Trust and verify: journalism's rising star takes on the big guns of Australian news
The news never sleeps -- and nor, it seems, does prolific teenage media superstar Leo Puglisi, the kid from Melbourne who has become a trusted go-to news source for thousands of Australians. The Burne's Louie Cina reports.
Not many journalists can say they’ve interviewed a single prime minister -- and only one can make the claim to have interviewed three before his 16th birthday.
Enter Leonardo Puglisi, the teenage head anchor and founder of digital news company 6 News Australia. Nearly 30,000 people turn to 6 News Australia on X (formerly Twitter) for constant updates on breaking local and international news and their in-depth coverage and interviews on their website, Patreon and YouTube pages. Puglisi and his team have attracted VIP guests including those three PMs -- Anthony Albanese, Kevin Rudd and Scott Morrison -- as well as Opposition leader Peter Dutton and Greens leader Adam Bandt
Puglisi started the company as HMV Local News when he was just 11 years old, and focused on local issues affecting the community in Hawthorn, the inner-eastern Melbourne suburb where he lives his family. On January 1, 2020 -- amid that summer's catastrophic bushfires and just before the biggest news event in decades erupted with the COVID pandemic -- he relaunched as 6 News Australia, and broadened the focus to national and international news.
The choice of name was, he says, ‘"fairly random and [maybe not] the name I would have chosen if I knew it was going to go anywhere".
He credits the initial popularity of 6 News Australia to a “poorly planned family road trip through some extreme bushfire zones”. During the trip, the young reporter interviewed people on the ground, and Australians looking for bushfire coverage tuned in -- with his profile boosted by his burgeoning presence on Twitter. The fires swiftly gave way to the pandemic. This led to Puglisi being interviewed on Channel 10, an experience he still finds inconceivable.
“I can’t believe that I got on Channel 10 at the age of 12,” he says, laughing incredulously.
“Then a few people reached out ... and we managed to go from there, now we have a team of a dozen people covering news 24/7.”
This team, all young journalists like Puglisi, has gone from strength to strength, amassing more than 28,000 followers on X (including many journalists) and providing 24/7 coverage of national and international news. The level of success has somewhat shocked Puglisi.
“I’ll say blatantly, I don’t know [what’s next], I’m not sure, I never thought we’d be at this stage," he says.
"We do have goals that we are reaching [in the shorter term}.”
Its website declares: "Our mission isn't to 'take down' the already existing mainstream media or anything like that -- it's to bring you a genuine alternative, made possible by the younger generation."
Puglisi says: “We want to do more live coverage, to provide an alternative to the two main news channels here in Australia, Sky News and the ABC.” He believes the main drawcard is the authenticity of his team.
“I think people like authenticity in the media. We’ve grown up as [the] social media platforms have developed. We’ve just gotten on them and been as authentic as possible. Everything is real. We’re very open about the fact that this is a really, really small production crew.” Some former 6 News Australia reporters have gone on to work for the major networks, including Christian Penny, who’s had stints with Sky News and is currently working for Channel 7, and Jack Hahn, who works for Channel 9 in Darwin. The young media mogul admits a lot of the work that goes into creating coverage to rival the mainstream media involves sneaking on to social media behind teachers’ backs, and late nights trying to absorb as much information as possible, while also battling homework.
Puglisi says one of the biggest challenges is that people disregard their coverage purely on the basis of their age. “The whole reason we keep growing our team is because we want these young voices to have a platform,” he says.
“We’ve covered things like the climate strike, like the COVID data that was done by young people … You shouldn’t have to wait until you’re eighteen to have your voice heard.” And his advice for young people wanting to enter the media world?
“Just do it. You’ve got nothing to lose. It’s absolutely worth not just giving it a go, but putting yourself out there. I didn’t expect presenting the news in my bedroom at the age of 11 to get me an interview with three prime ministers. You have to put yourself out there.”