfortable with calling up strangers and asking them questions. Utilise the unique thing that you know that news organisations don’t.
New Zealand media is a very small, connections-based world. That probably has something to do with the fact that a lot of us are middle-class white people. In other words, networking is key – do your best to get along to the kinds of events you know other people in the industry will be going to, and take a business card.