Hugh Riminton came to Macleay College to share his experience of life as a foreign correspondent and being a face of Channel 10.
Many people would recognise Hugh Riminton as a face of Network 10, reading the news and appearing on panel shows like The Project and Studio 10. But the veteran journalist with 40 years of reporting under his belt has had a career that goes well beyond the studio floor.
Riminton’s career has been gruelling, intense and exciting, with his work taking him to numerous war and conflict zones across the globe: from Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, South Sudan, East Timor and the Balkans.
“I’ve been in the White House bantering with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, and I’ve been in South Sudan in a war zone, where there are children literally dying around me and at my feet,” he said.
Riminton’s experience of reporting overseas triumphs most. Meeting the most powerful people in the world, and the most powerless communities near death, he has seen both spectrums of humanity.
“If you want to know what the world is like in your lifetime, you are in the perfect position to learn,” he told Macleay College journalism students. “You’re going to have to be smart and lively and nimble, and willing to have a crack at it.”
There’s not much that Riminton doesn’t love about reporting overseas.
“It’s adventure travel, it’s selfish in the extreme … You’re being paid for adventurous travel.
“In the course of my active reporting, there’s been some big and nasty wars … Places like Sudan’s civil war … [and] the Rwandan genocide that people really don’t want to look at too closely.”
In order to tell a great story, Riminton believes you need to get as close to the action as possible. Whether you’re in a war zone in the Middle East or covering homelessness in Sydney, “sometimes you have to take risks for journalism”, he said.
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One of the more comforting aspects for Riminton as a foreign correspondent is the bond that is formed between members of the crew. “You’re not alone in there – that’s another part of the great experience.”
At 17, Riminton began reporting for a radio station in New Zealand. He had no experience or qualifications, just a natural curiosity.
“I purely by luck got into journalism … I’m a kid who cleaned rat cages, and the only thing I had there was a journalism instinct. I didn’t have a degree, but I had a natural curiosity,” he said.
Riminiton’s career was more an accident than a calling. He got his first job because he was in the right place at the wrong time. He was called in for an interview for a job that he hadn’t applied for, and he obviously made an impression.
“I met a news director who thought I was applying for a job and I wasn’t … He said, ‘Why do you want to be a journalist?’ and my immediate answer was, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’ … I said, ‘Because it would be fun … Isn’t that why you do it?'”
There are many stories that Riminton clearly recalls. These include the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, when a lone gunman, Martin Bryant, killed 23 people and injured 35. Following this, the recently-elected government of John Howard enacted major gun reforms that are still in place. Riminton was there to catch it all.
“Everyone had the same questions … Why? Why did he [Bryant] do it?
“Ultimately there are two things you were trying to do that day. One was to get the ‘what’ … On a story like that, there’s also a ‘why did it happen?’ … the conclusion being, ‘there is no why’,” he said.
“The policy change there was gun control laws across Australia. The consequence of that sense of outrage, which stems from a sense of loss, is that laws were changed across the country.”
Figuring out the “what happened” part of a story is the most important part of the job, he believes. “[It’s] quite a complex question in itself,” said Riminton.
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“Sometimes neutering the emotion and the exposure to what’s going on is not the best thing. Sometimes you need to actually face terrible things to get the motivation … to make something worthwhile come out of it.”
Journalism in the last decade has seen transformational change, he observed. Advertising made news a well-funded enterprise – until “the internet kicked in”.
“Journalism, as we know, is under great stress. The funding systems that have kept journalism together have fundamentally collapsed.
“If you want to keep a career going, enjoy what you’re doing. Take a risk and be good to work with … When you get to be a star, get coffee for the floor crew. Be good to work with and that’s what sustains it … Eighty per cent of success is just showing up.”
Journalism, in Riminton’s view, remains more important than ever. “Journalism is unrivalled in its ability to expose you to the full range of human experience within your own city, within your own community and in time across the world,” he said.
The digitisation of the journalism landscape has required reporters who worked in the “golden age” of television – a time when money poured in – to adapt. His own transition was not so difficult, as he had already established his personal brand.
“I am kind of lucky in a way because I’ve built a brand in a time when there was a lot of money to work with,” said Riminton.
Reflecting on his craft, he said: “You become a storyteller … You’re sparking other people. It might just seem like daily journalism, but it’s a lot more fun than you think.”