In this month’s Press the Press interview, former journalist and media, PR and comms consultant, Tony Nicholls, interviews Ahron Young; former presenter on Sky television and now host to online business show, ‘Ticker’.

Tony: Ahron Young, welcome to Press the Press. After spending 13 years on Sky television, you’re launching an exciting new venture.

Ahron: It’s amazing. It feels like it was a 13 years apprenticeship to get to this point. To be honest, I mean how funny you and I were travelled that road and now 5 years later, here we are doing our own things away from media but still very much connected to it.

Tony: Well look, my passion for media has never been stronger, and it’s so much fun to use it in a different way now. For me it’s all about helping clients getting their message out and tell their stories, but before we get into Ticker, and all the excitement about what Ticker is, your career –you have done amazing things. Reflect on that for me.

Ahron: Well, I got a job out of high school with a local newspaper down in Rosebud which was amazing. They’d been a bunch of former editors at NewsCorp publications and decided to start their own newspaper. They’re such an incredible bunch, and I learnt so much from them – from Zoe, the editor back in the day, and went from there into community radio, got a job with 3AW, went overseas and covered the Asian tsunami in 2004, and got a taste for journalism overseas.

Obviously it’s an incredible adventure, really tough but incredible so I moved to London, covered the death of the Pope, the election of the new Pope for Rome, and also the London bombings which was a pretty extreme experience. Then after that, sat down and needed a full time job. And I don’t know what I wrote on a Saturday night, but I ended up moving to Moscow a week later for the launch of Russia Today. I was one of the 80 journalists to move over there, and I was there for about a year, and after a minus 37 winter that lasted 3 months, right when all my friends and family back home were having summer I thought it was time to come home and start a new job. And the rest feels like history.

Tony: Yeah, and so much fun running around in the Melbourne Spring Street press pack for so long.

Ahron: Yeah, well look that is one part of the job for me and it’s such a general job in Skynews. Like there were only a few of us so, you have to kind of be a master of everything as close as you possibly can be. You have to know what’s going on; keep your eye on everything. It was a lifestyle job as so many journalism jobs are, they are a lifestyle job. It’s a little bit like joining a church, or a nunnery – it’s a calling in a sense. But as you know when it’s time to move on, you still have that calling. And so, there are a number of options and I decided just to try something out.

Tony: Yeah, good on you, and we’re going to get into Ticker really soon. Tell me, from all your journalism experience, describe the interaction between PR, or organisations wanting to get their stories out and mainstream news. It’s a difficult relationship, isn’t it?

Ahron: Yeah, it was, certainly being at Sky because it’s so politically-focused. And I think a lot of people struggle to understand and they would call us up with funny animal stories they would want us to get to on the day when the Prime Minister was in town. And while at times, I would probably prefer to go cover the fluffy animal story, the understanding or the lack of understanding about what the priority is of a specific news organisation, my response would always be well we have an agreement with 7 or 9, we’ll just use our division of there and that was generally a pretty good answer.

But I knew that there wasn’t much chance that it was going to get on air. So, I understand how difficult it could be trying to get media, but at the same time, I think that there are so many ways and so many places and opportunities that if you do it right, and if you think of a way to achieve these things…I think that often we say think like a journalist, no, no, no, think like a chief of staff who has ten crews down – that’s how you have to feel. What can you offer that will get your story over the line?

Tony: Wow, thinking like a journalist is a challenge, but thinking like a chief of staff. That’s taking to the next level isn’t it? It is literally mission control isn’t it? They are juggling so much.

Ahron: So much, more and more, with less and less. And more shows, more bulletins, more local programming with fewer and fewer staff and that is the reality of where we’re at. But given how we all have television professional quality – camera in our phone, in our pocket – in PR as former journalists etc. there are options to try and make things a bit easier. And perhaps, you might get your story over the line.

Tony: Tell me, you’re a professional interviewer, you have interviewed I’m sure thousands, if not tens of thousands of spokespeople. Tell me when you’re in front of good talent.

Ahron: When they’re happy to be there. That’s the number one thing, you know? I was interviewing someone here, at Ticker where we’re sitting on the set right now a little earlier today. And she was just so happy to be here. It wasn’t that she was frightened, or she was overwhelmed, it was that she was prepared, she went along with it, she enjoyed the conversation. I feel that too many people are thinking in terms of news grabs, and what has changed in TV journalism in my point of view is there are less opportunities for camera crews to go out to a media event to go film someone speaking in 5 seconds.

That was what we got to, and then all of a sudden, someone on TV land realized that the cheapest way to do TV is to get people into your studio. And when that happens to fill these extra hours and bulletins you think of – the 4’oclock news on Channel 9 these days, they’re getting people into the studio. So you want it to be someone who, it’s a little bit like radio or what we’re doing here. You go backwards and forwards, stop, jump in, it’s a conversation these days. Learning to get your message out, you know, conversation, is the next generation in doing a 5 seconds grabs.

Tony: I think you’re so right and I think it’s a massive lie that you got to keep it short in the media. For sure, we can cut you short, but if you were a spokesperson, keep it short. You’re not allowing yourself to make any sense or to engage.

Ahron: Yeah, I see it’s really an old-fashioned view isn’t it that the news bulletins and programs come out, do a press conference out the front your building, speak short and sharp, get your message out, stick to your 5 key points, say nothing else and it should be alright. It should be on the evening news. More and more, there is less and less packages. It’s live crosses, sometimes they have a grab, most of the time they don’t have a grab. I think that the best way is to be easy going and to think about what is your audience: who is your audience, and what is the format of the broadcast?

Tony: Outside of media I didn’t realize this as a journalist, but people are terrified of us. Now I’m out, there’s a whole industry, there’s a whole living to be made. Organisations are terrified of the media and scared of journalists. So look, I can see their point when you look at some of the trashy journalism. But why should that be not the case?

Ahron: John Howard figured it out actually. He basically invented SkyNews and legitimised it back in the day where he realized that if he went and spoke to David Spears on an agenda, that he was going to get basically half an hour to talk, not edited, to talk. I think the thing that people are scared of when talking about journalist, is that they are going to be edited or misconstrued or turned around. Now the funny thing is less and less that we have time to edit things these days. These days it’s done as live, everything is done as live. But even if you watch the morning presenter on the morning telecast these days, they are out and about, and they say, “yeah that’s right, we’re having a great time here” and everything is done live because cutting out the production process is a way that TV is able to save money. So, in fact, there are more and more ways to have a conversation. And I am not going to use the term ‘to control the conversation’, but rest assured that you’re going to have a fun time. And most journalists are not out there to cause chaos and cause trouble, most just want to have a good chat and if you got a good story, you’re going to have a good time.

Tony: We’re simply looking for someone who is able to hold up there for a conversation, aren’t we, really?

Ahron: Yeah, we want someone who can go and talk for 5 or 10 minutes without really worrying. I had a lot of people come into the studio here at Ticker and they’re like, “how long are we talking for?” and I say “oh, probably for 5 or 10 minutes” and there’s a sheer look of terror on their faces like they have only got a few things to talk about forgetting that we know that. And the job of the interviewer is to keep on going to the point that they finish and the interview has gone over 15 or 20 minutes. And they realise, wait I thought that’s only a couple of minutes – that’s how it should work.

Tony: Exactly, I mean you can stay on for as long as you could basically. And my feeling is with you, we’re going to be here for a while. Well, tell us about Ticker. This is exciting, this is disruption, this is different. I know you can talk about this forever. But why this platform?

Ahron: I always wanted to do something. I guess I’ve always been an entrepreneur coming from a family of small business people who really got out there and woke up at 5 in the morning and went and did a really tough job outside and I could never understand why they did that, and being on TV has always been kind of a little bit like that. On the other side of my family, my mum is a really, deeply passionate person. And so, one of the things that started to frustrate me in mainstream journalism should we say, is that there’s not much heart and soul – it’s mostly just facts and figures and get it in, get it out, what’s next. And what I realised in the past couple of months before I left Sky, while I was hosting this innovation forum was I was meeting these unbelievably cool people; in Cremorne in Melbourne, and discovering all these communities that, aside from maybe the real estate section, hadn’t been discovered.

There is this whole, unbelievable group of people in Australia who are really trying on an international scale, who are designing, who are inventing, who are innovating, who have decided not to go work in a mine, who have decided not to go work in an office, but to try and make people’s lives better. And that was where the idea came from, like why not try and come up with a platform that celebrates, and is positive because quite frankly, I couldn’t cover another death. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve done terror stories, I went to Christchurch, I went to Townsville. I was done, I was cooked. My mind was cooked, and to be able to come up with something that uses a skill, I can’t do anything else. Tony, I can’t do anything else. So I tried to find a way to essentially come up with a business which spoke to a lot of people that I think people would want to invest in, and that was easy to get people to be able to talk. You know what? I have not had to book one single guest. We have been inundated by people who would want to come on Ticker which has been great.

Tony: Wow, and isn’t it interesting, I’ve got a similar background – so, my family has a small business background. I’m a son of a concreter, and my father was an orphan, my mother is an immigrant. You know, awfully hardworking people and I have watched that all my life. And it’s funny you know, been working in news for a fair while, didn’t feel much different. Up early in the morning in long hard days, difficult environment, so, I can really connect with you on that. And when I started in business and left news, my dad said to me, “I always knew you were going to do this.” I said “what are you talking about?” but you know parents they kind of can see the future. And I love that customer service aspect of being a small business because you’re helping people, and we didn’t get that in news.

Ahron: Yeah, you’re right, and my Dad is one of those people who has heard it all, and works outdoors, similar to your Dad as a concreter, my Dad is a painter and decorator, he has heard it all. And so every time, you know, every now and then obviously I have a tough day at work and he’d call me and say “Shut up Ahron, move on, get over it, just carry on”. But this time around, he knew it was time. He knew I was ready, he knew what I wanted to do, and he rung me right after I launched Ticker because I was trying to explain to my dad what Ticker was, the fact that we’re not on traditional television, despite the fact he doesn’t watch traditional television anymore. He said you know, “this is it, this is actually going to go gangbusters”. Those were his words. And it wasn’t so much that I was waiting for permission, but it was just a nice reminder that I had done the right thing.

Tony: And just to wrap up, everyone asks me actually, on Good Talent, where do you get that from? And obviously we know what that is, who is some of the best talent that you have interviewed?

Ahron: It’s never the CEO, ever. In fact, one of the ways that I want to position this company is that others can talk to CEOs, we want to talk to the people who work under them because when a company fails for example, which is obviously a massive business story, where do you get the best story do you reckon? The CEO or the people who really knew what was going on? Quite often the CEO is just trying to keep their job for the next job right, or keep their reputation.

So I find quite often you can spend weeks or months trying to go backwards and forwards with someone trying to get an interview. And by the time you get it, it’s usually terrible. Whereas quite often the best people are those who want to talk, who are comfortable speaking their mind, are in touch with their emotional side, for sure, can have a bit of a laugh, don’t take themselves too seriously. And the key question that I always like to ask at the end of interview is – “is there anything else that you would like to add?” because through the experience of journalism, I realised that we aren’t the experts in the field. We’re speaking to the expert in the field. And before we go in to, we generally try to prep 4 or 5 points, but who knows, what little gem they might have that they’re willing to say at the end of the interview when you’ve made them comfortable enough to talk to you. That’s my view.

Tony: Ahron Young, congratulations on Ticker. You have shown heaps of Ticker, I am sure you have got a really successful platform here, and thanks for joining Press the Press.

Ahron: Thank you so much! Wonderful to be part of it.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.

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