Working with Words: Michelle Grattan

Michelle Grattan is one of Australia’s most respected and awarded political journalists. She has been a member of the Canberra parliamentary press gallery for more than 40 years, during which time she has covered all the most significant stories in Australian politics.

As a former editor of the Canberra Times, Grattan was also the first female editor of an Australian daily newspaper. She is currently associate editor (politics) and chief political correspondent at The Conversation.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

Some articles in Broadside, which was a short-lived magazine which was about the Labor Party, and also an academic article on the Kooyong by election, which followed Menzies' retirement.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part is there is always too much to get across adequately because we have to deal with so many specialised issues, and also journalism involves a lot of waiting around.

What’s been the most significant moment in your journalism career so far?

No one moment, just being able to observe at first-hand a whole lot of other people’s dramatic moments, like the dismissal for example.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about journalism?

The best advice was always to make one more phone call, and I’ve managed to forget the bad advice.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I’ll have to pass on that one. I’ve always resisted the temptation to Google myself, as I think that would be bad for one’s psyche.

If you weren’t a journalist, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Probably being a farmer.

What’s more important for a budding journalist: experience or study?


What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a journalist?

Realise that journalism these days is not the same as the rather romantic image that it’s had in the past, that it is quite a difficult road, persist but keep other options open by gaining a wide education.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Usually in a physical bookshop, occasionally online if I want something specific that I can’t get easily in a physical store.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Some of the characters in Anna Funder’s All That I Am, because I found it a really powerful book and the lives they were forced to lead were so moving and difficult.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

No one book, I have read a lot of biography and I think that the stories of people’s life and work do influence you, not in one knockout sense, but more subtly.

**Michelle Grattan was our special guest for this week’s Fifth Estate, The Political Pendulum. You can listen to her conversation with Sally Warhaft now.

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