Spotlight on Georgio Platias

Walkley Foundation
Aug 16 · 10 min read
Georgio Platias at the Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism. Photo: Adam Hollingworth

Like all journalism, good journalism has “heart” at its centre, and I think Mohsen’s story is one filled with heart and one filled with tragedy and also hope.

A final-year journalism and law student at the University of Technology, Sydney, Georgio Platias won the 2021 Young Journalist of the Year award for Student Journalist for his documentary film “Inside Out: Mohsen’s Story” and podcast “Politics, Leadership, and Public Policy with Peter van Onselen”.

“Georgio’s ability to tell Mohsen’s story by expertly interweaving various visual and audio devices collected across several decades has resulted in a beautifully moving piece which transfixes the viewer and is relentlessly thought-provoking,” the judges said.

We caught up with Georgio after his win to discover the inspiration behind the Mohsen interview and his aspirations for his journalistic career.

Congratulations on winning as Student Journalist of the Year, what’s been the best thing for you about receiving this award?

It’s all a bit surreal still. Everyone’s been congratulating me, family, friends, colleagues. I appreciate all the support. But I guess if I had to name one thing about winning the award, I guess it’s having a really important story acknowledged in Mohsen’s story, that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have been told. I think his story is one that’s very inspirational. One that’s very empathetic, and one that’s also very powerful.

Like all journalism, good journalism has “heart” at its centre, and I think Mohsen’s story is one filled with heart and one filled with tragedy and also hope.

It’s really rewarding to see that a story like that can be mentioned amongst the calibre of other young journalists that won awards on the night. I’m really proud and humbled to receive that honour. As I said it’s all still a bit surreal. But I thank the judging panel and the Walkley Foundation, for awarding me this honour. It’s a good feeling knowing your work has been recognised as among the very best in Australian journalism.

That’s good. And the story fits a lot of history and personal story into 18 minutes. Talk us through a little bit about how you first came across the story, how you found out about him, how it progressed.

I met Mohsen towards the end of August 2019, and I remember our first conversation a 45-minute telephone call after I reached out to Mohsen on Facebook to ask if I could make a documentary on him. From the get-go, I had a feeling he would be a fantastic character — eccentric and passionate about life with a great story to tell. But, he was a tad hesitant at first. Mohsen said he didn’t want another story on ‘refugees’. Instead, he would only agree to be part of the project if I focussed on his poetry, activism and music. I thought that would be a really ‘fresh’ take on this issue, because we always hear about “boat people” and “detention,” but never about what these individuals do once they become Australia citizens.

So, it was now my job to gain his trust. If I wanted an authentic telling of his story, it had to be honest and raw, and he had to tell it in his own words. I would go to meet with him two times a week. Usually, before or sometimes after class, I would meet with him for tea in his little two-roomed apartment in Chippendale. His white moustache always perfectly curled. An instrument was never far from him — a keyboard, a goblet drum, a santur, and a setar, you name it, he could play them all. He called it his own little ‘music studio’.

Side note, but what’s also really interesting, in fact, is that all the music in my documentary was actually produced and recorded by Mohsen.

But yes, Notebook in hand, my goal was to timeline key points in Mohsen’s life but also gain his trust. He was cautious at first, but slowly as our interviews progressed he began to reveal more and more. I listened to stories about his home, why he fled Iran, his time in detention, his poetry, and his life in Australia. I would also occasionally meet with key people who helped him, who later also featured in the documentary.

I guess the hard thing about this was, that I had to fit about 25 years of history into 18 minutes. That is, I had over 15 hours of footage to cut. But the great thing about filmmaking and the medium of a documentary is that you really get to step inside the shoes of the character, especially if the documentary is captivating. Also difficult was the fact I didn’t want to narrate, so I didn’t want to do voiceover. I wanted Mohsen to tell his own story. That was really tricky to try get all the grabs and cut it all together to create this linear story of him and the people that have surrounded him throughout his time in Australia. Nevertheless it got done, and as the documentary shows there truly is a poetic character to Mohsen. I’m glad I have been able to showcase his story whilst also making a friend in the process.

What are some of the impacts that you’ve seen come out of the story since it went up?

I’m really proud of the fact that it’s been used as not only a platform for discourse, but really a way of critical thinking amongst my journalism faculty here at UTS and also my law faculty. It’s also created opportunities for Mohsen and he says he’s since been in negotiation with Amnesty and the Opera House and various refugee movements to put together this concert or event at the Opera House after COVID. So, I’m really happy about that.

Also, the fact that it acts as an avenue to community building and good ethnic affairs, and communal journalism, centring on a character that’s very real, very resilient, very inspirational and very powerful.

I’m proud that I’ve been able to tell his story, to get him more recognition in his own community of musicians and refugee groups.

And what made you want to get into journalism in the first place and tell stories?

I’ve always loved to write. I’ve always been that person who asks questions everywhere I go, wherever I am; talking to different people and hearing about people’s stories really just enthrals me. I love to learn from and about people, and I love a good conversation. So journalism was a perfect avenue obviously.

Now, I’m coming to the end of my studies and have had some experience across various media outlets, working in a really fast paced environment to tell stories that not only people read and people come across each day, but actually change things. And actually impact other people’s lives and tell stories and journeys and experiences of people with really powerful stories that transcend the style or the industry of journalism.

I really enjoy going out there and just asking questions, talking to people and seeing new outlooks.

For me, journalism provides us with the ability to critically think about our world and our communities. Because if we didn’t have the news or documentaries or any form of reporting, we wouldn’t be able to, in my opinion, critically think about the communities and world we live in.

Where would you like to see your career take you? Where would you like to be?

Well, in terms of journalism, I’d love to be either making more documentaries or be on TV. I love telling stories, and put me in front of a camera and I’m like a monkey ready to dance. In all seriousness though, I would love to host a program, or have my own TV show. I think that’s the most effective way to keep Australia informed, and there is something about being able to reach a large number of people each night, or each week, to keep them informed and to share with them stories that matter.

I see it as a responsibility, more than anything else, because I think Australia needs a TV program that uncovers stories like Mohsen’s, as character studies to explore bigger issues. Even to be a co-presenter or host on a show where a panel of young journalists talk to young people about our country’s most pressing issues.

There is something about being able to communicate stories to the Australian public, and hopefully they learn something new or reflect on their own perspectives.

My dream has always been to be journalist with personality, where it’s journalism mixed with analysis. Like a Stan Grant, a Barry Cassidy, a Lisa Wilkinson, Annabelle Crabb, or a Hamish Macdonald. I really thing they’re able to balance what they’re reporting on or investigating with this layer of critical analysis that doesn’t only tell you what’s happening or how it happened, but why it’s happening and the people involved through a precise analysis of the story and it’s context. Combine that with the personality of a Karl Stefanovic and, to me, you have the “perfect journalist”. That’s the journalist I strive to be. Someone who is relatable, someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but also knows how to get to the heart of an important issue — and switch on the “seriousness” when it needs to be switched on.

Do you have any words of advice that you’d offer to other student journalists about why they should enter this award?

I think all student journalists who think they have a notable piece of work should enter for the Walkley Young Australian Journalist Award. First off I’ll preface that by saying, if you’re a student journalist you’ve got to see yourself as a journalist, you can’t see yourself as just a student journalist doing assignments. You’ve got to put yourself out there and put yourself in the mix of your colleagues to make a name for yourself.

In my first year of university, I was in parliament interviewing ministers and politicians because I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m going to challenge myself.” So what better way than going straight to the top? With that, you have to always stay in the mix of things. So you’ve got to keep on top of things and you’ve got to be very prepared and very organised to produce these stories.

And then in the end, to apply for awards like the Walkley Student Journalist of the Year, I think if you feel you have a story that is very important and really ticks off criteria such as: it has an impact; it’s very powerful; it’s newsworthy; it brings a whole lot of voices together. Then why not? If your name’s not in the hat, then you don’t have a chance of winning at all. If you’re not at the front of the line, you might as well be at the back. It’s about making a name for yourself, challenging yourself, pushing the limits on the resources you have as a “student” journalist.

I guess you’ve really got to be confident in your abilities. You’ve got to have the ability to see a story — I think that comes over time — the ability to talk to people and automatically sort of get this feeling that, OK, this person has a good story. And you’ve just got to give it time because like any vocation or skill, I guess, journalism… You might be born with confidence and the ability to ask good questions, but it’s the patience in between of waiting to get an answer, waiting to get a response. It’s the ability to ask informed questions, the ability to keep a conversation going, that you need to pick up quickly and develop.

With Mohsen, for example, I had to build trust, to let him share with me periods of his life that were very dark and brought back bad memories.. I had to ask questions that would lead to full answers, given I was not voicing my documentary. So, in summary, you have to believe in yourself, you have to have a good judgment of what’s going on and a good judgment of what makes a good story. And then in the end go for it. You should be applying for every award if you have a story that you think ticks the criteria.

And do you have a message for the Australian public on why it’s important to support public interest journalism?

I guess it’s in the name, it’s in the public interest. As a member of the public, I want news and stories that not only tell me that there’s a mouse plague, for example, but that there’s these hidden characters in our society and our communities that we come across every day, but we don’t know their story. I want to hear their stories, I want to see their character, and I want to be moved by their experiences. I think that’s really at the core of public interest journalism.

If there are stories out there that have the ability to change social cohesion and social narrative, that’s the real importance of public interest journalism, because it’s not just a quick piece on so-and-so, but it’s very deep and insightful and — in my own experiences trying to put this documentary together — something that’s very empathetic. I want people to feel something and think about something.

That’s my main mission as a young journalist and for public interest journalism. I think we need to see more people get behind that cause, which is people supporting journalists that make them think. It’s a way to see and understand ourselves and our society.

Georgio Platias is a final-year Law and Journalism student from the University of Technology Sydney. He has a strong passion for political and cultural affairs journalism. Georgio has worked across public affairs, media, and politics. He also received the NSW Alan Knight Student Award in 2020.

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