Drew Ambrose’s career has spanned across Asia Pacific and Australia and has put him in touch with a wide variety of interesting characters. Always inquisitive and going beyond borders for that next story, Drew has undoubtedly attained a level of international experience that we’d all like to match. Let’s take a look at his story and see if we can’t gain some insight on what it takes to have a career in international journalism.
Please give us a rundown of your jobs in Asia as an international broadcast journalist. You’ve done many interesting things in a variety of countries and we’d love to hear how it all went down.
I’ve been working as a journalist since I was twenty years old. Seven years on I’ve covered stories across Asia, the Middle East and the United States. I began my career working for both public broadcasters in Australia (ABC and SBS TV), which put a strong emphasis on overseas reporting and it’s pivotal to news coverage.
I think good journalists are able to tell both hard and soft stories really well- that’s what I endeavor to do with whatever story I’m given. Often journalists are pigeonholed and become quite restrained or restricted to certain areas of journalism. I think I’ve been lucky to not get caught in that trap.
Basically I think the way I’ve moved forward is worked out what kind of work I’ve wanted to produce and have done it in a researcher/producer capacity. I’d rather produce a really innovative show that be a reporter on camera for a really boring show.
What attracted you to this industry initially? Did always know you wanted to break into this field, particularly in an international setting?
No I wanted to be a musician or produce children’s television. Ended up where I am happened purely by accident. I studied media/communications at university and I managed to score a news cadetship off some afternoon lifestyle programs I made for a community television station in Melbourne. I was never really that attracted to television journalism- at the time it just seemed like an opportunity to build a skill set in production.
How did you go about choosing the destinations in which you reported? Or is it more that they chose you?
It’s a mixture. It’s not about the destinations…we’re not a travel show. It’s about how strong the story or issue is. I often pitch stories that I think are important and need to be explored. Some of them have been done as a news story but haven’t been looked at in greater detail. Stories that attract me are ones in countries that haven’t been told that could affect other countries or are international in nature.
When news events happen, often the senior staff think we should make a program that looks at the issue in greater detail. In this instance you’ve got to look at the coverage and find ways with the time you’ve been given to move the story forward. That means looking for important gaps, interviewing people whose stories haven’t been told and trying to find creative ways to look at the story in a new way. As a producer or a reporter the onus is on you to work out how to tell the story. No one ever gives you the angle they want.
Tracing back your career path doing business in Asia, what sorts of hard and soft skills were necessary to get to where you are? A position as an international broadcast journalist in Asia Pacific and beyond is a dream career for many, but there is no “blueprint” out there for such a path.
There isn’t one way of doing it but what I think you need to do if you want to work in Asia is be prepared to work solo. A lot of foreign television journalists began by shooting their own stories with a mini DV camera. Most journalists who work overseas have production skills in editing and shooting. When I worked for an Australian Broadcaster from Jakarta I was expected to shoot, research and edit my own stories. Many of my colleagues believe you can get better access to people and issues going it alone. We work with crews but its important to know your way around a camera.
For Asia or whatever region you work in, you really need to have an interest in the politics of countries beyond your own. I read a lot of periodicals, listen to overseas media like NPR and always vary my media consumption. I don’t just watch CNN.
Please tell us about Al Jazeera’s 101 East program and your role within it. What do you do on the day to day and how has it developed you as a person and professional?
101 East is Al Jazeera English’s flagship current affairs show that covers issues from Pakistan to New Zealand, from Mongolia to Australia. I work as a freelance producer on the program. I think it’s been a great experience working with some of the best cameraman and editors – they really shape your stories. I think working in a variety of countries also teaches you a lot because the challenges, hours and culture are completely different even in neighbouring countries.
Check out one of Drew’s features about Korean pop!
How do you like Kuala Lumpur? Please give us some background on the pros and cons for a young western expat professional.
I didn’t like Kuala Lumpur at first. I’m starting to like it a bit more. One thing that I really like about the country is the street food. There’s incredible variety and it’s an never ending gastronomical journey. I think compared with Jakarta, Bangkok and other cities- there’s a lack of arts/culture in Kuala Lumpur. I wish there was more of a music industry in the city and there should be more art galleries.
To what extent has your fluency in Bahasa Indonesia played a pivotal role in your ability to perform?
It’s played a pivotal role in my career. Most journalists use local reporters as translators to get the job done so it’s not essential. But having a command of a language in a continent like Asia can help you understand the nuances of the issue and people respond to you in a positive manner when you engage with them directly.
Please give us some insights on opportunities you think that young professionals might find expat jobs in Asia in the broader media world in Asia Pacific. Where might they be needed in Asian business? At this point, how would you suggest they “get their foot in the door?”
I get asked this question often. I think getting an subeditor position in an English Language newspaper in Jakarta/Phnom Penh or Bangkok can help you work out whether it’s good for you. Knowing basic shooting skills is going to put you streaks ahead of other people. Having the right equipment to send the story via the internet is another important skills.
I think Asia is a dynamic continent and what I enjoy about my job is meeting quirky characters who have a completely different outlook on life.
Drew Ambrose is a broadcast journalist who began working as a foreign correspondent in Indonesia during 2006. Since then the 27 year old has produced and reported across the world- filing stories throughout the Asia Pacific region as well as the United States and the Middle East. Before moving to Al Jazeera English he worked as a producer, researcher and journalist for Australia’s two public broadcasters- the ABC and SBS. He has worked as a producer and reporter on World News Australia, Insight, Living Black, Asia Pacific Focus, and Australian Story. He also was the video producer for ABC Innovation’s Black Saturday website which was nominated for an ONA award in the United States.
He has won some of Australia’s biggest media awards including the United Nations Media Peace Award, the Melbourne Press Club Quill, the AIMIA award, an ATOM documentary award and a 2010 Young Walkley Young Journalist of the Year award in the online category. Drew is a seasoned video journalist who can speak fluent Indonesian. He current works on an Al Jazeera program based in Kuala Lumpur called 101 East and graduated from RMIT’s Professional Communication degree in 2004. Follow him on twitter @drewambrose.