Top picks: The news-makers making headlines

Amid cries of fake news and 'churnalism', the atmospheric shift of the past year has seen journalists step up to break deeply researched, meticulously fact-checked paradigm-shaping stories, the effects of which have reverberated around the world.

Among them are prominent Festival guests who will join us to discuss such topics as the role of storytelling in a time of ongoing conflict; what is being lost in the churn of the 24 hour news cycle; and how to navigate relationships when cultivating sources

We’ve pulled together the inside scoop on eight of the hard-hitting journalists, commentators and experts on the Festival bill.

Katy Tur

Occupation: Journalist and author — Katy is an NBC News correspondent and an anchor for MSNBC.

What they’re known for: Katy has the dubious honour of being singled out by Donald Trump for particular vitriol during his presidential campaign — he repeatedly referred to her as “Little Katy”, called her a liar and incited rally crowds against her. But more importantly, she’s known for her dogged, sharply reported political journalism that has seen her honoured with a Walter Cronkite Award for excellence.

Why they’re worth seeing: Katy spent nearly two years reporting on President Trump’s campaign trail. Her subsequent memoir Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, is a razor-sharp account of Trump’s road to the presidency that crackingly lives up to its name. If America’s current political moment confounds, frustrates or fascinates you, Katy Tur is a must-see.

Gabriel Sherman

Occupation: Journalist and author — Gabriel is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to NBC News and MSNBC, and the author of The Loudest Voice in the Room, a biography of Roger Ailes.

What they’re known for: Gabriel is a journalist who covers the most powerful media outlets and the men (and it is overwhelmingly men) who run them. As well as his six-years-in-the-making study of former Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes, he’s also covered Breitbart editor-in-chief Alex Marlow, CNN’s Jeff Zucker, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and the White House’s Jared Kushner. 

Why they’re worth seeing: In the age of fake news, Gabriel’s insight into the media machine will make for fascinating listening — and not to mention that he’ll be sitting down with Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine (among others) to discuss it.

Irin Carmon

Occupation: Journalist and author — Irin is a contributing writer to the Washington Post's Outlook section and the co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

What they’re known for: Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, Irin and fellow Washington Post journalist Amy Brittain published a damning exposé on television host Charlie Rose’s alleged sexual harassment. The story helped kickstart the national reckoning of the abuses of men in power that has since spread worldwide.

Why they’re worth seeing: Irin cut her teeth writing for op-eds for feminist sites like Jezebel and Salon before transitioning to “straight” journalism, and has maintain a strong commitment to reporting on the issues affecting women. If you want to get an insider’s view on how the #MeToo movement came to be, add Irin’s panels to your schedule.  

Ben Taub

Occupation: Journalist — Ben is a staff writer at the New Yorker.

What they’re known for: If Ben’s face seems vaguely familiar, it could be because you’ve seen him on season three of The Voice. Ben used used the stipend NBC gave him while he was filming the show in California to fund travel into the Turkish-Syrian border, which later led to him transitioning to journalism, and a New Yorker cover story about teenagers who join ISIS. Now on staff at the magazine, Ben’s beat ranges from in-depth reporting on the war in Syria to the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  

Why they’re worth seeing: Ben’s reportage is characterised by sensitivity and nuance, foregrounding the empathetic, human stories that can sometimes get lost in big picture journalism. “I don’t think it’s my place to be cynical because I’ve observed some of the horrors of the Syrian War through these various materials, but it’s Syrians that are living them,” he’s said of his time reporting in Syria. “It’s Syrians that are being largely ignored by the international community and by a lot of political attention on ISIS. And I think that it wouldn’t be my place to be cynical when some of them still aren’t.”  

Occupation: Journalist and author — Amy is a staff writer at The Washington Post, a position she’s held for 30 years.

What they’re known for: Her relentless exploration of the social policies shaping America, rendered in clear and meticulously reported prose. She was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2002, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, and her first book, Janesville: An American Story chronicles the shutdown of the General Motors assembly plant in December of 2008, and what happened to the people of Janesville in the years that followed.

Why they’re worth seeing: In a world where journalism seems increasingly ruled by tabloid tactics and a “publish first, fact-check later” approach, Amy’s dedication to telling a balanced, nuanced story is as admirable as it is necessary. “I’m not an opiner for a living,” she’s said. “I’m a journalist who prefers to keep neutrality and credibility with people on all sides of the issues I’m writing about.”

Robert E. Kelly

Occupation: Political analyst and academic — Robert is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University in South Korea.

What they’re known for: Robert comments frequently on North Korea and U.S. foreign policy for outlets including the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and Foreign Affairs

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Why they’re worth seeing: Come for the viral fame, stay for the insightful political commentary. As well as delivering a Curiosity Lecture on the perils and pleasures of becoming an internet meme, Robert will also be speaking on China’s political, economic and cultural future under the leadership of Xi Jinping; the volatile political climate in North Korea; what Trump’s presidency means for Australia and the world; and what will happen if China’s notoriously high levels of debt and the “shadow banking” sector trigger a financial crash.  

Masha Gessen

Occupation: Journalist and author — Masha is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of nine books, most recently Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia (out in March).

What they’re known for: Masha’s has written extensively on contemporary Russia and Vladimir Putin (including The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017, and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin), as well as varied as LGBTQI rights, Donald Trump, genetic testing, mathematics and more.  

Why they’re worth seeing: If you want to understand the rise of totalitarianism (across Russia, the US and beyond), are interested in gay and transgender rights in the current political moment, or just want to soak up the sharp commentary of one of the finest journalists working right now, Masha’s sessions should be at the top of your list.

Richard Lloyd Parry

Occupation: Journalist and author — Richard is the Asia Editor of London's The Times and the author of three non-fiction books.

What they’re known for: Richard’s most recent book, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone, has been widely hailed as a strikingly vivid, sensitive and compelling account of Japan’s devastating 2011 tsunami and its aftermath. This book is an extraordinary portrait of a nation’s grief and struggle to come to terms with its monumental loss.

Why they’re worth seeing: As The Times’ Asia Editor, Richard’s insight into the political, economic and social nuances of the region is particularly worth paying attention to — expect a considered, balanced take on the issues affecting Myanmar, Japan and more.