“Seek not greatness, but seek truth and you will find both.” This quote by Horace Mann sums up the wonderful Kate McClymont perfectly. She is the highest calibre of journalist.
With over 30 years of experience, she has proven time and again she is a force to be reckoned with. Her investigations into the likes of former property developer Stephen Larkin and disgraced former politicians Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald (all of whom are serving prison sentences as this article is written), have involved countless hours of dogged research and scrupulous fact-checking to find the truth and deliver it to the Australian public.
“As a journalist you have to be patient… often it’s a matter of chipping away,” McClymont said.
“Sometimes years later a person or a story that you wrote about will come back to provide fruit. Never be put off by the fact that your story isn’t a world beater, because sometimes it will turn into one later on.”
An example of this is her extensive work at The Sydney Morning Herald uncovering corruption by Obeid. More than once he attempted to sue. The newspaper’s decision to settle out of court on one of these occasions, for $160,000 plus legal costs, devastated McClymont: “It’s irritating as a journalist. When it’s your work you want to fight it. But in today’s cash-strapped environment, it makes economic sense to settle, and sometimes you don’t have a say.”
It also made her feel like a failure. “You feel like you’ve failed as a journalist … and I thought that I could never write about Eddie Obeid again. Then I thought, ‘Bugger this, he really is a crook’.”
When speaking about the types of people she investigates, McClymont said: “They have one thing in common; they’re either narcissists or sociopaths… they don’t give a damn, while most people in their shoes would not be able to sleep at night.”
No doubt you make enemies in McClymont’s line of work and, at times, it can be dangerous. But she has not let the threats affect her work, or her life.
“The reality of it is, the people that don’t threaten you are usually the ones you have to watch,” she said. “Anyone who threatens me, I hit back twice as hard because it’s a form of bullying. If you let it get to you, you can’t do your job. If someone wanted to kill me then they would. I think you’re far more likely to die of stress from ongoing legal action,” the fearless reporter laughed.
“If someone wanted to kill me then they would.
I think you’re far more likely
to die of stress from ongoing legal action.”
In 2002, McClymont was contacted about a joint contract between the Canterbury Bulldogs NRL team and Liverpool Council. She had no idea it would lead to her winning a coveted Gold Walkley award: “Sometimes you don’t know how big a story is until you start doing it.”
The council wanted new offices and the Bulldogs wanted a new stadium so the Bulldogs thought this would be a great opportunity to channel secret payments to their players via the now infamous Oasis project, McClymont recalled. In a Deep Throat-style exchange of information, she met the source in a black Range Rover in a dark laneway in China Town. “I always tell the news desk where I’m going, if it’s something odd,” she explained.
In the back of that car she was handed all the Bulldog’s player payments, which she “dutifully took down”, having no idea what it actually meant. She returned to the office and asked the sports desk: “Is this of any interest? It looks to me from these figures that the Bulldogs have been cheating the salary cap for $1 million over the last year-and-a-half.” And the sports journos replied: “Are you nuts? Of course! That’s huge!”
“It ended up being the most fantastic story; the mayor of Liverpool was involved, council went into administration, the NRL club went down the gurgler, the team lost all their points and we got a lawsuit from Eddie Obeid,” she said.
McClymont said it was an investigative journalist’s lot to receive regular “tip-offs”, most of which amounted to nothing. But you always had to keep an open mind.
Her investigation of Michael Williamson originally came from someone who called to complain about him outbidding them at the local school charity auction. She looked into his finances and uncovered a whole lot more Williamson was spending money on. This led to another Walkley Award: “It might originate from one comment but if something sounds fishy, it’s funny how these stories can come to you in odd ways.”
However McClymont admitted it was more challenging these days for journalists to get into investigative reporting, particularly as most needed the backing of big organisations with lawyers. And in depleted newsrooms, it was a luxury to allow reporters to take time out for investigative work.
“Our crime and police reporters are run off their feet, so to actually take a week to investigate something further, you have to do it in your own time,” she said. But she believed despite cuts at Fairfax and the “cannibalisation” of the industry by Google and Facebook, good journalism would prevail.
“There’s never been a bigger passion for content,” she said.
“In a crowded world people are looking for quality; organisations they can trust. It’s hard to know what is going to happen, but I feel things will start turning around. I don’t know when, but there is always going to be demand for information that has been checked and re-checked.” – By Tom Livingstone.