Book recommendation: ‘Storytellers’ by Leigh Sales

By Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald on October 5, 2023

About the book’s content

The full title of the book is ‘Storytellers: Questions, answers and the craft of journalism’.

The publisher page for the book provides the following teaser:

Highly respected ABC anchor, bestselling author and hit podcaster Leigh Sales interviews the cream of Australian journalists about their craft – how (and why) they bring us the stories that inform our lives.

The book is divided into 10 sections based on specific aspects of journalistic storytelling:

  1. News reporting
  2. Rounds and foreign correspondence
  3. Investigative reporting
  4. Features and books
  5. Interviewing
  6. Live broadcasting
  7. Telling a story with pictures
  8. Commentary and analysis
  9. Anchoring
  10. Editors and executive producers

Each section is made up of 3 or 4 chapters and starts with an overview of that aspect of journalistic storytelling, usually with comparisons to other sections in the book. Each chapter is a question-and-answer formatted conversation between Sales and an Australian media professional that has been successful in that aspect of journalistic storytelling. Context is provided at the start of each chapter about the media professional being interviewed.

More info about the book

Why I enjoyed reading this book

  1. Every chapter of the book had practical tips and sometimes unexpected insights that I can directly apply in my research, interviewing, stakeholder engagement, knowledge translation and writing activities. 
  2. It is a concise and punchy read. Each chapter includes just enough context about the media professional and the story being discussed. 
  3. It doesn’t have to be read in order. I love reading nonfiction that I can put down and pick back up, often while doing the same thing with multiple other nonfiction books simultaneously. So, I appreciate choosing my own adventure and jumping around based on what interests me at the time. Having said that, I did get preoccupied with the investigative reporting section of this book! There is a clear story that builds in terms of the order of the book sections and differences in the kinds of work journalists do between, for example, news, rounds, and investigative reporting. I suggest starting by reading the short summary sections to get a feel for the kind of info covered in the respective interview chapters and go from there. 
  4. It made me appreciate the craft of journalism again. There is just enough sharing of interviewee journalistic philosophy to romanticise the profession and inspire the reader, while still being very practice focused.
  5. It made me go off on unexpected tangents outside of the book. I tend to enjoy and come back to books that make me close them and go off to do further research and thinking. I get a real sense of value from a book that sparks ideas and provides leads about other places to explore. One of the investigative reporters interviewed in this book, Hedley Thomas, talks about how to develop interviewing skills. You might recognise Hedley’s name from the Teacher’s Pet podcast. If not, and you enjoy true crime stories, give it a listen. In the book, Hedley highlights the value of up-and-coming journalists going to Supreme Court trials and learning from law professionals interviewing evasive interviewees in court. I loved this idea and ended up spending the rest of the evening watching the most unexpected but interesting proceedings from the Supreme Court of Victoria online. This led to insights about how administrative costs of disseminating victim payouts in class action cases can be funded by interest accrued on the balance of the amount to be paid in total. Didn’t see that coming earlier in the day. 😂 So many of the stories used as examples in the book had me going off to YouTube or some streaming service to watch related documentaries by other journalists to learn more about Australian history and storytelling.
  6. It models a style of communication I try to do well. In this book, Sales is simultaneously writing for people in the journalism “club” while brining along and informing a general but intelligent and interested audience of non-journalists. This is something I am always thinking about in creating content in applied psychology, through written publications and my Psych Attack podcast.

Personal context

I found out about this book while watching one of my favourite TV shows at the moment, The Cheap Seats. In a recent episode, Sales was being interviewed about the book. A couple of weeks later, Tim bought me a copy of the book. I had been really keen to read it but also reluctant to buy a copy. My Ph.D. focused on the people who make TV news, the potentially traumatic events they are exposed to, and the possible negative social and psychological reactions they might experience. I am still hugely interested in this research topic professionally. But an outcome of my research in TV news and trauma is a difficulty appreciating journalism as a more general interest area. Prior to my Ph.D. I had a real personal and general interest in journalism and the importance of journalists in democratic societies. I am pretty confident this personal interest originates from my adoration of the reporter April in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons I watched as a young child in the 90s.

Tim did me a real favour by putting that book in my hands. Although Sales touches on the psychological toll of journalistic work, the book is foremost – as suggested on the label – a homage to storytelling. It has reignited my interest and consumption of journalistic products like broadcast and print news.

Author note

If you have a book recommendation for me, please reach out: [email protected]

More about my psychology research on journalistic work

List of publications

Podcast episode


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