Mark Baker

Mark Baker

BA 2002, MA 2013

Mark Baker

Mark graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in English and history, before commencing at the Examiner in 2003. He covered police and court rounds until 2006 when he moved to Hobart as the newspaper’s chief political reporter. Returning to Launceston in 2008 as chief of staff, he later became deputy editor in 2012. During this time he returned to the University of Tasmania to complete his Masters of Arts in creative writing. Mark became the 14th editor of The Examiner in only 173 years in 2014. Since 2015 he has been Fairfax Tasmania's group managing editor with responsibility for both The Examiner and The Advocate's newsrooms. He is heavily involved in community and charitable groups as a director of the Clifford Craig Foundation, a trustee of the Tamar Valley Peace Festival and trustee of the David Chaplin Memorial Fund. Born and bred in Launceston, Mark now lives there with his wife, Amy, also an alumna and journalist, and two young sons.

Why did you choose to study an Arts degree?

I undertook a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and history. While the journalism degree at the University of Tasmania is great, I feel that journalism is a trade that you learn on the job so [used my degree] to broaden my knowledge in different fields.

In recent years you’ve been awarded the Hegarty Award, one of the peak awards in the journalism industry - what did it enable you to do?

Hegarty is an industry scholarship for people aged under-35 managing staff in the newspaper field. It was a $10,000 scholarship, which I used to visit newsrooms in the United States such as The New York Times, Huffington Post, Quartz, Medium, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe and some other industry think-tanks such as the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

Australian newsrooms were really ramping up their push into digital first journalism at the time and that trip allowed me to see who was doing it really well and why and those who were struggling and why.

As a Tassie local, you must have a convict history to share.

Both my great, great, great, great grandfathers were convicts sent to Van Diemen’s Land. On one side my relative was an Irishman serving in the Peninsula War where Great Britain and Spain were fighting France in the early 1800s.

This forebear broke into a Spanish officer’s tent and stole the gold buttons off his dress uniform. While I don’t condone stealing, I don’t dislike the story as it hints at the larrikinism and anti-authoritarian nature that informed Australia’s character.

My other ancestor’s story was not as grandiose. He stole a sack - an empty sack. I don’t know what he thought was in the sack … or whether he just really wanted a sack. So it's somewhat ironic that The Examiner newspaper was founded by a person who fought to end convict transportation.

Who founded the Examiner?

The Reverend John West founded the newspaper in 1842 and devoted many column centimetres to why convict transportation should cease. Many people today think his motivation was something altruistic or egalitarian - focused on freedom and liberty. In truth, West just thought they were messing up the joint!

In 1853, West got his wish with the cessation of convict transportation and it’s always fascinated me to think that had he succeeded sooner, I would not be here.

Describe an influential moment in your career.

One of the greatest lessons of my journalism career came not from another journalist or editor, although there were plenty of lessons there, but from a policeman I interviewed.

Called to a fatal pedestrian crash in the early morning, he saw a car speeding along High Street with one headlight out and its bumper askew.

He did not know at the time that the incident he was heading to was a hit and run and that it was deliberate - a murder of a young student.

Facing the choice of turning left towards the scene or right to pull over the speeding driver, he thought back to a piece of advice he was given: “don't be a wondering copper.”

What does that mean? I asked.

He explained that he knew something was up, he suspected more, he followed his instincts, turned right and pulled over the car.

Without his intervention that car would have been reported as stolen, burned out and any evidence linking those two men to the scene might never have seen daybreak.

“Don't be a wondering journalist” is something that stuck with me whenever I had a hunch or a tip that seemed unlikely or too hard to chase down.

What’s one writing rule you break?

As a journalist you're taught to avoid clichés - those hackneyed expressions that, in being said so many times, say nothing at all. But, I do believe, clichés survive because at their core is a truth that spans generations.

You've probably heard this one before: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” Finding the source of this phrase has proven hard, but if an idea has been so often cited, it must have some degree of truth.

What’s one piece of career advice you’d give?

One of the greatest changes in education is that we no longer complete our learning in a linear manner: characterised by primary, pre-tertiary and tertiary education, followed by 40 years in the same career.

We all must be in a state of constant learning - having the courage and confidence to leave the room you’re comfortable in and enter the next one that challenges you.

It was certainly the case for me when a decade after graduating and working as a journalist, I went back to the University of Tasmania and completed a Masters Degree.

Why did you return to study a Master of Arts in Creative Writing?

I'd been out of university education for about 10 years and missed the academic challenge. An opportunity came to study a Masters under Vogel Award winner Rohan Wilson. I'd read his book and interviews were he cited influences from authors I also loved so decided to enrol. The timing was great; I was working Tuesday to Saturday as deputy editor of The Examiner so could go to classes on Mondays and, in hindsight, I had so much time being kid free at that period!

Do you write outside of work?

No not really at the moment with two children under three. I have written a novel but the manuscript remains in a very rough draft in a drawer somewhere. Someday I'd like to get it up to scratch and sent to a publisher or work on some other ideas, but that's a while away.

You recently delivered an address at the Winter graduation ceremonies, what did you say?

I mentioned before my convict heritage and the Reverend John West. Apart from the cessation of convict transportation, West also advocated for the colonies to have self-determination. In 1854 the owner of the Sydney Morning Herald, John Fairfax, invited West to become its first official editor. West’s prose is somewhat anachronistic to modern ears, but his words remain very persuasive. In the first editorial published in The Examiner on March 12, 1842, he wrote that the press was the shield of the people - its only shield. That is a nice ideal to value as a journalist, but I don’t quite think it is correct.

[I told the graduates] “The strongest shields are comprised of many parts - each relying on the strength of the parts around it. The people have many shields, and many of them are represented in this audience today – [school teachers, architects, business students, nurses and social workers].

“So, wherever your degree today takes you -  Whatever profession, vocation or calling it sets you on in this life, remember you will all form a crucial piece that strengthens our community.”