Go with your gut

Dan Box had to trust himself in reporting out a case no one cared about.

Dan Box talks at Storyology Sydney 2017 on a panel about structuring stories. To his left is Aaron Glantz (US) of Reveal. Tom Livingstone/The Walkley Foundation

Dan Box’s five-part podcast Bowraville follows the unsolved murders of three Aboriginal children who disappeared from a town in rural NSW. The series was the first podcast to win a Walkley Award as it exposed institutional racism and resulted in a public apology from NSW police to the affected families.

The confronting series was downloaded almost 400,000 times.

But what made this version of the story stand out? Box admits the story had already been covered well. He himself had written several print stories for The Australian that hadn’t been very popular with readers or editors.

“You could find my article on page two, somewhere near yesterday’s corrections,” he said.

Box felt defeated. He knew this story needed to be told. But nobody seemed to care.

“It’s as though all these articles fell into the silence of the case. No one was really noticing what I was doing,” he said.

The family was trying to reopen the case, but they were denied. Box saw photographs of the families, wailing.

He realised what he had to do to make people notice. He needed the people to tell their own story, and to do so in their own words.

“The thing about newspapers is that everyone is focussed on tomorrow’s news,” he said. Box thought audio would be an intimate way to capture the emotion of the victim’s families.

He pitched the idea, but got no traction. Box stuck to his gut. He pursued the story. He worked on the project completely in his own time. Nobody heard it until it was finished.

“I demanded that they play it that Monday, and that’s when everyone realised what we’d done.”