The unsung heroes behind breaking news

AAP video journalist Andrew Leeson, center, with Macleay students. Photo: Martin Newman

Breaking news journalism has evolved over the past decade to become the top priority of any news organisation and agency journalists are increasingly at the frontline of Australia’s coverage.

But it’s a largely uncredited section of the media, where hard work is rarely even acknowledged with a byline.

One such reporter is Andrew Leeson, one of the Australian Associated Press’s (AAP) breaking news video journalists based in Sydney.

Leeson approaches breaking news with an array of skills across all media platforms for Australia’s most reputable news agency, which provides news content to all major news outlets.

“AAP expects its journalists to be the face behind the coverage, uncredited, hard-working – behind the scenes,” Leeson told Macleay students at a recent guest lecture.

“I find it really rewarding to tell other people’s stories, and not so much expressing myself.

“Covering breaking news is often seen as a pretty low functioning job, but it actually takes a lot of stress (management) and skills to do it well. I enjoy the ability to take on new challenges every hour.”

Agency video journalists are often working across six to seven stories a day, with fast turnover times and prioritising immediate content delivery over material edited to perfection.

Leeson graduated from Macleay College four years ago and describes himself as a “news junkie” from the very beginning. 

He adds you can’t be “too precious with your work” in particular during events like the Federal Election, when it is imperative to shift a lot of information into the public domain and to do it as it happens.

“You have to see things that people wouldn’t necessarily want to see.” he adds. “But, as much as there’s pressure to get content out, there is a responsibility to make sure its correct.

“The AAP’s three pars go out within moments of news breaking. Perfecting this doesn’t happen overnight.”

Leeson, an award winning (he won AAP’s Next Generation Award) video journalist with a volume of experience covering politics, fashion, graphic data explainers and written pieces, says being expected to react quickly in news situations comes naturally to him now.

When asked about how he deals with rolling deadlines, high pressure situations and interviewing authoritative figures Leeson says: “It was great being at the cutting edge where you can do different stories constantly, and AAP is great for that. It really teaches you how to build a story and earn the respect of your editors by entering the newsroom with a vast knowledge of the news you’re covering.

“That will definitely set you apart. You have a duty to your audience to present the story in the best way possible.

“The important thing I learnt from the AAP and even the Daily Telegraph was to write a lot.

“At the end of the day it’s about the story you’re shaping and telling it in the best way possible.” 

Leeson believes this is fundamental in order to be a successful journalist on any platform and allows producers to see the multifaceted skills you offer when resources are scarce. It reinforces the importance of being  “aware and deliberate about how you practice”.

Ankita Sharma interviewing Andrew Leeson. Photo: Macleay College

As a former Macleay student Leeson was involved in the college’s diverse internship programs, and during his time at the Daily Telegraph got to use a lot of the skills he’d attained, in a real newsroom. 

Leeson said  it was at The Daily Telegraph where he learnt “the way news shapes and the way you can shape a story in a breaking news context”. 

He emphasised the importance of having the ability to express stories in every platform you can.

“There’s nothing wrong with picking up a camera and building a portfolio, because it will come into play,” he says.

He told Macleay’s aspiring journalists to “read situations” when they’re in press packs.

“Sometimes you will be pushed out of the pack when covering major stories and it’s quite normal for this to happen. It’s one of the many challenges breaking news journalists face daily.

“No typical day is the same in breaking news. You have to be prepared to be pushed in ways you’ve never been pushed before.

“You’ll be travelling constantly while working on rolling deadlines. It requires compromising on your social life, but it’s rewarding and worth it because you’ll be seeing things most people don’t get to see.”

For more information on Leeson’s work and to view his portfolio visit his website .