Jacqui Felgate's career is proof that it pays to be persistent.
While studying an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, she undertook internships at the Warrnambool Standard and Leader Newspapers. At the same time, she bombarded the Herald Sun with phone calls until she got her foot in the door, winning a part-time job that was juggled with university studies.
Jacqui firmly believes that work experience, rather than a degree, is the best way to break into the industry.
“It’s a real pain to do work experience but you definitely have to do it. If you really want it, you’ve got to go to the country or you’ve got to go to a smaller station or paper. Walking into a cadetship at the Herald Sun or The Age just isn’t going to happen. If you ring once they’re never going to call you back, but I rang every week for quite a few months and then a job came up.
The current crop of reporters at Nine News started out in regional television, Jacqui says.
“All the girls at Channel 9 went to WIN and they all had to be there for quite a long time. And James [Talia] and Clint [Stanaway] both worked at WIN. Clint’s a presenter now and James ended up being a foreign correspondent in London. Clint started in the library at Nine.”
Jacqui, however, took a slightly different path to the other young colleagues. Once she finished her degree, Jacqui went from part-time editorial assistant to full-time personal assistant to the Herald Sun’s chief of staff, Damon Johnston. She learned on the job, taking tips from senior figures in the newsroom.
“It’s the best way to get into the industry. You’re doing really mundane things; you’re basically a secretary. You don’t actually do anything journalistically significant but you’re around all the people who are, so it’s a really good way to learn.”
During this period, Jacqui broke a few stories that were followed up on television and she forged a name for herself as a go-getter. TV bosses noticed her, and when a junior reporter position came up at Nine News, she was the perfect fit. A self-confessed politics tragic, Jacqui found herself covering the state election in 2006. It was her work during that campaign that secured her the position of state political reporter a short time later. She won the 2008 Quill Award for Best Deadline Report and often features on highly commended lists at the awards.
Watch Jacqui Felgate's highly commended entry, "Travellers", from the 2011 Quill Awards
Another highlight was travelling to China and India with then-Premier John Brumby.
“I loved travelling overseas with John Brumby. It was a great experience. Filing overseas on any job is really exciting. One of the really awesome things about journalism is you can use it to take you to places that you otherwise wouldn’t get to go. We got to go to the Beijing Zoo and we did a piece to camera in the enclosure surrounded by giant pandas.”
The India trip, however, was far from a junket. The premier travelled there to deal with the issue of violence against Indians in Melbourne.
“When we were there, Indians continued to be assaulted in Melbourne. That was filtering through and the Indian media were picking it up. Every day something went wrong for them on that issue. It was very exciting trying to cover that because everyday something happened and it made it really worthwhile being there.'"
Like many of the journalists who covered Black Saturday, Jacqui will never forget reporting on the aftermath of the bushfires.
“I went up on the Wednesday or Thursday after Black Saturday when they started letting people back into their homes in Whittlesea. We saw this woman waiting because she hadn’t heard from her father. He came down with two sheep in the back of his farm truck and when she saw him she was just screaming because she hadn’t heard from him. To see something like that and cover it, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. That’s a story that will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
A lot has changed since Jacqui's first days at the Herald Sun. The paper had much less of an online presence, and Twitter didn’t exist.
“We often use Twitter to get a story. You can connect not only with the viewers, but people can get onto you who otherwise wouldn’t. I got a great story off Twitter recently about the W-Class trams rotting in a warehouse. What’s really great about Twitter is that you can follow politicians. You can have a Twitter direct message conversation with an MP whose mobile number I might not have but they follow me on Twitter.”
Everyone agrees that journalism will continue to change as technologies like Twitter dramatically alter the way we communicate. Regardless, Jacqui hopes that she will still be breaking stories.
“You never know what story you’ll be covering and I reckon that’s really exciting. We’re all adrenalin junkies, especially TV. Any story you can break yourself is always really rewarding.”