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Crime curiosity led to following her passions

“I’m pretty sure I was the only eight-year-old in my neighbourhood with their own magnifying glass and dusting kit.”

In 1996, the opportunity to apply for a researcher’s position for the program Australia’s Most Wanted in Sydney came up and Justine threw her hat into the ring. Her early interest in mysteries and crime proved fortuitous: she nailed the job.

After a few months, she was asked if she wanted to be a reporter on the show.

“So I was researching, reporting and producing stories on unsolved crimes all around Australia,” she said.

“I realised at that time just how much the media could help as an investigative tool for police, and could give a voice to the families of victims.

“So I saw a really incredible, proactive role for the media and I thought, ‘I can do something here. I can make a difference’.”

TV crime reporter Justine Ford studied at Charles Sturt University.

TV crime reporter Justine Ford studied at Charles Sturt University.

Ford is the author of five true crime books and has worked on some of Australian docu-series programs including RPA and Border Security as well as Missing Persons Unit.

Charles Sturt University senior journalism lecturer Jock Cheetham said reporting on crime could be tricky because it was subject to laws, including contempt of court.

“A knowledge of the laws of contempt of court and suppression orders and a range of legal restrictions on both the media and the public is required,” he said.

“You need to be sensitive to victims and their families. You need to be fair and acknowledge and work within the constraints of the presumption of innocence. Yet you also need to be a bit tough and direct and call the situation for what it is.”

Between 2017 and 2018, Ford’s production company Queenpin produced The Good Cop for Foxtel on Australian homicide detective Ron Iddles, based on a book Ford has written. It won a Logie for most outstanding factual or documentary program in 2019. Ford also produced The Good Cop podcast, a hit on iTunes.

“Forty-odd years in the police force, 25 in homicide and with a clearance rate of more than 95 per cent. It is unheard of,” Ford said of now-retired Iddles.

Ford has covered crimes including the murder of Jane Thurgood-Dove, the Sunshine Coast disappearance of Daniel Morcombe and the murder of beauty queen Bronwynne Richardson in Albury.

Ford’s time at Charles Sturt University gave her the grounding she needed to launch her career.

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“It’s had such a lasting impact on my life,” she said. “I’ve been able to achieve what I have because I studied there. You could learn everything you needed to springboard you into the profession you wanted to be part of.”

Justine’s advice if you want to be a producer or journalist:

  • Is it your passion?

I’d say to anyone thinking about a career as a journalist or a producer: make sure it is really your passion. Because in an ever-changing media landscape, it is an unstable profession and many people are out of work.

  • Be on your game

Also make sure you’re not faint-hearted, that you’re skilled at perseverance and can stick to deadlines. You have to be on your game all the time because there’s always someone with an eye on your job or willing to steal your ideas!

  • Develop multiple skills

Consider doing the producer course at CSU. I’ve seen fantastic producers come out of there and they have multiple skills. They have a strong storytelling base, but they can also use cameras and they can edit. It makes them among some of the better producers in NSW.

  • Consider doing something else as well.

If your heart is set on a media career, I wish you every success! But consider getting another qualification too. Can you study PR as well? What about marketing? Or law? Because if you can “value-add” to your knowledge, you are more likely to have something interesting to fall back on if times get tough.

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