With a passion for justice and hatred for “bullshit” and “scams”, it seems consumer journalist Kirsten Drysdale has found the perfect outlet to ply her trade.
The writer, producer and presenter on the ABC consumer affairs comedy show The Checkout, told Macleay College students she was serious about her brand of journalism but equally committed to making it accessible.
The weekly TV program on which she has worked for five years highlights practices that are misleading, dishonest, unfair or occasionally even illegal, but in an entertaining way. It’s fourth estate journalism, with a twist.
“It’s the sugar that helps the medicine go down … it’s being able to hide lessons with jokes,” she said.
The small town girl from Mackay made her lucky break into television when she successfully answered a nationwide callout for young journalists for an ABC show called The Hungry Beast. She progressed to a researching role for another consumer affairs show, The Gruen Transfer, which “absolutely honed my interest in this area”, before she was approached by The Checkout’s executive producer Julian Morrow (of The Chaser team fame) who had “a vague idea for a comedy consumer affairs show”.
“I thought, ‘That’s absolutely perfect for me’,” Drysdale said. And she’s been there ever since.
But despite the on-screen laughs and cast antics – which this week included goats and green screens (stayed tuned for the next episdode) – Drysdale admits working behind-the-scenes on a TV show isn’t always fun and games.
“TV journalism is the most fun but it is also the hardest, by a country mile,” she said.
“It’s fun because you’re doing crazy stuff … but when you are still at the office at 3 o’clock in the morning it starts to get less fun. It’s not uncommon for me to do a 70-hour week.”
And even the fun stuff can be challenging – ensuring everything is rigorously fact checked and debated for legal issues and comedy value – especially when viewers don’t get the joke.
“There’s a fine line and we’ve got to be conscious of how something’s going to come across,” Drysdale said.
“In the writer’s room we might think that something is absolutely hilarious … [but] one person’s poor taste can be another person’s hilarious joke. It is risky.
“We have a culture at work of basically trying to tear each other’s scripts to shreds just to make sure it is watertight, then we have a legal team that pours over everything we say to make sure everything is defendable.”
Although she is multiskilled in digital journalism Drysdale is a writer at heart, having produced pieces for Crikey, The Global Mail and The Vine. “The great thing about writing is that you can do it at home, in your pyjamas with a cat on your lap, and no one’s any the wiser,” she said.
It’s something she plans to do more of in the future, and she is confident there will always be a market for good writing and great journalism.
“I don’t think journalism is a dying field; I don’t think it ever will be. I think the forms that we consume our journalism in are in a massive state of flux right now. But people will always, I hope, have an appetite for reporting, and for truth and analysis and all the rest of that.” – Story by Montana Duncan, video by Sam Besgrove.