Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
For most of my career I have been a print journalist working as a foreign correspondent, I did a lot of overseas stuff; warzones, disaster areas, and then around 8 years ago I pivoted into television and started working on the show ‘Sunday night’.
I think it was a combination of being in the right place at the right time, I hadn’t planned on going on TV, but I was advised to jump in the deep end and its been an interesting challenge.
Can you tell us a little more about your work with MEN-tality project and the Australia Says No More campaign?
The Mentality campaign is by this terrific photographer Peter Brew-Bevan in Sydney. His idea was to take portraits of people who are in the public eye, but in a way that is more candid and vulnerable and let them open about things they wouldn’t normally talk about. There is this idea that everyone compares their lives to people they see in social media and they assume everyone has it all together, but you know they don’t. Everyone has their own issues.
The Australia Says No More campaign is a terrific organisation speaking out against domestic violence. I want to lend my voice to a really important cause. If it helps a little bit, it’s worth it. In my line of work, it can be very superficial and light and friendly so it’s nice to do something with a bit more depth.
What has been the best job of your career so far?
There have been moments in jobs that have been fantastic. When I was a print journalist, I was overseas in the middle east and living through history and witnessing situations firsthand. While doing Sunday Night, we had the opportunity to do so many different stories, I was traveling the world and was away more in the year than I was at home. Next thing you know you’re in London, then Paris, then San Francisco and you are doing so many different things. You will have a heavy story about a crime or disaster and then your off-interviewing Dolly Parton, then off doing something with these amazing kids living with Progeria.
The year before COVID I flew to Mexico with a crew and we infiltrated the Sinola drug cartel, I also climbed Kilimanjaro in Kenya with the first Australian with cystic fibrosis to climb it and that was an experience.
What are some of the challenges in your career and what would you say to any aspiring journalists?
It can really impact you on a different level when you do and see things that are confronting.
I realised a couple of years ago that I probably was suffering some form of PTSD from things I had seen over the years. I’d seen the tsunami in Asia and spent several weeks with survivors and we were surrounded by bodies. I’d also seen people killed in the middle east and it really hits you.
My advice is don’t be bigger than the story. Be true to someone’s story. In interviews, you’re sometimes talking to people at their most vulnerable about deeply personal or traumatic things they may not have even talked about with their friends or families. Be true to them.
If you weren’t a journalist what career path would you take?
When I was younger, I wanted to be an archaeologist. After that, I was going to go one of two ways – marine biologist or a journalist.
How would describe your clothing style?
As I travel it must be functional, I tend to default to the same stuff. I’m not very adventurous with my clothes and as I travel, I must pack very light but have enough items to mix and match. T-shirts, blazers, jeans, chinos, just things you can dress up and down but with the minimal number of pieces. And of course, a comfortable shoe.
What do you look for in a good shoe?
Durability, I like shoes that look better the more you wear them.
Your favourite Wild Rhinos?
I love the look of the Blakes, they are super comfortable, and they can really smarten up a pair of jeans, I get so many comments on these.
I also really like Chambers I hate doing up laces I always want zips, a shoe is a lot more versatile when you can just slip it on and make it easy.
Early Bird or Night owl?
Early bird always
Knock off drink of choice
For writing, I would say Trent Dalton. His words are poetry. Melissa Doyle, as a broadcaster, is just amazing. She’s a former colleague and now a good friend. Nick McKenzie from The Age is quite simply one of the bravest and most brilliant journalists in the country.
Introvert or Extrovert?
I would say I’m an introvert, but people would say I’m an extrovert.
Your hidden talent?
I speak fluent Indonesian and I also learnt Hamlet back in school. All these years later, I can still remember Hamlet’s entire soliloquy by heart and when I’m drunk at parties I need to prove to people that I can recite this.
Check out Steve on Instagram @stevepennells