Media and Communications graduate, Eryk Bagshaw at the Walkley awards.

Arts grad at work: Covering Asia for The Sydney Morning Herald

1 September 2020
Meet Media and Communications graduate, Eryk Bagshaw
It’s been a whirlwind since graduation for the award-winning alum. After securing a cadetship with Fairfax, Eryk quickly rose through the reporting ranks – covering education, federal politics and now, China and Northeast Asia.

Why did you choose to study Media and Communications?

I loved film at school and really wanted to pursue it creatively but realised that frankly, I was just not creative enough. There's no better place to get ideas from than the news, so as time passed I realised the stories I wanted to tell were real.

Journalism gave me enough flexibility to jump between mediums and keep exploring, researching and talking to people.
Media & Communications graduate, Eryk Bagshaw

Eryk’s advice for students

I left it until my third and fourth years to really ramp up my work in newsrooms. That being so, uni should also just be about hanging out and learning for the sake of learning. There's a lot to be said for having a good time in what could be the last few years of relative freedom. 

It is one of the few times in your life you will have access to a vast array of subjects and experts.

Don't take the path of least resistance because you feel comfortable with a subject area. If there is something you think might be interesting that will push you out of your comfort zone, give it a crack. 

What’s happened since graduation?

While I was finishing my honours thesis I picked up a gig as a TV producer.

TV and radio will often pick up their leads from the morning papers, so I was drawn more and more to print.

That led to an application with Fairfax in 2014, a cadetship and then stints as a general reporter, an education reporter, and then for the last three years as a federal political reporter and economics correspondent in Parliament House in Canberra.

I won the Walkley young Australian print journalist of the year in 2016 after exposing a sector-wide university admissions scandal that led to an overhaul of the ATAR system and then the Wallace Brown Young press gallery journalist of the year in 2019 for my federal political coverage. I was appointed as a foreign correspondent at the start of this year. 

How did you get your start at the Sydney Morning Herald?

It was a fairly gruelling cadetship application process. A thousand candidates were whittled down to a dozen of us at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

There were at least five stages including speed, knowledge and breaking news tests, as well as panel and individual interviews with editors. A variety of prior experience was essential, as was having things to stand out like a thesis.

News values were also critical, which means if it's a career you are keen on you should consume news from a variety of outlets and mediums every day from the first day of uni and get to know what works for each publication and why.
Media & Communications graduate, Eryk Bagshaw

What does a day in the life of a China Correspondent look like?

Right now the life of the China correspondent is very different from the one I had hoped I'd be having at this time this year! Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions have meant it's very difficult to get into countries where you are not a resident.

So for now we are covering China and Northeast Asia as well as we can from here. It's not ideal but we work with our bureau staff in Beijing to keep things ticking along and I'm enjoying the challenge. 

The day usually starts around 7am with a scan over what the New York Times, BBC, Wall St Journal, local papers and Chinese state media have covered overnight, as ABC radio plays in the background.

Then its onto story pitches for news conference which brings together all the editors of the SMH and The Age by 8:30am before I check in with Beijing at 10:30am and map out priorities for the day. It's a big beat that covers China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and occasionally India. It's a matter of prioritising what matters to an Australian audience at the same time as telling them what you believe is important from a global perspective. 

Before lunch I'll usually spend a couple of hours on longer form pieces or calls for investigations before getting stuck back into news of the day before the 2:30pm news conference.

After that it's usually straight writing for a final deadline of 6pm. Beijing is two hours behind and often has late press conferences so stories have to be updated occasionally late into the evening. (This is how I think the day runs, but in reality it can all go belly up if something major breaks).

What are your plans for the future?

Get back out of the country as soon as we can. It's a wonderful gig and I'm very fortunate to be able to cover the lives of others across the region.

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