Reporting on a “closed”community : the Block Reply

How do you report on the heart and soul of what was said to be one of Sydney’s toughest suburbs?

Gina McKeon won the Walkley young journalist of the year for her story on the St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Redfern which was part of a 50-minute documentary on the Block, broadcast on FBi Radio’s All The Best. The Block, which was run by the Aboriginal Housing company, was demolished this year to make way for new accomodation. But the memories linger.

McKeon considers Redfern after the death of Father Ted Kennedy, a Catholic priest who became something of legend among the indigenous people of the Block community. She interviews his conservative successor, Father Clesio, and talks with the unhappy members of the congregation.

A lot of the community just don’t come [to Mass]. They just can’t stomach it. We still go. Its not an enjoyable experience. We go to support the community… a congregation member.

McKeon, a freelance journalist studying journalism at UTS,  said the story took two months to research. “From February to May I was hanging around Redfern. The hardest part was finding people to speak [good talent]. The people at the church were quite willing to talk to me because they knew what it was for and the knew FBI [community] Radio“.

Gina McKeon

While the block was portrayed in the mainstream press as a pretty scary place, McKeon didn’t find it that way at all. “I thought that too,” she said. “It was a matter of getting beyond what the headlines were saying”

What did she like about her report? “It was as accurate and honest as I could make it”. “It wasn’t edited in a way that didn’t misconstrue what they were saying”. “I was surprised how many of the stories had been ignored by the mainstream media”.

Contacts gave her contacts. “You look for the people involved and listen to what they have to say. . Her advice to new radio reporters. ” Do a lot of research before you start talking to people” “Be patient”.

Particular attention was paid to the sounds which created the story’s underlying atmosphere :

The music is very important [for mood]. Its just essential get the right soundscapes in there, to paint that picture. I recorded about seven different gates, just to get the sound of me entering the church, because the church gate just wasn’t that good. So I had to find another gate. I went to the church a couple of times and had to check with the people in the choir to record their singing… Gina McKeon

The recorded actuality helped locate the report in the streets of Redfern, “The whole thing was a beast [to edit]!”

The Walkleys Board applauded McKeon’s capacity to draw surprising confessions from those she interviewed. “She produced a powerful community portrait reflective of the broader schisms within the Catholic church.”

What made it great radio reporting?

  • Empathetic treatment of a strong story
  • Good talent
  • Confident delivery
  • Intelligent script
  • High quality sound in interviews
  • Excellent background sound
  • Good mixing

If you want to hear the report, click here.

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