Leigh Sales on luck, doubt, trolls and what makes a great interview

ANDREW LEIGH: Leigh Peta Sales has worked as an Australian journalist for a quarter of a century. In that time, she has covered floods, murder trials, sporting scandals, surf accidents, and the Royal Brisbane show. She has worked in Brisbane, Sydney and Washington DC, interviewed innumerable world leaders including Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, and celebrities like the Dalai Lama, Henry Kissinger, Leonardo DiCaprio and Patti Smith. Until moving to 7:30 in 2011 Leigh anchored the Lateline programme and before that was the ABCs national security correspondent. From 2001 to 2005, she was the network's Washington correspondent covering stories including the aftermath of September 11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Leigh has two Walkley awards and is the author of three books Detainee 002: the case of David Hicks, On Doubt, and Any Ordinary Day. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including the monthly in the Australian literary review, with Annabel Crabb Leigh hosts pop culture podcast Chat 10 Looks 3, which is nearly at its 100th episode. Leigh Sales, Welcome to The Good Life podcast.

LEIGH: Is it weird to be interviewed?

SALES: I prefer to be the interviewer I'm not gonna lie. You have much more control as the interviewer. Which is sort of weird because the interviewee speaks more, of course, so you can steer it where you want to go. But I'd prefer to be in your seat than mine.

LEIGH: So what got you interested in journalism? You were you grew up in Brizzy and Keperra and Bald Hills? Was it some of the political turmoil at the time? Was it something to do with your parents?

SALES: I wasn't really tuned into politics at all. It was that I really liked writing and reading. And I've wanted a job that allowed me to do that. And journalism seems sensible, I grew up in a sort of family where you needed to have an education and a job that would earn you a living, and something like, you know, being a writer or an actor or saying that those are things that are hobbies. And so you needed something, you know, to sort of, I guess the view was to fall back on. And so I thought, okay, journalism is a way that I can do those things, but actually make a living. And so that was what drove me into it. And it's been great. I've loved it.

LEIGH: You've loved it basically all the way through, right? You write in your most recent book that it was on your first day of journalism class at QUT that you felt you'd fallen into something that delighted you?

SALES: Yeah, I think I was incredibly lucky. Because you can live your whole life and not find a job that you like, or you can have a job that you know, is just something that makes you money and allows you to sort of stay afloat. But I just found it really interesting from the first day. And yeah, I used to sit down with my friends who were doing law or accounting or whatever, and think, “God, that just sounds so boring compared to what I'm doing.” And then it's just been the whole way along. I've always found it interesting. And I think it's partly because every day, you're immersed in a different subject. It's like every day I'm cramming for an exam on a different subject. And so the variety and the diversity of what you get to do in your job is really fantastic.

LEIGH: And you work across various platforms. Tell me briefly what you love about writing for newspapers, working on radio and working in television.

SALES: Radio is a brilliant medium. And podcasting really is a form of radio, it's the same sort of thing. Radio is wonderful because bizarrely, I think it's intimate in a way that the others aren't you think TV would be maybe the most intimate because you're seeing pictures, but I think radio the fact that you're not saying pictures, allows your imagination to come into play. And because you can be in your kitchen or in your car or even lying in bed and have these people you know, having a conversation. It often feels like maybe you're in the conversation but you're just not saying anything and in fact, Annabel Crabb and I get that feedback from people all the time that they feel like they're sitting at a table with their friends having a conversation and they get the same buzz from it. So radios brilliant like that. And also, when you're interviewing somebody for radio, in my experience, you get much better material than for television because you don't have the gear and the camera is intimidating to people and off putting. So the absence of a tonne of paraphernalia is really great. So radios fantastic like that. And also because you don't need pictures, it's very immediate. Television, there's no substitute for the power of a picture and seeing somebody say something for allowing you to draw conclusions about, you know, their trustworthiness or their likability or all of that sort of stuff. And so it's hard to go past TV for just the power of it. Print, and, you know, sort of long form print, which is, I guess, when I say long for me, I've done three books, but I guess I've written I don't know, 2000 word feature articles, I haven't done newsprint reporting, I've done more feature stuff or opinion pieces. The beauty of that is that I think that it allows you to put analysis in in a way that broadcast media often doesn't, because you're sort of pressed for time, often in a broadcast sense. So the kinds of things that I've been able to explore in all three of my books, I think, would be difficult to do in a different medium. So they've all got their different strengths and weaknesses. And I think, you know, part of me, the enjoyment of my job is not just the subject matter, it's that I have been able to range across all those different things.

LEIGH: So when the lights go on, and the interview starts, you're, you're in an incredibly high pressure environment. I remember you saying that your interview with Paul McCartney, that was a miracle that you didn't start sobbing partway through the interview. How do you manage to control your nerves in those that sort of environment?

SALES: Um, it's, every interview is so different, and you're interviewing for a different things. So say, for 7:30. If it's a political interview, that's more of what you'd call, I'd call on sort of an accountability interview where the person will say something, and you might pull them up on it and say, Oh, that's wrong, or but last time, you said this, you know, blah, blah, blah. So that's one kind of interview. With McCartney, the nerves for something like that is just because it's high stakes, and there's pressure and a scrutiny. Something like McCartney the nerves are more to do with the fact that I’m a gigantic Beatles fan, and it just strikes me as beyond my wildest dreams to meet Paul McCartney. And it's, I guess, it's partly the just anxiety that what if that person is a disappointment, or they're nasty or something, and that Sully's your, you know, view of them. But also, I think it's just your own human emotion of that, you know, I'm just, it's overwhelming to meet somebody that you're a huge fan of. And so that I think comes into play. So in terms of how I manage the nerves, I think it depends on the reason that I'm nervous. So with something like a major political interview, or a major broadcast, like election night, I try to be really well rested. I try to have done a huge amount of preparation so that I feel like there's nothing more that I could do so that when I go into the circumstance, I don't have any niggling doubt, like, I haven't done all the work I haven't. I haven't ticked every box, I don't mind, I know I'm going to I'm going to have enough anxiety without thinking that I haven't actually done my homework. So I like to have the homework done. So I think for those kinds of things, for me, it's preparation and it's lowing myself into a false sense of control really, over something that's not controllable. Because what somebody else says in an interview, or what happens on live TV is out of my control. So if I can pin down the things that are in my control, like wearing a comfortable suit, having had a decent night's rest, having eaten good food that day, then that lulls me into some sort of ridiculous false sense that I'm under control in a situation, when it's something where the nerves are more relating to my own emotion, like you know that I'm overwhelmed by the person I'm meeting or that the story is really sad, or I'm interviewing someone about difficult terrain, like say, the death of a loved one. I try very hard to think about, this is not about me, this is about the person at home and try to pull my own normal, I guess reaction out of it. I tried to, I suppose and doesn't sound very healthy. I try to suppress my own normal emotion in the context of doing it.

LEIGH: What about for interviewees? I mean, I don't mean professional interviewees, like politicians, but for people who might be stopped on the street or for a corporate leader who might have to be held to account for some unexpected event. What tips do you have for them to do as best they can in an interview?

SALES: I just think people should be authentic. I interviewed Shane Moore the other week, and I was incredibly struck. I don't think I've ever interviewed somebody who was so unapologetically just themselves and that every answer seemed completely unspun and completely Frank without a view to how that might play later on. And The attacks a lot of either guts or I guess stupidity to do that, I don't know. But the thing is that when people answer like that they come across really authentically. And so by far the most common feedback I've had to the Shane Warne interview was people going, Oh, I thought Shane was a bit of a nod. But actually, he's a great guy. And I think that that comes from the authenticity because people respect, I think, when you just are who you are, and you admit that you've done things wrong, or you admit that you've you're not perfect or whatever. And so I would say to people, and I often say to people, if they say, even like, this week, for example, I was hosting a tribute concert to somebody who recently died. And somebody who I was speaking to, in the context of the concert said, Can you tell me what I'm asking what you'll be asking me? And I said, Well, I can, but you need to not pre script your answers, because then it sounds unnatural and inauthentic. And that's what you know, causes people to give a bad response, you want it to seem as natural as possible. And so to be as natural as possible, telling the truth and being authentic are the keys to that.

LEIGH: And in any ordinary day, you talk about a particular category of an interviewee, somebody who's suffered significant loss and you talk about some sort of quite rough experiences with the interviewers, particularly in the case of James Scott and Stuart diver. How should someone who's suffered loss and is facing an interview respond?

SALES: I think you have to be very careful to choose who you want to be interviewed by and when and the context and all of those kinds of things because clearly, if you've gone through a traumatic event, or you found yourself unwittingly at the centre of a media storm, the last thing you want to do is be further traumatised, and the media process can be traumatising. So I think you have to think through very carefully, like, Who's the kind of person I want to talk to about this? And what do I hope to get from talking to somebody about this? And, and, you know, I guess just what I would do it where I, in that circumstance, say my brother was eaten by a shark or something, I would know I wouldn't be in a fit state to make decisions. So I would ask someone that I trust to help me, you know, think through it. So that's, that's the problem. I think for people when they find themselves in the middle, if they're not experienced at the media, and they find themselves in the middle of a horrible event, you're probably at your lowest, you know, competence to assess whether or not you should even talk to the media.

LEIGHL You've faced this barrage of online abuse, about your interviews, about your separation, about your writings, you've said that barely a day goes by you don't get a disgusting, offensive sexual insult. How do you handle that?

SALES: Do you know that the volume of it is so vast that it legitimately is basically water off a duck's back, because you can't take it seriously when it's just such a sort of barrage. And, I mean, I just I, it's hard to explain, but I just don't really care, because it's sort of anonymous, people like that aren't even tweeting or whatever, under their actual name. And so I find it hard to care about, that says, I'm like a sociopath or something. But it just does not make a gigantic impact on me. And I don't also i'm not someone that say comes off the show, particularly if I've done an interview with the prime minister or the opposition leader, and I know that my feed will be full of very partisan responses, I don't tend to come off air and then sit there and just go through it and keep refreshing it, I tend to just go home and switch off from that sort of stuff. And the thing that I find when people say to me, how do you not get upset by it? I always feel like flipping it and going, why do you get upset by it? It's just Yeah, I just find it. I don't know. It's, it's sort of out there. And it exists. But I don't see it as something meaningful, if that makes sense.

LEIGH: But it's gotten a lot worse during your time as a journalist?

SALES: Well, it has just because of the advent of social media, I'm sure there was plenty of people sitting at home when Kerry O'Brien was hosting 7:30 going Oh, bloody Kerry, you know, blah, blah, blah, but they didn't have the means to immediately send that to Kerry O'Brien. So I think, you know, I'm sure that there's been I mean, I remember years ago, the ABC switchboard would get inundated with calls. If there was a tetchy interview, you might get the call log that would say 700 people rang bla bla bla, I bet you now the volume of calls they get would be right off because it would be people on their social media having a go. So I think it has gotten worse and certain I noticed certain platforms are worse for it than others. So say for example, my Twitter is often full of just really extreme partisan abuse. Instagram, there's none really. Facebook, I see very little abuse. I'm not sure if it's to do with Well, I guess people aren't using their own names necessarily on Facebook or, or Instagram, but Twitter just seems particularly. Yeah, horrible.

LEIGH: You occasionally choose to fire back, famously, when Graham Morris called you a coward, and you said you'd rather be a coward than a dinosaur. How do you how do you make those decisions as to as to when to engage?

SALES: that thing with Graham, I mean, I actually get on pretty well with Graham and I don't Graham for a long time because he used to come on lateline regularly and so I thought My cow dinosaur line was actually like, light hearted, like, just, you know, like, almost like just you're gonna say this and I'm just gonna smack you down by being funnier. But then of course, because people you know, you can always read the nuance in things. And so and also a lot of people are humourless. And so people only sell Smackdown grammars. And well, actually, No, I was just having a lot how to dig.

Sometimes I'll retweet if somebody says something particularly egregious and offensive, I'll retweet it because I do like people to understand the degree of nastiness that's out there just to give a taste of sometimes what it's like, or even things like in the context of an election, somebody, not everyone that sends a sort of, you know, tweet, like You're hopeless or your crap or whatever, is a horrible person, what they maybe don't realise is the person that they're sending that message to that they might be the 10,000th person to tell that one individual today that they're crap, or they're hopeless.

There was a story earlier this year when ABC Adelaide presenter broke down in tears on air because they've got a tweet or a text or something from someone to say that they're doing a crap job. And she said, we're we're trying our best and you know, like live radio, it's, it's moving super fast, and you're doing what you can. And so obviously, that one message landed for her at a bad moment, on a bad day when she was doing her best. And then someone said, slaps her down and says your crap in a way that they wouldn't ever do that in real life. So I think it's good sometimes to remind people, you think you're one person sending the message, but actually, you may be one of 10,000 that's been piling on this person. So it can be, I think, a form of bullying.

Do you worry that in doing that, potentially, you're putting talented young women off journalism?

SALES: Um, no,not necessarily. I think that they just need to know the reality of what it's like, I think what is better is for somebody like me to say, Yeah, I get all of this, but don't let it put you off, or just accept that what why do you care what complete strangers anonymous strangers say about you, particularly also, when they're clearly motivated by, you know, extreme political views at one end? or the other? Like, why would you care about that? What, you know, why does your self esteem need to ride on that, like just doesn't doesn't

LEIGH: Do you have any tricks for sort of taking off the armour when you when you get to get home sort of say, putting aside particularly when you've had one of these sort of accountability interviews that you talk about?

SALES: you've got to switch off, like you have to switch off will just literally get your phone and switch. Stop looking at it, and distract yourself by doing something else. So you know, I'll go home and read a novel or I'll play the piano, or if it's, I mean, I get home, my kids are already in bed. But if it's a weekend, it's like playing with my kids, you know, I'm doing stuff, talking to my friends, doing stuff that is not work related. I think people find it increasingly hard to switch off in this day and age. But you know, you don't have to be sitting in your bed at 930. At night scrolling through tweets, I just want to switch it off.

LEIGH: Again, on that kind of thing between the sort of rigorous scrutiny persona of Li sales and the empathetic Li sales. Are you able to ever meld those together in the same interview? Or do you really need to decide in an interview whether you're going to empathise with the interviewee, or subject as subject them to to scrutiny,

SALES: I think, if it's somebody who holds a position of power, so whether it's the head of cricket Australia, or the Minister for something or bank boss, if they're in a position of power, I think that they're sometimes you know, someone's having a not very good interview, I might feel a degree of like, feeling sorry for them thinking, geez, they're making a bloody hash out of this. But that does not be the same position or power. But it doesn't affect how if someone in a job like that is not doing a good interview, certainly I won't go softer, because I feel sorry for them.

Because a couple of reasons. One is you're in a position of power, and therefore you should be able to, you know, justify your position to your stakeholders, who are, you know, the viewers or whoever is part of your organisation so forth. To is that people in positions of power usually have professionals who armed them with the tools to manage an interview from somebody like me, not like some poor schmuck in Australia whose brother just got taken by a shark. These people have people that all day have hopefully been presumably been working with them to say, should probably ask about this, you could say that, you know, blah, blah, blah.

So I think they should be able to equip themselves well, so in an interview like that, I don't have a lot of empathy for, you know, if the person is going well, going badly, whatever. In an interview with somebody who's not a trained professional with armies of people, equipping them to do a 730 interview, I try really hard to be understanding that it's not a natural thing for them to have to front up on television, that they might only be familiar with me from the first kind of interview and so they might be scared of me and not sure you know, am I not? person, am I a hard person? So I try to for people like that I try very hard to put them at ease. Often I'll try to make somebody you can't always in interviews if it's very serious, but I'll often try to make somebody laugh with the first question because I'll put them at ease. Or in the small talk leading up to the interview, I'll try to make them feel not threatened. So yeah, you just approach the each each different sort each different type, you know, differently.

LEIGH: So your book on doubt is a great, terrific praise of the notion that, that we shouldn't be too certain about our views. And why is it that you don't trust what you call zealots?

SALES: Um, I just my experience of life is that it's not usually extreme, and that the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, and that people often you know, can be well intentioned but wrong, or have, you know, poor intentions, but be on the right path. And I just have found in my experience as a reporter that the truth usually isn't found at the extremes. And I sort of find it personally very off putting when someone is so certain of their view of something. I'm not talking about facts here. I'm talking about opinion, when they're so certain of their opinion about something that they can't even fathom the idea that another side that another side of the argument might have merit in it.

Like to give an example, when we had the same sex marriage debate, and you had the core of people who were all malad sites, because he said, No policy on this drive, is that right? When we had the same sex marriage debate, there were a core of people who were anti same sex marriage, and they, you know, held those beliefs very strongly that, you know, this shouldn't be allowed to happen. And they felt that they spoke for a significant segment of the community and so forth. When the vote then came back in and it was overwhelming that the country had voted yes. I felt like I didn't see anyone on that side of the argument. go, Oh, God, wow. Do we Wow, I thought we spoke for like a big majority of people. Geez, wow, it's causing me to rethink, maybe we're wrong.

Like, I feel like I don't often see people in public life, do that when things don't, you know, unfold as they would have thought that they might unfold? And yeah, I just sort of, I don't know, I've tended to I hate the sort of practice of people where they magnify you know, the sort of write elements of their argument, and then ignore, you know, holes in it or ignore facts which are contrary, I just find that sort of intellectually dishonest. So yeah, zealotry, I just find off putting, having said that, sometimes I find it like something that I admire, because I just can't believe how much people will sometimes put on the line for their views about something about the environment or refugees or whatever their cause is that they believe in, you know, Christian missionaries. Sometimes I think, Wow, it must be incredible to believe in something that strongly. So there is there are some things to admire about zealotry. But mostly, I'm suspicious of it.

LEIGH: My favourite question for uncovering zealots is what evidence would I have to give you to persuade you that that view is wrong? A typical zealot isn't able to answer that that question. And that's no evidence that they can identify that would persuade them to to switch

SALES: that's really interesting. I read recently on how if I throw out a book called sapiens, which is a very interesting read, and he makes a point in it, where sometimes people who believe in something particularly strongly will say, like, say, for example, in with homosexuality, people will go what's unnatural, it's unnatural for men to have two relations. And he's coming at it from a biological perspective. And he says, Well, actually, anything that's possible in nature is by its definition, natural things that are unnatural, are things that nature makes impossible. So for example, if I jumped off a building, it's unnatural for me to be suspended in midair, because gravity would force me to go to the ground. So he says, If something's possible, it is by definition, natural, unnatural means nature would not permit it to happen. And I just thought, God, that is a fascinating way to look at that. And that book is full of little things like that little light bulb moments.

LEIGH: In 2014, you suffered a uterine rupture that nearly killed you and your second son Jones, you said you stepped back from that initially, and then chose to write about it. What chose you to write a book about the hardest and presumably most terrifying moment of your life.

SALES: Just, um, I think that two things One was that every night on my own programme, people are having moments like that, that end, you know, far worse than mine did. And I felt like night after night on my show, I was confronted by how quickly life can change and that you can be living your life and it can be suddenly taken away from you or turned upside down. And that that's very disappointing. thing to think about. And then that experience with the birth of my second child really personally rammed that home to me how quickly things can change for you. I think I just was grappling with for a long time that I came out of it.

And I felt like I was really unsettled and on shaky ground. And I didn't know how to make sense of it. And I think because I'm the sort of person who, as I said, before, I'm doing interviews, I like to be broadcast, I like to give myself a fake sense of control over things that are out of my control. There's nothing more out of your control than the direction of your own life, because random things can come in from everywhere. And so I think by writing a book and looking at the forces that shape a person's life and looking at, say things like probability and the odds of bad things happening to us, I think that what I was attempting to do, I didn't know this at the time.

But with hindsight, I think subconsciously, I was trying to find some control over an uncontrollable situation. Now what happened, it took me about four years of research to write that book, what happened by the end is that it didn't, of course, give me control because these things are out of your control. But I am actually now more comfortable with not having control, I accept that I don't have control over what happens to me in life. And that sits a little bit more easy with me than it did before.

LEIGH: How does that manifest Leigh? What are some of the situations where four years ago, you would have felt that you needed to be in control and now your comfort with?

SALES: I'm just, I'm just generally less anxious. So even things like doing my own show, I just noticed that I'm less anxious about it. I can't explain why like something's just clicked a bit in my brain, I'm just less anxious. I am less. I still worry about I'm a bit of an over thinker, but I'm, you know, used to be a chronic, you know, middle of the night worrying about stuff. And what if this happens, what if that happens?

Now, I'm much more likely to think, you know, what will today is actually going all right. So I'm just going to take that, and I tend to be a bit more in the moment. Yes, so it has sort of changed me to be a bit a bit less some, I don't know, a bit less anxious. And I feel a bit more reassured that I know, things will go wrong to me because I'm a human being and I'm alive. And I feel a little bit more like I believe in my capacity to manage that.

LEIGH: Do you feel like you're a lucky person?

SALES: I did until I was about 40. And then it felt like very suddenly, I used up all of my I had a series of bad things that I write about happened just sort of one after the other in 2014. And I just thought, Oh my God, I've just used up all my lcul. And you know, this was I was somebody who, like, I had a really nice family, lovely friends picked a job that I really liked and suited, married someone quite young. And that went well. Had tonnes of great opportunities in journalism, career wise, everything went fantastically well. And I even things like I remember one night going to the Greyhound Racing with a friend and we won the trifecta from a $5 bet. We think we got over 200 bucks. We decided we'd go to a Thai restaurant, we stopped a bottle shop on the way to get a bottle of wine. And I found lying in the gutter, a $50 note, like that level of luck that I used to have going thing that economists say should never happen. Yeah, it was unbelievable.

And then I had this string of events of nearly dying in childbirth and my child being thought to had brain damage. And then we sort of staggered through that and then he got viral meningitis. Then my other son was unwell. And my marriage fell apart was just like one thing after another going wrong. And so I felt like I will I guess I used up all my luck in my first 40 years of my life, and it's all down for me.

But again, I've come to realise some people have, like john Howard, who I interview in any Audrey day, the former prime minister, when you look at his life in in hindsight, you know, over the 80 years, he has had a tonne of luck. Like he's just mean you've written a whole book about luck, he's had a tonne of luck over the whole course of his life. Other people say, Stewart diver when you look at his life so far, you'd go chase that poor bag. He's had a lot of bad luck. He's had you know, his first wife died. And Fred by landslide, his second wife died of breast cancer. But really, there's no such thing as being inherently lucky or unlucky. We can only discover in hindsight, when we look back at our lives. Have we been, you know, lucky or unlucky? It's it's hard to know.

LEIGH: You also derived from unity of us and lovely insights on how we should deal with those who have suffered tremendous loss. I particularly appreciated Steve syns notion of accompanying

SALES: Yeah. So Steve sin is a Jesuit priest, who has spent most of his ministry on the streets of Kings Cross working with homeless and marginalised people. He B's mid 70s. Now he burnt out from doing that after about 35 years, took a little break. And then now he works in Bathurst with people who are coming out of prison and then trying to get themselves back into the community. And he has spent a lot of time around people who have been suffering. And I came across him because I interviewed a woman whose partner had been murdered. And Steve, she came to deal with Steve in the days afterward. And she said, just he seemed like the only person who knew the terrain and could speak the language and was just said the right thing and did the right thing all the time.

And so I went to Steve to say, because you know, so many of us in that circumstance, you feel terrified, gonna say and do the wrong thing. And you'll often avoid people because you think I just don't wanna make it worse. And I asked Steve, you know, how do you know the right thing to do? And he said, I've got no idea. I don't know at all what the right thing is to do. But he put it down to just being there and what he called accompanying people. And so he said, it's, you need to take the focus off yourself, and about, what am I going to say? or What am I going to do, it's simply just about being there and showing to the person who's having the terrible time that you are accompanying them along this path that they're on. And I found that a very liberating way to look at it is just to stop thinking about what you might do and start thinking about the other person.

LEIGH: Your podcast, chat 10 looks three, what do you enjoy most about, about talking pop culture with the wonderful Annabelle crabbe?

SALES: Just Firstly, she's just so funny. So just, she just cracks me up. And also her brain and her ability to just her insights into things I sometimes find gobsmacking like we were on a flight together when the liberal leadership spill was happening recently. And she started writing a column. And she showed me the first two lines, she wanted me to check something did I think it was in poor taste or something, and I read it, and I was whatever she'd written was fine. And I just sort of thought, Oh, yeah, you know, like, bog standard column. But uh, we landed, and then you know, an hour or so later, this column got posted online. I swear to God, it was one of the best things I read about the Holy shit. I couldn't believe it that in this one hour, from what I'd seen this just really bog standard opening to, you know, a couple of hours later, was this polished, amazing, insightful bit of work?

So she does things like that occasionally Don't tell her I said this, of course, because I wasn't getting a big or should say, a bigger head. So she, I've just been very admiring of her intellect and her ability to just I don't know, piece things together, you know, in an entertaining and amusing way. So I enjoyed a conversation with her because I find it really super stimulating. And also she often will have, it's really enjoyable when we both read or watch something the same. And we can sort of compare notes. But it's equally as enjoyable when she's read or saying something that I haven't yet and I can get her take on it. So it's just any really, it's like the most interesting conversation you can have.

LEIGH: Is it mostly consumption or production? consumption?

SALES: I'd say because it's production slow consumptions, but you do it principally because you enjoy it. Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, it's actually now it's become so huge and has such a following that it feels now a bit more like, even if we stopped enjoying it, I guess we wouldn't do it. But I feel now like we'd be letting people down. Right, right. So there's that now there's a level of like that we sort of have to do it. I feel like, even though you know, we're not paid for it. And it's sort of voluntary, but we do still enjoy it. Thank God. So it's not arduous to keep doing it. But I do now have this sense of, you know, there's 10s of 1000s of people that follow it and are engaged within and I feel like, Oh, geez, I don't want to disappoint them.

LEIGH: Now as Monty Python fan, I have to confront you on this, what is your dislike of Monty Python and tell us about your attitude?

SALES: I wouldn't have agreed to do this, if I'd known that you're a Monty Python. I just I think it just speaks to what you find funny. And I generally don't find the observed funny for some reason, and I don't. For some reason, British comedy, I don't tend to find that funny. So people often say what about the goodies, whatever, not just sort of bypass me. Sure. The Prime Minister, the mighty Bush, no, yes, Prime Minister. Nope. I just, it's not my Fawlty Towers. Not really, okay. Like, you know, I just, I don't know, I can't put my finger on it. But Monty Python in particular, I just find pathologically funny, so I don't I don't know if it's, um, yeah, I tend to find like, I'm just trying to think now something that I find funny. So what I did parents get in trouble. I don't find the dead parrot sketch, buddy at all. Stop it. Stop it. Stop quoting it. I know what you're doing. Stop it. I tend to find wordplay funny. I don't like visual comedy like three stooges stuff like that. I just don't find that funny. So yeah, I'm making myself sound really humourless now.

LEIGH: You like musicals, which are, which are much more structured and, to my mind, very rarely funny.

SALES: Yeah, I mean, Book of Mormon is pretty funny. But no musicals aren't funny. musicals are sort of whimsical and just fantasy. I mean, one of the reasons people often don't like opera or musicals is because they find it jarring that someone's just living a life and then they stop singing. So you got to suspend your disbelief. But yeah, I don't know, I like suspending my disbelief.

SALES: What advice would you give to your teenage self?

LEIGH: um, probably enjoy the moment. And don't be in such a rush. Because I, you know, have always been in a hurry to get things done and to get to the next opportunity. And I think you don't need to necessarily be like that. To be a hypocrite, haven't you got where you are? Now, you're in a rush? Yes, I have. And so, but nonetheless, I think that I have, probably, I probably could still be where I am, had I been in less of a rush, or got to it a little bit later. And I don't think it would have mattered.

SALES: So things like I got, I wanted to be the Washington correspondent, I go back from that when I was 32. And I think, would have killed me if I went when I speak to, you know, like it because it felt like when I got home was like, oh, I've done the thing I always wanted to do and now I've got another 30 years of my career, you know, left to go. But I am being a hypocrite because I have liked where I've ended up. But I think if you're doing a job that you're enjoying, why rush to the next job, just attempt again, further up the ladder. So I, you got to strike the balance with that, and just to be appreciative of, and I think I am now but probably was less when I was younger of what you're doing, where you're at in a given state of life, and to try to not be wishing it away to get to the next bit of it, even with my kids who are small, so they can really push my buttons. I try to even when they're demanding my full attention, try to think well, pretty soon, they're not going to want my attention at all. So I should appreciate this

LEIGH: They’ll move from the dominance an labour intensive stage the capital intensive stae. Did you consciously choose mentors and in your early career?

SALES: No, I think it just happened by sort of happenstance really the people that have ended up being my mentors, and I don't generally approve of assigned mentor type relationships, because I think you need to have some sort of chemistry and spark so that the person who's doing the mentoring feels like it's worth their time investment. And the person who's being mentored is, you know, respectful of and admiring of the person doing the mentoring, so they're likely to take the feedback on board.

So I think the best way for mentoring relationships to happen is for teams of people to work together that involve senior and junior people so that those relationships can spring up. So I think my earliest, you tend to have more mentors, I think younger when you're younger, because there's just more senior people to choose from. And so the first sort of people I worked with in journalism, like I'm thinking of my first boss at the ABC, john Cameron, or there was a woman when I went to town line called Elizabeth Egan, who was very helpful to me, Fiona Crawford, who was a producer in Brisbane, they were all people that I really respected and that they, for whatever reason, were willing to help me. And that just sort of came about that I was working with those people every day, and they were helpful. And so there were people I could turn to for advice. as I've gotten older and more senior myself, I tend to, I think it's more of a like, PA, I don't know if mentoring is the right word, but I have peers that I trust, whose judgement I really believe in.

So my executive producer Justin Stevens at 730 is really smart and emotionally empathetic and emotionally intelligent. And he is a really good person to bounce things off. Lisa Miller, the ABCs, former London correspondent, very good editorial judgement, very sensible person. So I tend to have people like that, that I rely on that I'll say, you know, often go to Justin and say, I'm thinking about this, what do you think? What if I did that instead? How do you think that would work? And then we sort of bounce off each other. So it's more I don't have someone that I go to who I view is like my mentor, but I have these other relationships.

LEIGH: What something used to believe but no longer do

SALES: that hard work pays off good things happen to good people all that stuff that I think you tend to believe a bit more new younger. Tell you what, I guess I probably did believe at one time, but I definitely don't know.

Follow your dreams. That's the most dumbest piece of advice out there. Don't follow your dreams. Yeah, again, like for me, I guess it worked out all right. But I think that generally that is bad advice because you know, even what I do for a job I sometimes get worried thinking my kids will think that Becoming a person that anchors a TV show is a viable career path. Like it's really not like, it's very unusual for that to work out. So, you know, my house is full of artists and comedians and actors and writers and people like that. But I think it's probably giving my children a false sense of like, it's not easy to get to make a living out of any of those artes sort of jobs. I think, find something that you like doing, and that you can make a living out of. So you can have a reasonably comfortable life, I don't think you have to be affluent. But I think that having enough money to put food on your plate and to have reliable income and to do the things that you need to do to make yourself comfortable, I think is very important. When are you most happy? I'm most happy probably hanging out with friends. Having a laugh. I mean, I do. I do love being at work on a day when there's a big story guy. It's just absolutely exhilarating. It's just there's no more fun in the world and being in a newsroom in the middle of a big thing that's going on. I think I'm a pretty happy person. Actually, I'm mostly happy, I would say

LEIGH: what's the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy

SALES: mentally is to remain engaged with my friends and to try to not be thinking about myself all the time, the unhappiest people I know tend to be people that are in their own headspace the whole time. And so trying to think things through from Oh, you know, Kathy was feeling unwell last week, when how she's going, Oh, Ronnie's had that new baby. Wonder how that's going on. Maybe I could when I make my lasagna for on Sunday, I could make some extra drop off to Ronnie, I think that that is good for me to just be trying to think outwardly, physically, I tried to exercise, you know, four days, maybe seven or find it hard to fit in with work and kids, but I do would get to the gym maybe four times a week.

And I just try to I try to not, I wouldn't say I'm a brilliantly healthy eater, like, I'm not someone that's only eating activated almonds and that sort of thing, or kind of lamington this morning, for example. But I had a lemington this morning, so I won't be having chips or chocolate or something later. Or if I feel like I wanna have a chocolate, I'm afraid Oh, not a Mars bar, you know. So I tried to be mindful of like portion size, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, just try to exercise and I try to do things like I don't keep alcohol in the house. Because I know if there is I'll come home and have a drink. So I prefer to just and I don't keep chips or chocolate or things like that in the house for the same reason, because they're all will will consume it. So that helps me to be I think a little bit healthier. And I do I hate a late night I do try to get to bed early because my kids get me up very early. So yeah, I think physically I just try to take all of those, you know, bog standard boring boxes that everybody takes.

LEIGH: Finally, which person or experience is most shaped your view of living in ethical life?

SALES: Definitely my parents, I would say because they just instilled so strongly the value of hard work and of being a decent person and being honest. And they're both pretty authentic people. So yeah, I would say the influence my parents in how I behave like my father died recently, and somebody sent a note to the newsroom that was very effective. Marie said that my way he didn't know me, but he said that he had worked with dad years ago, and he said, my work for a lot of hallmarks of my father's professionalism. And knowing my father, I thought, well, you just can't get a higher compliment in that because I know what my father was like that he was super organised and dedicated and hardworking, and plain speaking and all those sorts of things. So I thought, wow, that's an incredibly Yeah, sound compliment. So I think yeah, definitely by with daylight second, my parents

LEIGH: Leigh Sales, thank you so much for viewing and the good life podcast today.

SALES: Thank you very much.

LEIGH: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of the good life. We love getting feedback, so please leave us a rating or a comment on Apple podcasts formerly known as iTunes. Next week, I'll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.