As head of ABC TV’s investigations unit, Jo Puccini is exactly where she wants to be: in the medium she believes has the greatest power, telling important stories that have impact.
“I wanted to be a television journalist, I like the power of television. Some people are attracted to print and to writing; I really like the impact that journalism can have. So you know what keeps you motivated? Fear mostly, fear of failure and fear of working in bars for the rest of my life,” she says with a laugh, except that she is deadly serious.
Puccini’s career has seen her move from lifestyle television in the mid-1990s to current affairs at Channel 7 in the late 90s, and finally to the ABC in 2001. Since then she has reached the pinnacle of her craft: She’s won three Walkley awards and landed a management role at Australia’s most trusted news outlet.
Having made the journey herself, Puccini enjoys watching younger journalists grow. She fosters the classic skills of persistence, patience and presenting content in an engaging way.
But the digital era has brought new platforms and, with it, new challenges.
“Nowadays, they’re all multi-platform (journalists), they’re doing digital, TV and radio. Each of those mediums has a different way of talking to the audience and there’s a lot you have to keep in mind.”
She believes strong journalism breeds strong journalism and that it is vital for investigative journalism to have a large number of reporters covering crime and the justice system.
“Most investigative journalism comes out of a journalist reading a little item in the paper,” she says.
One particularly bizarre story got her a lot of attention early on in her career while working as a producer at Channel 7 in the late 1990s. She was part of the team that found a now infamous video recording made by One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson.
Hanson, then under pressure over her anti-Asian immigration rhetoric, had left a final message for Australia in case she was murdered, beginning with the words “Hello Australians. If you are seeing me now it means I have been murdered”.
In more recent times she has been proud to be a part of the #metoo stories relating to former Channel 9 TV personality Don Burke and Gold Logie winning actor Craig McLachlan. These stories were harder to produce because of the duty of care surrounding sexual assault victims.
“You have a higher level of sensitivity with someone who is a sexual harassment or assault victim because they’ve already lost their power once and you don’t want to take that away from them again,” she says.
Investigative journalism often means working with trauma victims and it can be a long process to get them to open up on camera.
“We’ve done stories where somebody wants to talk to us then they change their mind. We can be talking to potential talent for months, if not years, before we can actually publish the story,” she says.
Puccini had some final words of advice for budding journalists who are attracted to the apparent glamour of investigative work: “You do need to be even tempered and level headed in this job because there’s no point losing the plot.”