Interviews / Journalists

Balancing the Grind with Prue Clarke, Co-Founder & Executive Director of New Narratives

Prue Clarke is a journalist, editor, and the co-founder & executive director of New Narratives, a non-profit supporting investigative journalism, digital innovation and inclusion.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I have been a journalist for 25 years, starting as a cadet in the ABC Sydney television newsroom. I started out wanting to be a war correspondent.

I went to New York to study journalism and international affairs at Columbia University in 2000 and joined the Financial Times New York bureau straight out of journalism school. I was on the ground when the towers came down on 9/11 in New York.

That experience changed my thinking on my career. I was less interested in being on the front lines in warzones after that and more interested in exploring the forces that shaped the world. 

I also got married, to an America, shortly after 9/11 and that meant I could no longer  

pick up and move where my career might take me. So in 2004 I took a short term job working with journalists in Ghana in West Africa. 

That launched me in a new direction telling amazing stories from Africa, Indonesia, the Middle East, Australia as a freelance journalist. I started spending about three months a year traveling to report for international media such as the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, the CBC, The Times and the BBC.  

I was reporting on victims of rape in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006 when I realised that I was reporting for the wrong people. My audiences knew a lot about the causes of the wars I was covering. But they couldn’t do much to stop it. The people I was reporting on did not. 

I can’t think of a right more important than a right to factual information. When people have that they can make informed decisions about what type of government they want, how resources should be shared and hold leaders to account.

Market failures meant that the media in most of Africa was not free and independent. I started New Narratives with a Liberian publisher Rodney Sieh, a non governmental organization that is a donor funded engine for impactful journalism at leading media in low income countries in 2010. We now operate in 4 countries and have staff of 10. 

My husband and I have juggled careers over the last decade. Our jobs have taken us to London, back to New York and now to Sydney. We’ve had two children along the way. I was a professor in New York and a project manager with the BBC’s charity arm in that time. In 2019 after 19 years overseas my family and I moved to Sydney. I helped set up the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism. 

In 2021 I went back to running New Narratives full time expanding our operations to more countries in Africa and to the Pacific Islands.  

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

When I decided to run New Narratives – a U.S. registered non-profit –  from Sydney I had no idea that I would be unable to travel until at least mid-2022.

Our activities are in Africa, Europe and the Pacific. Our accountants and lawyers are in the U.S. Our donors are in the U.S. and Europe. So it’s been tricky. 

What that means now is that I have a lot of early mornings editing news stories from the war crimes trials that New Narratives partner journalists are covering in Europe. Their deadlines are about 9am Sydney time so I’m up at 6am editing some pretty harrowing stories. I will also do any calls and interviews I need to do with Europe before 10am. 

My husband is mostly working from home so he gets my teenage son ready to leave the house for school by 7.30. Then he or I will help our 8-year-old daughter get to school by 9. Then I spend the rest of the day reading, writing proposals, editing features, project management, financials, updating our website and social media. 

I try to always exercise at 5. Then I’m usually back on phone calls to the US or Africa from 6pm, sometimes until 10pm. I try not to make late calls very often. But they happen. I had one call with the leadership of a major global donor recently and they could only do 1am Sydney time. That wasn’t pretty. 

I’ve not been good with making dinner or supervising kids’ homework and bedtime. I’ve been lucky Eric can take the bulk of that at the moment but that won’t last. He’s expecting to be working longer hours and traveling in Australia a lot soon. 

That will need some big adjustments in our life.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

I’m all remote currently. It’s fine. I’ve done it off and on in various roles for years. I’ve only had one job in the last 18 years that required me to be in the office 9-5 every day.

I am far more productive without the commute and the unnecessary meetings. But I do like the exchange of ideas and inspiration that come in a work setting. Ideally for me, it would be a mix. 

Being able to be home with my children for most of the day has been great for them. Some of their lives I’ve been away for weeks on end and they’ve had periods where one or both parents didn’t come home before bedtime. We had live-in nannies for the first six years of my daughters’ life. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal? 

I’ve not been great at this but I’m getting better. I remember being surprised when I started working at the BBC in London where the team would NEVER contact you after hours, on the weekends or on vacation. I’d never worked anywhere like that. I had worked through my vacations for years and every boss expected me to be available whenever. 

I really appreciated the BBC’s approach. And I got better at being present with my kids on the weekends. It is important. I tried to keep that up when we moved back to New York, but with less success. 

Now that my son is 13, I can see that I won’t have them at home forever. He also needs me more now. I’m reminded of that important piece by Anne Marie Slaughter “Women Still Can’t Have it All” where she admitted she gave up her high powered job at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s side because her teenage sons needed her. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

I’ve started exercising at least 30 minutes every day (usually an hour). I used to do it 3 times a week. Sometimes it’s hard to get going but it helps motivate me that I get to run along beaches near our house. And I know I always feel much better after I’ve done it. 

I’ve also cut back on drinking and definitely don’t drink during the week. I want to be as sharp as possible when I’m working and I can’t do that if I drink the night before. 

I’m also trying hard to sleep 7-8 hours straight. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do to improve sleep except cutting out bedtime phone reading. I read the New York Times app before I go to bed. A terrible habit that I find impossible to shake. It’s just much more interesting to me than any book I try to read. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I vacuum up longform journalism and journalists talking about journalism, so the podcast revolution has been huge for me.

Longform journalism: Slow Burn, Winds of Change, the first two Serials, In the Dark. In Australia, I loved Who the Hell is Hamish and Russia if you’re Listening.

Journalists on journalism: Longform, On the Media, Recode, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Reliable Sources. I also try to listen to The Daily and the BBC Newshour every day.

Books: People joke that Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond is the bible for people like me who work across countries in different stages of economic development. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild about the Belgian King’s brutal rule over the Congo is among the most remarkable journalism I’ve ever read.

He estimated 10 million people died in what was the King’s own privately owned country. A country the size of Western Europe in which he never set foot.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

iPhone, podcast apps, all news apps, especially the NYTimes, streaming apps for the ABC, BBC and WNYC in New York. 

Resy – an excellently curated range of restaurants. 

Twitter, sigh.  

Alomoves – exercise. 

Goget. We lasted a year without buying a car in Sydney. We had not owned one for a decade in New York or London, we just relied on excellent car sharing apps. I loved the peace of mind of not having to worry about car ownership. And it’s obviously much better for the planet.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

The joke in our house is “What Would Obama Do?” I’m such a big fan of the former U.S. president. He insisted on always having dinner with his girls who were teenagers when he was in the White House. Love that. But of course the White House is the ultimate work from home setting!

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Not exactly work-life balance but: working with mean bosses or people who aren’t pulling the organisation in a good direction is not worth the toll on your psyche, your health or family regardless of how much they’re paying. You have one life and one family. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.