Nick McKenzie on idealism, truth and great journalism

With seven Walkley awards to his name, Nick McKenzie is undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest investigative reporters.

McKenzie writes for The Age and primarily interested in organised crime, politics and human rights issues. Success in journalism, he says, begins with looking at areas you’re interested in, generating ideas and keeping an open mind.

“You need to be really idealistic about journalism itself and its practice and that is to say that we are there as public servants,” he said. “You need to be idealistic about that roll, the struggle to find truth, to gather facts and to hold powerful people to account. It’s essentially what journalism is.”

When asked how it feels to be recognised and acknowledged for his work, he says good journalism is not measured by the amount of trophies you have. It’s about believing in your work and getting to the bottom of the story.

“There’s not many metrics in journalism,” he said. “What is a marker of good journalism? It’s the story itself. That’s not winning an award that’s people reading your story.”

For Mckenzie, gathering information comes down to common sense and building a rapport with sources. It’s important for journalists to ask the right questions and let the source talk, allowing the journalist to listen.

“If you are going to be a successful journalist you’ve got to get along with people,” he said. “In life if you want to get something from someone flatter them, listen to them”

“Journalism is about common sense. The stories are out there, the best stuff I ever got was looking at a topic and being really ambitious.”

McKenzie attributes some of his success to not taking ‘no’ for an answer, adding it’s important to keep asking around until you have found what you are looking for.

“Every journalist is an investigator. We corroborate facts that have public interest,” he said. “People will try to control you and influence you even though they can’t.”

“I was let into the door, but once I was there I was concentrated and focused on what information I needed.”

“It’s critical to believe in your work, you’ve got to really believe in yourself, that’s the only way you are going to survive in this busy ultra-competitive journalism world.”