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Penmanship

Penmanship is a podcast about Australian writing culture. It features interviews with Australians who earn a living from working with words: writers, journalists, editors and publishers, among others. Each episode features an in-depth, one-on-one conversation about the guest’s career, craft and inner life. The goal of Penmanship is to provide unique insights into the creative process, mechanics and skills behind the best writing in the country. The podcast exists to explore the diversity and complexity of Australian storytelling by speaking directly with leading contributors to the field.
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Jun 15, 2016

Sarah Ferguson is a journalist and author.

Last year, ABC television screened her three-part documentary series The Killing Season, which examined the forces that shaped the Australian Labor Party during the recent years in which Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard led the party, and the nation. Based on Sarah's lengthy and insightful interviews with key political players, and filmed with the drama and style of the Netflix series House Of Cards, it was pitch-perfect television that resonated strongly across the country, attracting around a million viewers each episode. The series further established Sarah's reputation as one of Australia's finest television interviewers and presenters. Since 2008, she has worked as an award-winning investigative journalist on current affairs program Four Corners – which she currently hosts – as well as filling in for Leigh Sales as the host of 7.30 in 2014, and conducting several hard-hitting political interviews during that time.

In 2016, Sarah became an author with The Killing Season Uncut. Co-written with series researcher Patricia Drum and published in April by Melbourne University Publishing, Sarah's book goes behind the scenes to candidly reveal the stories behind the interviews with Rudd, Gillard and a host of other key players. I found that her asides into the craft of journalism were a highlight of the book, such as this quote: "The business of persuasion is a fraught one for journalists. Persuasiveness is one thing, bullshit is another. You have to understand your subject intimately and what their purpose is in speaking on camera. I prefer candour but it's not enough by itself. And you are not friends, although it can appear that way. The line you shouldn't cross is usually only visible when it's behind you."

When Sarah was on a day trip to Brisbane in early May, we met at her inner-city hotel room so that I could ask her a few questions before she had to dash off to a radio interview across town. It was a thrill to be sitting across from one of the country's most formidable journalistic brains; within a few minutes, she had called me out for incorrectly attributing a quote from the book to her, rather than Julia Gillard. Our conversation touches on how her writing style has developed across her career; her early writing influences, including her love of poetry; how she comes up with ideas for her Four Corners stories; why she posted a Julia Gillard quote above her desk; who she turns to when she's having trouble with a story; and how she decided to open a live budget night interview on 7.30 with a particularly devastating question for then treasurer Joe Hockey.

Sarah Ferguson is an author and ABC journalist. In the same year that she worked on The Killing Season, she also wrote and presented Hitting Home, the landmark series on domestic violence. She has presented the ABC's 7.30 and worked as a journalist on Four Corners, where she won four Walkleys – including the Gold Walkley in 2011 for 'A Bloody Business' – the Melbourne Press Club Gold Quill Award, four Logies for most outstanding public affairs report, as well as the George Munster Award for Independent Journalism and the Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

Show notes and links to what was discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-26-sarah-ferguson/

Sarah Ferguson on Twitter: @FergusonNews

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

penmanshippodcast.com

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