Nine News’ “Go-to guy” Tom Steinfort
Reporting from South Africa, or filing for Inside Story, Tom Steinfort loves the spontaneity of his job.
Currently in Pretoria, South Africa, he is filing on the high-profile court case of athlete Oscar Pistorius.
His reports appear on Nine News, and the network’s various news programmes. While the media circus includes crews from around the world, paparazzi and frenzied fans, the change from Australian court reporting to South African has offered Steinfort some unique story opportunities.
“I’ve done 2 pieces to camera inside the court. You get some very unusual access here that you perhaps wouldn’t get at home,” he explains.
“To think that in Australia you could waltz in and do a piece to camera. You would have handcuffs on you before you got through the metal detector.
“It’s strange, some days they look at you like you’ve got two heads and other days they let you shoot whatever you like.”
Steinfort has been in South Africa for 2.5 weeks and the case could take up to 6 weeks. Joining him is a small Aussie crew to get the stories back to Sydney.
“We’re pretty well resourced here in comparison to some of the networks in America and the like,” he says.
“There are 3 of us from Sydney and one from Melbourne plus we have our own driver. For the start of the trip we had a Fixer as well, and when demand was high we had a team of 6, but now we don’t have our Fixer anymore so there is a team of 5.
“It makes a big difference to have our Satellite people here, it means we can provide so much more content at our leisure.”
Other Australian TV reporters on location have included Chris Reason from Seven, now replaced by Laurel Irving, and Martin Cuddihy from the ABC. Despite their rival networks, the camaraderie amongst the Aussies is good.
“We teed up a big get-together of Aussie journos that are over here but it got cancelled at the last minute because we got sent off to file. It’s pretty tricky. The hours are about 7am – 11pm, which makes it pretty hard to socialise or do anything along those lines.”
Steinfort has been with Nine for just over seven years, with three years at Nine News Melbourne, another three with A Current Affair in Sydney and just over 15 months back on Nine News.
He also presented Weekend Today over summer and is now reporting for Inside Story.
“I love the big news stories, just as any journo worth their weight does. When it’s breaking and unfolding I have a real preference for Live reporting,” he admits.
“But the Today show over summer I really loved. We had a really good crew but it was the ability to look at serious news and to be at liberty to have a bit of fun, was really enjoyable.”
News highlights have included the Japan tsunami, Michael Jackson Memorial, World Cup, and Awards season in Hollywood. But it’s the range and spontaneity of stories that appeals most.
“Even a random colour story that you can do in the back blocks of Sydney can often be as rewarding or entertaining as what you get up to overseas. Probably my favourite part of the job is that every day is very, very different. You never know what you’re going to get when you walk in the door and they send you out.
“It’s the variety that keeps me entertained and interested.”
This week on Inside Story he looks at ‘Teenage Killers’, including a gruesome case of 19y.o. South Australian who murdered two young women with an axe. While there is no escaping the grim nature of the story, Steinfort says there are lessons to be learned.
“I think what happens in these kinds of cases is that you and I have seen them on the news as a 30 second read on a Wednesday night bulletin and everyone sort of moves on,” he says.
“A lot of the ones featured in my story I don’t remember ever hearing in the media. They can be complete blips on the radar and then there is no real thought down the track as to what these do to real lives and how they families cope in the aftermath.
“12 months down the track this is something people are dealing with almost all day on a daily basis.
“Yes people love watching crime, and real crime in particular. There’s no better example than what I am doing right now with the Pistorius case. 99% of the time you can’t make up the details of what actually happened in these crimes.
“We often look at the crime itself but we don’t look at what it does and how people have to cope with it afterwards and I think this show sheds a pretty reasonable light on that.”
The family of one victim speak openly about their grief in losing their daughter, who met her killer through social media. While their interview serves the show’s story they have a warning for other parents.
“For that particular family it was about getting the message about Facebook out there. But a lot of the time as I am sitting opposite these people they have tears rolling down their face, half the crew have tears rolling down their face…. How awful to deal with this on a daily basis,” Steinfort recalls.
“In many ways I think for them it’s, not quite counselling, but almost therapeutic to be able to get their story out there.”
At one point the young brother of the victim can be seen remembering his sister, but Steinfort insists it was at the beckoning of the boy that he spoke to camera.
“Initially we had taken the decision that we weren’t going to use the kids for the story, but he was so proud of his sister’s (art) work that he came up to tell us,” he says.
“Kids on stories like that I definitely don’t feel comfortable with. We definitely made a conscious decision before not to use them, but he was the one who walked up out of the blue.”
With parental consent, his story was included.
As investigative reporting, it’s also important to cover the other side of the story. Steinfort does include some background on how a 19 year old young man turned killer.
“We profiled about 5 or 6 killers and every one of them –and this by no means justifies what they did– all had a horrible upbringing. There were issues with parents, neglect, sexual abuse. I know a lot of people say ‘That’s a cop out, it doesn’t mean you can kill someone.’ But there is that common thread with all of the killers we covered,” he says.
The show also profiles a 14y.o. convicted teenager from the UK, edited as part of a “buy-in” from another programme. Steinfort says identifying the child follows UK broadcasting rules.
In coming weeks his second episode, Killers in the Family, will air. So far Inside Story has focussed entirely on killers, suggesting a limited subject range and a predilection for blood. But while the ratings have been positive, Steinfort says the brief may expand if the show proceeds to a second season.
“Six weeks ago I was thinking ‘Oh great we’ll be up against MKR with 2 million’ and it would be pretty troublesome, but the numbers are actually really good and hopefully we can build on from there.”
Inside Story airs 8:45pm Wednesday on Nine.