The rigours of journalism see many seasoned reporters move to public relations or retire but that’s not something Herald Sun investigative reporter Russell Robinson sees himself doing – even after 40 years at the coalface of daily journalism.
Yet Robinson might never have become a journalist were it not for making friends with a neighbor who worked for The West Australian. At the time he was working in a warehouse but his neighbour’s stories of journalistic escapades lit long fuse of interest that is yet to be extinguished.
Robinson then moved to Melbourne and in 1969 landed a job as a copy boy at The Herald, securing a cadetship the following year.
He did the rounds, covering a variety of areas including the police beat, the courts and the races.
“In those days you were required to work in all the rounds even if it was for three months,” Robinson recalls.
In 1976 he went to London to work for AAP, where he covered the British Open and Wimbledon. He then moved to Hong Kong the following year to work on the South China Morning Post.
“In those days it was expected of you that if you didn’t get an overseas posting you’d go there off your own back. A lot of my colleagues did the same thing and we’d all meet up in London. It was the done thing that you would get work experience overseas or even interstate. You would move away from the paper and develop your career that way,” Robinson says.
In 1979 he returned to Melbourne to work on the Sun News Pictorial. When The Herald and The Sun merged in 1990 he made the switch to Leader Newspapers, serving as Editor-in-Chief and divisional editor before joining the Sunday Herald Sun as chief of staff in 1996.
In 2001 then Editor-in-Chief Peter Blunden asked him to join the Herald Sun as an investigative journalist, a role he has happily occupied ever since.
“It’s great fun. Peter and [current Herald Sun editor] Simon Pristel encourage investigative work, you go out and get your own stories, and work your own issues, which is good.
“You can’t beat getting a story on your own. You can’t beat giving it a good run and also, and if not making a difference, but making an impact,” Robinson says.
Some of his most memorable work includes an investigation on a laboratory providing incorrect pap smear test results to women, a piece for the Herald Sun in which members of Joe Korp’s family distanced themselves from Korp’s “extra-curricular activities” and a series of articles on Leigh Robinson (no relation), a convicted killer who murdered a woman in 1968, served 15 years in prison for the crime and killed a second woman in 2009.
Below: some of Russell Robinson's most memorable headlines.
Robinson has won several awards for his reporting, including the Quill Award for Best News Story and the Grant Hattam Award (which he shared with Adrian Anderson and Justin Quill) at the 2002 Quill Awards. He won the Grant Hattam Award a second time in 2005.
Last year, he published his first book, Shotgun & Standover: The Story of the Painters and Dockers, which he co-wrote with James Morton. The book has sold well and he plans to update it with new information that has come to light since its publication.
While he has mostly worked in print, he has recently dabbled in the online medium as well. His online ‘The Life and Crimes of Leigh Robinson’ feature included written stories on the double killer’s trial and sentencing as well as a nine part multimedia series which included interviews with families of the victims.
“I really enjoyed doing that. It was one of the early attempts at marrying printed word with the online publication. It won a few awards, and it was good to work with a different production crew,” Robinson says.
He hopes to do more online investigations in future. While the technologies and the business of news have changed over the 40 years Robinson has been a journalist, he is certain that the components of a good news story are eternal.
“Journalism has changed a hell of a lot but at the core, it’s still the quest for a good story. A good story then is a good story today. It doesn’t change. Personalities might change and the treatment might change but the bottom line is, “is this a good story for the reader? Will the reader read this all the way through?” That’s the true test. The methods of gathering news stories might have changed, the technology might have changed, but the very essence of a good story is the same,” Robinson says.