Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My reporting history

From 1987 to 1993 I worked full time as a journalist for a variety of print and radio media while living in London. This period preceded the situation today when stories from all major print media outlets are downloaded and then available on-line. As a result very little of my published articles are accessible through the net. This site is designed to address this through downloading scans of some of them (to enlarge and read many, you may need to do a right click and "save as...").

I was lucky in having the British daily, The Guardian, publish my first attempt at serious journalism (see left, 25 Sept 1987, click to enlarge). This article, the first to be written on the subject to my knowledge, raised concerns about the safety implications of the world's first commercial jet airliner to use fly-by-wire, the Airbus A320. Fly-by-wire is a computer system where the pilot control's the aircraft's several on-board computers which in turn control the aircraft.

I then became a regular contributor to The Guardian and various other publications mainly focusing on new media and other interesting stories I came across.

On 26 June 1988, just over six months after that Airbus piece, the first of several Airbus A320 air crashes occurred. Not unsurprisingly this prompted more stories from me on the aircraft's technology published in The Guardian (see left, click to enlarge, 28 June 1988) and and greatly enhanced my status at the newspaper. Having predicted the potential problems with fly-by-wire it was not surprising that other newspapers including The Washington Post, The Observer, the Australian Financial Review, etc employed me to do follow ups on the story.

During this period I was rung by an Airbus Vice President who warned me they would be studying my articles for defamation. A favor or a threat? Over the several years I followed this story I spoke to a large number of A320 pilots from around the world who provided many revealing stories but none willing to go on the record. Without going on the record newspaper lawyers ensured the detail of these stories never appeared in print. With one exception. The first Airbus A320 crash occurred with an Air France aircraft at Mulhouse near the French/German border. The crash was subsequently the subject of claims and counter claims, principally in the French courts, by a variety of protagonists including its pilots and France's regulatory authority, the DGAC. At that time I was the only journalist outside France to do investigative research on the contradictory elements of this unusual crash which was printed in the British Sunday, The Observer (see below, click to enlarge, 28 May 1989). As time progressed it was clear to me that this story was and remains of great importance to the general public since all new Airbus aircraft designed after the A320 (currently the A319, A330, A340 and A380) use essentially the same fly-by-wire system. But since I do not speak French (Airbus is French led consortium), do not have a pilots licence and am unsuited to understanding complex computer hardware and software issues I have stopped obsessively following this story. This is just one of many glaring gaps observable in the world of investigative reporting. I found during my period in looking at aviation safety issues closely there is considerable unhappiness by pilots, aero engineers and in aviation unions at the lack of quality investigative journalism into their industry.

During my period living in London at the start of my serious journalism I did most of my writing and research out of work hours. During the day I worked full time at The Economist as Project Manager for just under four years. It was partly as a result of working for The Economist that I came to grips with how large successful corporations worked, the competing priorities, always changing revenue streams, the interplay between senior Management, Boards of Directors, share holders and middle management. This experience gave me insights to undertake investigative journalism.

In the 1970s I had been an occasional print and radio journalist for independent media in Australia where I had grown up, and later in the early 1980s in England. From the mid-1980s I was a regular radio contributor to the BBC, the ABC and Network J.

In 1988 I returned permanently to Australia although made regular visits to England, Europe, Asia and the Pacific as a reporter. From late 1988 until 1993 I was The Guardian's Australian reporter covering Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific politics, business and occasionally the arts. During this period I also worked as a casual reporter for the Australian Financial Review mainly covering business issues and business opportunities.

In the UK and Australia I specialised in aviation safety, Green Party strategy and broader environmental issues, new media technology and Pacific affairs and had many stories published in The Guardian, The Economist, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Australian, the New Zealand Herald, Time magazine, The Bulletin, Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times, etc and supplied stories for international media agencies. Only a small proportion of my published stories appear on this site.

I was one the earliest reporters to cover the secessionist war on Bougainville closely. I travelled there twice, the second time I was there for a month after travelling illegally through the Solomon Islands to Bougainville island as it was blockaded for around 10 years. Unlike fly-by-wire and other technical aviation stories I was ideally suited to covering regional conflicts and have written  more stories on Bougainville than any other subject.

I left full time print reporting in 1993 to manage radio station 4ZZZ, Brisbane and reestablish its newsroom.

From the mid-1990s until 2007 I made a occasional contributions to Australian radio and print media while working full time as the manager of the Community Radio Satellite Network. I continue to make regular contributions to print media in Byron Bay, Australia where I now live.

I am contactable at jimbeatson@gmail.com


  1. Hi Jim, I've been reading your articles on the Bougainville conflict in The Guardian today, they're available (to some) through Nexis UK. Very interesting stuff!

  2. woops, that didn't go right! And obviously the article wasn't from today, but from 1991 and 1989!