Justin Stevens, an experienced TV current affairs journalist and executive producer of 7.30, will take over as the new head of ABC News, Analysis and Investigations.
The 37-year-old, who has worked at the ABC since 2006, was appointed director after a highly competitive recruitment process involving internal and external applications.
He is heading up the biggest news team in the country, with more than 1,200 staff across the nation and in international bureaux producing a wide variety of news and current affairs content across ABC radio, television and digital platforms.
“It is an enormous honour and I feel the weight of responsibility — for good reason,” Stevens said.
“The bar set for ABC News is the highest of any media organisation in this country given we’re publicly funded and have strict editorial obligations as detailed in the ABC Charter. They are values enshrined in everything we do from editorial accuracy, balance, impartiality and telling stories for all Australians from around the country.
“I am mindful that ABC News is only as good as the sum of its parts, and we have an extremely talented group of people working for ABC News and I can’t wait to lead them in this next chapter.”
In announcing the appointment, managing director David Anderson said Stevens was well equipped to steer the division at a time of major news events such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, rising costs of living and the upcoming federal election.
“Justin has a proven track record in editorial leadership across complex issues and events,” he said.
“Together with the ABC News executive team, Justin will lead the next stage of the ABC News strategy to be more accessible, valuable and relevant to Australians across all platforms, with the highest-quality journalism always at the core.
“I want to thank the members of the ABC News executive for their support during this recruitment process, especially Gavin Fang, who has done an exceptional job acting in the news director role and who will continue to play a crucial role in the work of ABC News into the future.
“Justin fully understands the challenges and opportunities the ABC faces as an essential public service in the digital media era. It’s a position that requires exceptional editorial leadership, and Justin will be outstanding in the role.”
Stevens joined the ABC in 2006, working at 7.30 for eight years as the interview producer for presenters Kerry O’Brien and Leigh Sales, helping to secure interviews with big names such as Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Sir David Attenborough, Woody Allen and the Dalai Lama.
He was also supervising producer at 7.30 and then moved to Four Corners for two years, producing major investigations, including The Siege on the Sydney siege and an exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton.
He then returned to 7.30 in 2018 as executive producer, boosting its broadcast and digital audience. Stevens was also a producer on the ABC series Keating: The Interviews with Kerry O’Brien and the award-winning The Killing Season documentary series with Sarah Ferguson that investigated the bitter leadership struggle between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
While his experience has been predominantly in television current affairs and investigative journalism, Stevens is passionate about harnessing new technologies to reach broader audiences on all platforms and ensuring ABC News remains Australia’s number one online news source.
“I wanted this job because I care deeply about the future of ABC News,” he said.
“It is a challenging environment for media organisations in the years ahead, confronted with ongoing media fragmentation and the way technological change has shattered aspects of how we consume our media.
“I inherit ABC News in robust health, already on an exciting digital transformation journey, and this next chapter will be about coming together as a team and ensuring as we continue to adapt that we keep at the core of everything we do strong, robust and accurate journalism, aligned with the values that have kept us in good stead for 90 years.
“Good, strong, robust public-interest journalism doesn’t happen by osmosis — it’s due to the collaborative effort and heft of experience we’re lucky enough to have at ABC News so we will be protecting and preparing that further for the future. We have a fantastic, innovative culture.
“In all newsrooms around the country, we will continue to tackle the most important issues and challenges confronting the nation, we will continue to investigate any matter of probity that warrants inspection without fear or favour, and report the news that Australians need to hear and read.”
As a publicly funded broadcaster, ABC News comes under intense scrutiny, and journalism, by its very nature, often upsets people in powerful places but Stevens is unfazed by the renowned pressure of the job.
“In my previous roles I’m used to scrutiny and accountability,” he said.
“That scrutiny and accountability is there for good reason as a public broadcaster funded by taxpayers. I won’t second guess what we do due to any ill-informed criticism, but I’ll also ensure we are transparent about where and how we can do things better and be accountable for what we do. I always make decisions aligned with my own values of integrity, honesty and what’s right and those values will be at the centre of any decision I take or in responding to any scrutiny or criticism I face along the way.”
Stevens was drawn to a career in journalism in 2000 when at the age of 15 he secured work experience at Channel Nine, working alongside newsreader Peter Overton.
“Peter generously showed me the ropes and opened my eyes to what an exciting career working in journalism and the media is,” he recalled.
“From then on, I did about 20 work experience stints everywhere from the ABC to Fox Sports to channels Seven and Ten and got a better feel for the work and different cultures at different organisations.
“My first paid job was on the Sunday program at Nine before moving to 7.30 and producing Kerry O’Brien for his final three years as anchor.
“The highlights have been when I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most formidable and talented reporters, presenters and production staff, including camera operators, editors and studio staff, and learnt from them in a collaborative environment.
“Broadcast media is a team sport. I have loved brainstorming and researching the art of the interview and chasing the big news get or being on the road at Four Corners, challenging myself to think visually when producing an investigation and, in more recent years, trying to help mentor some of the most talented young journalists coming through ABC News. I have loved working at 7.30 and what kept me interested [over 20 years in journalism] was being in the thick of the most important stories for this nation and playing a part in explaining and communicating that to the Australian public.”
Stevens starts in his new role on Monday, April 4, replacing Gaven Morris who stepped down in November after six years in the job.
One of Stevens’s first tasks will be filling his old job at 7.30 and appointing a new presenter as Leigh Sales has announced she is leaving the program after the federal election. There is also a new executive producer of Four Corners to appoint, with Sally Neighbour moving on.
As the ABC celebrates its 90th year, at a time of unprecedented community upheaval from the pandemic and natural disasters, big global and national issues and bitter public discord and distrust, Stevens is committed to ensuring ABC News continues to be the nation’s most reliable source of news.
“I think the Australian public over the past two decades have grown increasingly jaded and let down by public institutions,” he said.
“The ABC is one of the most trusted organisations in the country, but we have to be constantly mindful that trust is easier lost than earned so it’s crucial the ABC — and all media organisations in this country — does its utmost to uphold the highest editorial standards possible.
“Australians trust ABC News to deliver quality public-interest journalism and services they need, and which are a key part of a healthy democracy. That job is more vital than ever.”