Special Feature: Australians in New York
Welcome to a special section of our newsletter, Australians in New York. Currently, there are approximately 200,000 Australians living in the United States and a large percentage is concentrated in the Northeast region. Our expatriates are represented in all industries and help facilitate strong, two-way connections between both countries. Each expatriate has a compelling and interesting path of making it to New York. These are their stories....
The Poetic Leader: Robert Thomson
Robert Thomson uses poetic phrases to explain his past, present and future career. Journalism is “the opportunity of being paid to be curious about life.” Being a good journalist means “keeping the objective of being objective.” And a daily newspaper on the kitchen table is always “a little miracle.”
But the 48-year-old Australian is also one of the most influential leaders in business and financial journalism. As editor in chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, Thomson directs the news operations of the Journal, WSJ.com, MarketWatch and Dow Jones newswires, and oversees 2000 journalists around the world.
Tall and quietly-spoken, the Australian-born Thomson cheerfully admits he is set on global domination. He holds forth from the newly renovated confines of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) offices in midtown Manhattan at the headquarters of News Corporation, the parent company of Dow Jones and WSJ, and approaches his career trajectory with a healthy dose of wit and humble charm.
No autocrat and nobody’s fool, Thomson is often described as the ebullient and very bright and creative ‘journalist’s journalist’. Famous for his self-effacing demeanour and mischievous humour, Thomson is in fact the very definition of a quintessential journalist: naturally curious in his manner, often getting up from his seat to research topics on the internet during this interview; and a voracious student of world affairs. His breadth of knowledge is almost encyclopaedic, and his insatiable appetite for reading is illustrated by the endless books lining the shelves in his office.
In many ways Thomson is that rare breed, a journalist who has found success without losing touch with the reader, a fate he says many succumb to due to “an overindulgence of institutional introspection.” A buoyant and boyish straight shooter, Thomson’s reputation is one of loyalty and formidable intellect. It is thoroughly deserved.
Open cubicles and massive LCD screens align the sixth floor of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones offices. “A newsroom like the Wall Street Journal now, you can feel the energy. It’s dynamic, and what we have here is our hub,” he explains as he describes the amalgamation of the newswire, newspaper and online teams.
Robert Thomson speaks at an American Australian Association Event in
New York City.
The Boy from Torrumbarry
When Thomson was just five years old his father, a publican, got a job as a proof reader at The Age in Melbourne. He would bring the following day’s newspaper home every night. “I always thought it was a little miracle that there would always be a paper on the table,” Thomson says. “I would read the paper and it helped me broaden my world view.”
Despite this early fascination with newspapers, Thomson was not one of those children who appear to have their lives pre-determined while still in the cradle. “I wasn’t one of those very ambitious personalities who imagined at the age of 12 I was going to be a journalist. I didn’t have that degree of certainty about myself. I don’t have any degree of certainty,” he jokes.
But he does credit his working-class upbringing in Australia – in Torrumbarry, rural Victoria – with much of his success. Thomson was accepted into Melbourne University and briefly considered a career in law. Instead, he took his mother’s advice and deferred law school in order to interview for a full-time job.
“My Mum thought, why don’t you work and study simultaneously? Earn some money also get a feel for the real world before you go off into the fantasy land of university.” So after other trainee job offers, Thomson entered journalism, he says, because it offered the opportunity of being paid to be curious about life. He applied for a cadetship at the Herald in Melbourne but missed out, and instead got a job as a copy boy. His main tasks were to buy lunch for staff and literally run copy and set carbon in the typewriters.
While most of his peers were either still studying or just graduating university, Thomson received his education in journalism on the job, quickly moving on from copy boy to a cadetship at the Herald and later moving to Sydney to work as senior feature writer at the Sydney Morning Herald. After 10 years of part time study, he received a degree in journalism from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in 1988.
During his time as a cadet, Thomson earned his credentials covering a range of beats from finance and business to court reporting to music, where he interviewed celebrities of the day Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Chrissie Amphlett of the Divinyls and the Go Gos. But it was his extensive reporting on the Australian judiciary that which Thomson found the most exciting. At only 22, Thomson wrote a groundbreaking series for the Sydney Morning Herald on these matters that was later turned into a book called The Judges: A Potrait of the Australian Judiciary.
Some of his most challenging work was on covering Sydney’s Indigenous community during the unrest in the streets of Redfern in 1984 and 1985. “You go into a story like that and you just want to report it as you see it. People have such strong views about it one way or the other; prejudicial, politically correct, ignorant, well informed, ill informed, whatever and all those views come into the mix. But keeping the objective of being objective in those circumstances was very, very challenging,” he says.