I WANT YOUR JOB: RYAN SHEALES, PRODUCER
By Kate Iselin
Ryan Sheales is a Walkey Award-nominated journalist, and field producer for Network Ten's The Project. He told us everything you need to know about getting in to the TV industry, and how a career can be started at the age of nine at the Nunawading Horse and Pony Club.
Hey Ryan! So, tell me about your job.
I’m a 'Long Form Field Producer' at The Project, which is a fancy way of saying I help create the stories you see on your television. My role involves helping to think of stories, conducting interviews, scripting, and overseeing the editing process.
How did you get started in the television industry?
My parents will tell you it all began when, at just nine years of age, I commandeered the PA system at the Nunawading Horse and Pony Club and began commentating dressage. But things got serious in high school when I began dabbling with short films and writing music reviews for the Melbourne street rag, Beat Magazine. I studied journalism at RMIT University while working part time as a Herald Sun office shit-kicker and volunteering extensively at community broadcasters SYN FM and RMITV. I then landed a job with ABC News (in Horsham, country Victoria).
I would later work in the ABC’s Melbourne newsroom across radio, TV and online, including serving as Victorian Political Reporter and becoming a regular on ABC News Breakfast. I was shortlisted as the Walkley Foundation Young Journalist of the Year in 2010 for my coverage of the Black Saturday bushfires; and I joined The Project in mid-2014.
When you first got in to the industry, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?
Not at all! I knew I was a news junkie, a politics geek, and half-decent communicator. I knew I enjoyed the 'theatre' involved with broadcast news, and that rush of adrenalin you get with live TV and radio. But that’s where it ended. However, once I began working in the industry, I was able to observe some pretty impressive journalists up close. And they’re not necessarily the ‘big names’ you might expect. It’s simply that person who can write beautifully succinct news leads (opening paragraphs) or the person who simply makes that extra phone call or checks that extra fact.
You quickly work out what kind of journalist you wish to be (and what kind you don’t).
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I honestly don’t know, and that’s the beauty of journalism.
I might still be working in TV, I might have returned to radio. Perhaps I’ll be churning out the copy at a cool new startup, like Junkee. The journalism industry is fickle and ever-changing. If any prospective employers are reading this then give me a call. (See, that’s the necessary attitude!)
How do you make yourself stand out in your industry?
You need to be a combination of bolshy and low-maintenance. Generally speaking, news directors are looking to hire somebody who can ‘get the job done’. It’s a results based industry. You need to be able to deal with setbacks or curveballs, and still salvage something for that night’s news.
What's the best thing about your job?
I’m paid to think, write, and speak with interesting people -- what could be more awesome than that? But seriously, some days you produce stories that are very disposable and easily (and rightly) forgotten. At other times you produce a story that gets everybody talking: it may raise an important issue for ‘water cooler’ discussion, it may force a politician to change their tune, or it may just help a little old lady in some personal plight. That’s when you really feel good about your job.
What's the worst thing about your job?
Not so much at The Project, but speaking generally... the hours are pretty rotten. TV news is a shift work profession, so you can wave goodbye to countless weekends, evenings, and all of your public holidays. It's also a profession that, by definition, requires you to be nimble. So you could be working on a story all day and then, at the 11th hour, it's canceled. Something else has popped up. Suddenly you're on a roadside somewhere doing a live cross about a tanker rollover that's causing gridlock. Better cancel your dinner plans.
What advice would you give to people wanting to take the same career path as you?
Embrace the Nike ethos: just do it. Volunteer at that community radio station, write that music review, submit unsolicited pieces to websites. Build a body of work so you can show not only do you want to be a journalist, but you are already. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you.
What advice would you give to yourself, five years ago?
Take all opportunities, even if they’re intimidating. Just ask for lots of advice. Observe journalists you admire, analyse what makes them impressive, and do the same. Never be good at anything you don’t want to do. And finally, get a haircut.