Interview with Sean Aylmer
Kimberly Johans spoke recently with Sean Aylmer, New York correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.
“For me the reason I got into journalism was to become a foreign correspondent. It’s the ultimate job…you very much run your own race,” said the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) New York correspondent Sean Aylmer.
“If you’re in a place like New York so much goes on, particularly if you’re a business journalist. You have so much to write about,” said Aylmer. “I’d say being a foreign correspondent is about as good as it gets in journalism. The best part of the best job,” he said.
But there are downsides to foreign correspondence. “Being away from head office. My boss called it ‘Foreign Correspondentitis’,” said Aylmer. “You don’t get any feedback. So you kind of have to learn to live with that,” he said.
In the USA, Aylmer witnessed first hand the implementation of controversial new phone tapping laws. “By presidential decree they’re allowed to phone tap people they feel are of concern to national security…everyone’s up in arms about it,” he said. “Funny world isn’t it – you’d think a private conversation was a private conversation.”
How competitive is the best job in journalism?
“It’s extremely competitive. A lot of people want to be a foreign correspondent. Having said that you can do it. You have to work really hard. You’re not going to be one within two years of becoming a journalist! You have to pay your dues,” said Aylmer.
“The politics of becoming a Foreign Correspondent means…you have to do the right thing by the company and your bosses,” he said, ”you have to be a decent reporter but you also have to be a little bit lucky.”
Aylmer was a business journalism finalist in the 2005 Walkley Awards for his story on Telstra boss Sol Trujillo. “I thought it [the nomination] was fantastic. I was pleased because it’s recognition. On that particular story I’d worked really hard and it came out really well,” he said.
“I was a New York correspondent told to chase Sol and what he did in the US so I didn’t have many competitors in that story. If anyone was meant to get that nomination it was me because that was my job. My newspaper was prepared to send me to Denver and allow me to have a couple of days going through court records. That is a huge advantage to have as opposed to someone sitting in an office over here trying to write a story,” Said Aylmer.
How does a foreign correspondent combine family life with a stressful journalism career?
“There are times you have to leave family and just go and do something at the spur of the moment or spend time away from family just because a news event is happening. That doesn’t suit your personal life often, normally in fact,” said Aylmer.
“You do get phone calls in the middle of the night,” he said. However, Aylmer said that the positives far outweigh the negatives. “It’s a hard club to get into but once you’re in, there so many opportunities,” he said.
What happens to a foreign correspondent that is stationed back home after a long stint overseas?
“One of the big problems they have here is actually keeping the people that come back from postings. It’s hard to settle back into a smaller role or a smaller-focused role. That’s a real challenge. You have to be prepared for it. That you’re going to come back to a job that’s not going to grab you as much as your previous one,” said Aylmer.
“People come back to the same place and get very unsettled. It’s a problem because [companies] spend a lot of money sending these people overseas and they come back better journalists. The trick is to try and keep them,” he said. “There are no shortcuts in journalism. If you don’t want to work hard then you shouldn’t be a journalist. All journalists have to be hungry,” he said, “I’d put that ahead of writing.”