24 March 2014
The winner of this year's Quills Twitter Competition has been announced.
24 March 2014
The 2013 Student Journalist of the Year is Aliyah Stotyn from Melbourne University.
22 March 2014
The publication of secret tapes revealing deep divisions within the state government which led to the downfall of Premier Ted Baillieu, has won Herald Sun reporter James Campbell, Victoria’s top journalism prize.

News

3 February 2014

The Melbourne Press Club has appointed its first Chief Executive Officer. He is Mark Baker, the former Fairfax foreign correspondent, editor-at-large and editor of the Canberra Times.

The appointment follows Mark's departure from Fairfax late last year. Mark had been the President of the MPC for the past three years. Michael Rowland of ABC television has been appointed acting President pending a formal election.

Mr Rowland said the appointment of a CEO was a significant milestone in the history of the club and would allow the MPC to develop its full potential in the years ahead.

"We were thrilled to have a candidate with the perfect credentials in Mark Baker. His outstanding background in journalism is complemented by his senior management experience and deep knowledge of the club and its membership," Rowland said.

Mr Rowland said the hard-working committee of the Press Club and a strong secretariat had delivered strong growth for the Press Club in recent years. Sponsorship and attendances were at record levels, allowing the club to expand its activities aimed at delivering its mission to celebrate excellence in journalism.

"The CEO appointment will allow the committee to take a more strategic role and plan better for the future," Mr Rowland said.

The club began 43 years ago as an occasional lunch club and now hosts some of the major journalism awards in Australia, including the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year, the Quill Awards for Excellence in Victorian Journalism, the Victorian Media Hall of Fame, the Victorian Student Journalism Prize and the Young Journalist of the Year Award.

12 September 2013

3 February 1925 - 11 September 2013

The Melbourne Press club mourns the passing of its historian, life member, former President and inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner Keith Dunstan.

Club President Mark Baker paid tribute to Keith as one of the finest journalists of his generation, a great newspaper columnist, a stylish and unpretentious writer and a lifelong friend of the Club.

"Keith called his autobiography No Brains at All but he was a smart, funny and compassionate journalist. His long running column, A Place in the Sun, brilliantly captured the life and times of Melbourne for a generation of readers."

To read Lawrence Money's tribute penned when Keith won the LAA in 1995 click here.

5 September 2013

By Peter Bartlett

Let there be no confusion. Journalists' sources are under unprecedented challenge. In 2007 we saw two Herald Sun reporters convicted of contempt of court for refusing to disclose sources.

Legal update 2013
22 July 2013

Melbourne Press Club committee member and senior partner at Minter Ellison, Peter Bartlett, has written a review of events in media law as part of the 2013 Walkley Press Freedom Report. Here is his summary of how media law is developing.

The media itself was very much in the news over the last 12 months. Traditional media continued to face challenges from the online environment. We saw further revelations coming out of Britain through the Leveson Inquiry. In Australia, we have had the Finkelstein report, the Convergence Review and many other developments in the media law space.

Defamation

It was not a great year for the media. Fraud squad detective Rafiq Ahmed was awarded $325,000 against Nationwide News over a story in The Sunday Telegraph that labelled him “corrupt”. Invalid pensioner Mise Petrov won damages of $350,000 against the publishers of a Macedonian language newspaper who failed to turn up to court. Milorad Trkulja, who in March 2012 was awarded $225,000 damages against Yahoo! over an internet search result that made him appear linked to Melbourne criminals, was in November awarded $200,000 against Google Inc. Andrew Holt, a man who used money from an insurance payout to his terminally ill wife to buy himself a speedboat, among other things, was awarded $4500 against TCN Channel 9 over a report on A Current Affair about his actions. And former Tasmanian policeman Andrew Gunston won $124,500 against the Hobart Mercury over stories that referred to him as “Sergeant Sleaze”.

In addition, Justice Peter Hall is presently considering the level of damages in the long-running Gacic v John Fairfax Publications matters, in which an unfavourable review by Matthew Evans was claimed to have caused the failure of the Coco Roco restaurant at Sydney’s King Street Wharf.

The Ahmed and Petrov decisions are two of the highest awards made against the media since the introduction of the Uniform Defamation Act in 2005.

There were also a number of awards against non-media defendants and various websites.

The 2005 defamationact

Sufficient time has now passed since the introduction of the Defamation Act to reflect on just how it is operating. The huge positive is that it is uniform throughout Australia, with some very minor differences.

It is clearly not perfect. It is far more pro plaintiff than we see in most major jurisdictions. The cap on damages is now around $350,000, which is a significant potential penalty for the media. Added to that would be significant legal costs. A real problem is that plaintiffs are using the multiple publication of virtually the same article in differentm mastheads and online to issue multiple actions against that company, to seek multiple caps.

There is also a problem in that the online environment does not have a statute of limitations, whereas an action against traditional media must be taken within 12 months. The procedural steps within the court process are still far too complex.

Media regulation

The communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, had the advantage of thorough reviews of media regulation from the Finkelstein report (February 2012), the Convergence Review (March 2012) and the UK’s Leveson report (November 2012). He announced his proposals for changes to Australia’s media regulation in mid-March 2013, and gave the federal parliament a week to pass them or he’d take them off the table.

The bills sought to establish the office of the Public Interest Media Advocate, a government appointee, who could declare an organisation as a news media self-regulation body (eg the Australia Press Council) and also take away its accreditation. If media companies did not become a member of the declared organisation by a specified date, they would no longer be exempt from the Privacy Act.

The journalism exemption was inserted into the Privacy Act in 2001 to recognise the essential role that free journalism plays in a healthy democracy, and to achieve a balance between the public interest in allowing a free flow of information to the public through the media and an individual’s right to privacy. Removing the exemption would severely impact the way news journalists gather and report stories. The Australian Law Reform Commission had looked at the media exemption in 2008 and supported keeping the exemption.

The media collect, use and disclose to the public large amounts of personal information (including photographs) each day. Without the exemption:

•the media would be required to notify individuals about all personal information collected

•the media could not collect sensitive information, such as information relating to health, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, sexual preference or criminal record without the individual’s consent

•individuals would have a right to correct information, and

•individuals could complain to the Privacy Commissioner.

The media’s position is that Australia does not need statutory intervention. The media point out that the Press Council works pretty well. The media has doubled funding to the Australian Press Council (APC) and is now contractually bound to publish the APC findings and consult on placement and prominence.

Online publishers Nine MSN and Crikey have now joined the Press Council. All good developments. That said, it is very disappointing that the West Australian pulled out of the Press Council.

It has to be recognised that Australia does not have evidence of significant breaches of ethics such as Leveson examined in the UK. The UK has some 5000 potential phone-hacking victims, 300 phone-hacking claims, millions of pounds paid in compensation and some 50 people charged.

Privacy

Mark Dreyfus, in his first week as federal attorney-general,raised doubts as to whether we should have a statutory tort of privacy.

Yet the communications minister has yet again referred this issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). The ALRC has previously looked at this question in 1979, 1983 and 2008.

You would be a brave person if you tried to guess what the ALRC will say this time. In 1979 it recommended some privacy protection but it sought to strike a balance between privacy and other competing interests. It noted that “the price, in terms of freedom of speech, must not be excessive.”

It concluded that “the price of a general right of privacy might exceed the benefits gained”. In 1983 the ALRC recommended, in a further report, that a general tort of invasion of privacy should not be introduced in Australia because “such a tort would be too vague and nebulous”.

Then in 2008 the ALRC did an about-face and recommended the introduction of a surprisingly wide statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy. In an extraordinary move, it did not include a public interest defence.

The ALRC is likely to produce another report that will gather dust. It should take note of the report by the UK Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. The report argues strongly against the introduction of a statutory tort. It recommends that the area of privacy should be left to the courts to develop. According to the committee, “the concepts of privacy and the public interest are not set in stone and evolve over time.” They concluded that “the current approach, where judges balance the evidence and make a judgment on a case by case basis, provides the best mechanism for balancing privacy and freedom of speech rights.”

Anti-discrimination

The government released a bill that extended the definition of discrimination to include anything which “offends, insults and humiliates”. After significant criticism of the foreshadowed amendment, the then attorney-general Nicola Roxon confirmed that the government would review the bill.

While we all accept that we need anti-discrimination legislation, it has to be acknowledged that it creates issues for the media. We need a system where the regulator should dismiss frivolous complaints without requiring the media to go to great lengths to explain why they are frivolous, to be required to attend mediation and then face court. It’s a significant expense if the complaint is frivolous.

Whistleblowers

Legislation to protect whistleblowers has been introduced into federal parliament with the Public Interest Disclosure Bill. This is an initiative of the new attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, who in 2009 chaired the parliamentary inquiry into whistleblowing. It is a significant step in the right direction, although critics have pointed out that in the legislation’s current form, public servants blowing the whistle on corrupt politicians or anything to do with intelligence agencies would not be protected.

Disclosure of sources

The federal government and the state governments of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory are to be commended for introducing shield laws. However, it is a pity that the legislation is not uniform. Journalists may still be ordered to disclose sources where it is in the public interest or in the interest of justice to do so.

Online media is covered to varying degrees. Whether people in this environment are defined as “journalists” and so can rely on a journalist’s privilege is a question that is sure to arise.

There is an increasing number of applications for journalists to disclose sources. We have seen one application in the Federal Court for a journalist to disclose who gave them the applicant’s mobile phone number. The application failed.

Two of Australia’s top investigative reporters, Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, are facing two applications to disclose sources. Justice Lucy McCallum ordered them to disclose sources in the Helen Liu case in New South Wales. The decision is on appeal.

More recently they were ordered into the witness box in Victoria in the Securency committal. The Victorian Court of Appeal overturned the decision. If the Liu appeal fails they will get into the witness box and, in line with the Media Alliance’s Journalist Code of Ethics, will decline to reveal their sources. They could then face contempt proceedings and jail – this for doing their job.

Then we have Gina Rinehart seeking disclosure of sources from Adele Ferguson from Fairfax Media, exposing Ferguson to criminal sanctions for contempt simply for doing her job well.

In the Ashby v Commonwealth of Australia (No. 2), former federal speaker Peter Slipper issued a summons against Steve Lewis from News Limited, seeking to prove whether James Ashby had disclosed material to Lewis. Lewis sought to avoid being required to disclose his sources by relying on the Commonwealth Act. His solicitor filed an affidavit noting that Lewis had promised confidentiality to the source and that if Lewis was compelled to produce the document sought, it would disclose the identity of his source. The application was adjourned with no final decision made by the judge at the time of publication.

Suppression orders

Most judges accept the observation of Justice Michael McHugh in Fairfax v Police Tribunal New South Wales: “The publication of fair and accurate reports of court proceedings is ... vital to the proper working of an open and democratic society and to the maintenance of public confidence in the administration of justice.”

The problem is that too many judges, especially in Victoria, then go on to say “but” and suppress reporting of the case or some aspect of it.

This is a continuing problem. Gina Rinehart made multiple applications to suppress the details of her family trust battle. The applications went to the NSW Court of Appeal and even to the High Court. The Court of Appeal (Chief Justice Tom Bathurst and Justice Ruth McColl) held that suppression orders should only be made in exceptional circumstances.

The media opposed Rinehart’s application and, initially, were the only party objecting to the suppression orders. This highlights the important role the media plays in maintaining the free flow of information, but it also illustrates the financial burden such court action places on media businesses. In the future, will media businesses be able to afford to attend court to oppose such applications?

While the decisions of the various courts detailed here emphasise the fundamental importance of open justice, we still see far too many suppression orders issued.

Court reporting

It was rather disturbing to see the NSW government looking at banning tweeting, smartphones and tablets from NSW courts. What
happens in the court should be up to the presiding judge.

Super-injunctions

These injunctions have become notorious in Britain where celebrities have obtained injunctions to stop the media publishing items, and even an order that the media cannot publish the fact that an injunction had been granted.

Two such injunctions were granted in December against Fairfax Media. The first related to defamation. The judge noted that to hold an injunction for defamation, the plaintiff needs to establish a prima facie case of defamation, that damages would be an inadequate remedy and that the balance of convenience favours the granting of the injunction. The judge recognised the public interest in free speech.

In light of this, it is difficult to obtain an injunction for defamation. That injunction has been lifted.

The second, brought by mining entrepreneur Nathan Tinkler, claimed breach of confidentiality and defamation. This is a greater challenge. It was lifted, but with some limits on Fairfax.

These injunctions are a significant threat to freedom of speech.

It has been suggested that Nathan Tinkler sought his injunction against The Sydney Morning Herald in Victoria (where he does not live) because the Victorian Courts have a record of ordering far more suppression orders than other states. Who would know if that is, in fact, the reason?

Online historical articles

Britain’s Law Commission has issued a consultation paper looking at the risk of jurors accessing the internet during a trial and if stronger powers should be given to a court to order the media to take down historical articles.

This is one of the areas where the Australian courts and parliament are ahead of the UK. The NSW Court of Appeal in Ibrahim and the Victorian Court of Appeal in Mokbel have set the ground rules.

I have made a submission to the Commission pointing out the Australian position:

i. Historical archived articles are not displayed on the face of the newspaper website as available and contemporaneous material

ii. They lie passively in the newspaper electronic archive until they are accesse

iii. They need a positive act of searching by a third party

iv. A third party would be more likely to search using a recognised search engine such as Google or Yahoo!, rather than going directly
to a newspaper site

v. There should be proper instruction to the jurors by the presiding judge

vi. Many Australian jurisdictions have a statutory provision making it an offence for a juror to access the internet researching an issue relevant to a trial that the juror is sitting in

vii. Jurors should be referred to that statutory provision, and

viii. The New South Wales Court of Appeal in Ibrahim and the Victorian Court of Appeal in Mokbel made it clear that courts should not make orders that they cannot enforce (where the online publisher is outside the jurisdiction) or that are ineffective (where local media take down the articles but there are still many online from foreign websites).

In Victoria, the court compared searching on the internet with searching in a library and stated that “it has never been suggested that a suppression (non-publication) order should be made requiring libraries that held newspaper articles to embargo those articles or references in some other way, stopping the searchers from having access to them.”

In New South Wales, in the Ibrahim decision, the court said that “as a matter of principle, to make the order effective, material must either be removed from any website globally to which access can be had from New South Wales or there must be an ability to prevent access by people living in New South Wales. The evidence did not disclose that either of these was a realistic possibility.”

Online publications

As a general rule, the courts in any country have jurisdiction where a particular article was accessed within that country. Often, while it might be reasonably safe to publish an article in hard copy in Australia as the potential plaintiff is unlikely to come to Australia to sue, there are added dangers in publishing online. A relatively recent example is the publication by Fairfax of a WikiLeaks article relevant to the president of Indonesia. As a result, a claim was lodged in Jakarta claiming damages of US$1 billion.

The action was a class action taken on behalf of the entire population of Indonesia. Fairfax did not need to defend the merits of the claim as it was able to have the claim struck out as it was not a proper class action known to Indonesian law.

The case does, however, highlight the added dangers in publishing online.

Contempt

A quiet year, although there were cases against the Hobart Mercury (fined $10,000) and the Sunday Tasmanian (fined $30,000) for disclosing the identity of rape victims.

Conclusion

It has been a challenging year for the media and for
its advisers.

10 July 2013

By Alicia Hall, Project PR & Media Managing Director.

We hear so much about the imminent death of traditional media. Newspapers being replaced by online sites and TV reporters overtaken by so called video journalists.

But I’m urging people, don’t be so quick to happily bang that final nail into the coffin and immediately jump ship to online sites. By far the best results for businesses are seen when they’re featured in a print article in a daily or a TV story during a 6pm bulletin.

The height of return is when a client is featured on A Current Affair or Today Tonight simply because of the immediate response. The majority of Australians are sitting in front of the TV with their Mac’s on their lap, ready and waiting to punch what ever takes their fancy into Google within 1.5 seconds of it going to air.

Happiness levels from businesses are also much higher when we kick these traditional media goals. What makes someone feel better than being inundated with their mates calling to say ‘You’re famous, I saw you on TV’ or countless tags on Facebook because their picture features in The Age on a Monday morning?

I’m not saying forget the online space altogether, lets be honest it cannot be ignored. Some thing we hear 10 times a day! But all this hype around digital saturation and online news sites just isn’t warranted. It doesn’t have the same clout as a feature piece in a national newspaper. There is something about the fickle nature of these sites, they fail to ooze any authority. 

Online news is mostly read by people sitting at their desks procrastinating or just wanting to get a quick news hit ensuring they stay in touch with the rest of the nation during their marathon working week. 

Online stories do play an important role but it’s when they to sit along side traditional media. They’re for people who didn’t get time to read the paper this morning because they’re first meeting was at 730am and so they did a quick scroll on the iphone or those who simply aren’t terribly interested in what’s going on around them.

They’re also great drivers to a website, if there is something interesting being sold. A hyperlink is like PR magic. But beware, these are never guaranteed. It is at the end of the day, still editorial. 

I, like many members of the media refuse to believe the death of the traditional newspapers is near. They hold too much influence, too much credibility. Not necessarily always because of the ‘facts’ but because of their daily tradition.  And anyone who knows a good story knows it’s best read in black and white.

17 May 2013

In a recent article, retired scribe Geoffrey Barker lambasted perky, blonde reporters for dumbing down television journalism. Not surprisingly, the 'news babes' in his sights were unimpressed, not to mention insulted and angry.
Seven News reporter Kate Osborn was prompted to go beyond the stereotype, to show the day-to-day life of a female TV reporter is neither easy, nor glamorous. In reality, it's tough, draining, and often downright dangerous. 

Breasts. Curls. Teeth. Make-up. Chatter.

Having been a commercial television reporter for the past twelve years, I was surprised recently to learn, via an article published in the Fairfax press, that these were the only attributes required to perform my job. I felt dudded. All that time, I'd been relying on my brain and determination to get by, when, apparently, I'd have been better served by investing in a push-up bra.

It's fair to say that article had my knickers in a twist. Of course, I was disgusted by the misogynistic tone and sexist generalisations. But it made me wonder further: was there so little understanding of what we do as television reporters - and as female television reporters, more specifically - that a person employed in the same industry could have no idea about what our job actually entails?

Yes, there's make-up. We do colour our hair. And, it's true, we have breasts. But without guts, and smarts, no young woman can survive in this business. Being a television reporter is a tough gig for anyone, man or woman. Being female just adds another degree of difficulty. When I asked colleagues to come up with examples of ‘non-glamorous’ events in their careers, they came up with a laundry list. Sexism. Sexual assaults. Physical assaults. Death threats. Twitter abuse. Raw emotions. Grief. What would be considered crimes or bullying in any other workplace, we've come to accept as part of the job. 

The premise of Geoffrey Barker's article was that if you are pretty, you are dumb. If you're pretty and blonde, that's even worse. Be thankful you're wearing heels, because you wouldn't be able to tie shoelaces. He's not alone in his prejudice. Sometimes it's found in our own newsrooms.

When Seven News health reporter Karen O'Sullivan was hired, along with another female reporter, by Channel Ten in 1992, the chief of staff put out a memo informing colleagues that "two new scrubbers" were joining the team. 

Things haven't necessarily changed with the times. Years later, a newly-recruited reporter was told that with so many young blondes on staff, it'd be wise for her to find a way to "differentiate herself" from the others. She doubts male colleagues received the same pep talk.

A producer at one network was told point-blank when she was given a job on a public affairs show that she was being hired "for her tits." When she left, a colleague announced to the room that he'd always wanted to "put his face" in those tits. One news reporter remembers her chief of staff telling her she'd "make a great stripper," while another was told by a manager she needed to "be a bitch" to get  ahead.

There's no end to the inappropriate comments made by the general public as well. As a radio sports reporter, then a Sky News reporter, Loretta Johns received more than her fair share. An occasion covering a World Cup soccer broadcast stands out.

"I was standing in Fed Square, in the freezing cold, at some crazy hour in the morning, feeling very unsafe. While trying to vox-pop the mostly drunk soccer fans, I was receiving all sorts of offers and propositions about what they would like to do with me and my breasts."

Sometimes they're not just propositions.

One reporter, who can't be named, was molested while covering post-Grand Final celebrations. In the thick of a crowd of drunken louts, one reached around and grabbed her groin. In a reflex reaction, she delivered her own swift justice and moved on, mortified, but with a job to do. It's an example of how dangerous it is for people like Mr Barker to perpetuate the stereotype of 'news babes' as pieces of meat.

There are plenty of us who've been subjected to physical assaults, and not just female reporters, but male reporters as well. Former Seven News reporter Alicia Grabowski thought she was going to die when people mourning the deaths of teenagers in a crash at Mill Park rained full beer bottles on her car's windscreen, while it was trapped on the side of the road. She also endured having a gangland figure try to punch her in the face, then chase her down the street threatening to kill her, after being sent to knock on the door for an interview.

Karen O'Sullivan recently found herself under verbal attack when she visited the family of a young father, who had drowned trying to save his daughter and niece, for a pre-arranged interview. Those grieving relatives were forced to escort her and her cameraman to their car after an outraged neighbour took it upon himself to hurl abuse. "We hope you die in your sleep!" was one of his more hateful efforts.

Death threats are not uncommon. Anastasia Salamastrakis experienced one early in her career while working at WIN TV in Mildura. It came from the mother of an escaped prisoner.

"She told me in no uncertain terms that if I put her son on TV that night, he would organise to have me killed. We ran the story, but I took the threat seriously and, rather than drive home in my marked WIN TV car, I organised to get a lift to a friend's place and slept there that night."

One young reporter feared for her safety when she was sent to cover the opening of the duck shooting season, and was put up by her employer at the local pub. She said it wasn't the mold and unwashed sheets that bothered her, but, alarmingly, the door lock was broken, and dozens of drunken men were just metres away at the bar. She didn't sleep a wink.

The same woman says she often asks her cameraman to film her knocking on doors "just in case I get stabbed." She recalls being sent to the home of a bikie who had posted a photo online of his baby holding a handgun.

"It was a huge relief when no one was home," she said.

I was once on the receiving end of threats from a co-worker that made such an impression I remember every word.

"I'm Irish," he told me, "and the IRA gets their man." 

He made it very clear he was going to get me, that he knew someone in every newsroom in the country and I would never have a career. Some time later, I covered Victoria's first workplace bulling prosecution. Those offences seemed like child's play after what I'd experienced.

Courts are a hotbed of tensions, and the reporters on the courthouse steps often bear the brunt of inflamed tempers. Nine News crime reporter Laura Turner remembers covering a Supreme Court murder sentence when she was working for WIN TV.

"I had a family member tear the block-mounted microphone out of my hands and beat me over the head with it."

A former court round colleague of mine had a can of Coke thrown at her by the husband of a woman accused of killing her babies.  Another had a gangland boss, now deceased, threaten her in court in full view of journalists and lawyers. I once had the mother of a young thug berate me for covering a bail application by her son, who was part of a gang of thugs who had bashed a man unconscious. An outburst such as that wasn't unusual to me. But, I was surprised when, the next day, I was standing outside another court, covering another case, and the same woman stormed up to me to have another go. 

There's no end to the verbal abuse in the court precinct. Barely a day goes by when we're not subjected to a barrage of profanities and put-downs, by people who've either committed crimes, or are close to an offender. You learn to deflect it, even if you keep the comebacks to yourself.

"How do you sleep at night?" Quite well, actually. I haven't killed anyone.

"Pack of dogs!" Dogs are lovely animals. I bet you have one at home.

I was once informed by a paedophile’s father that his son would be waiting inside the court building until the cameras outside had gone. "It's ok, it takes a while to get rid of parasites," he said. We were parasites? None of us were protecting a child molester.

Away from court, many of us have had eggs hurled in our direction or, even worse, been spat upon. Seven News reporter Christie Cooper remembers an incident when she was working in Launceston, filming the arrest of young burglars.

"As they were being practically carried out past us to the divisional van, two of them started spitting at the camera. Being right next to the cameraman with a microphone, I felt a giant blob of spit land on my face."

And then there are people who aren’t abusive but just want to be idiots. There wouldn't be a television reporter working today who hasn't been harassed by obnoxious, and often drunk, people during a live cross or piece-to-camera. They're generally people who, when sober, will cross a road to avoid being vox-popped, but get a few drinks into them, and they're desperate to get their heads on the telly.

One reporter cites the example a recent live cross, at a crime scene where someone had died, which saw a bystander 'barking' at her as she was about to go to air.

"These people are weirdos," she says, "and clearly have nothing better to do with their weekends. But there aren't any other industries I can think of where you'd be subjected to this bull***t while you're trying to do your job."

Doing this job doesn't just require physical toughness. Mental and emotional strength is just as vital.

Loretta Johns recalls once, as a regional TV reporter, covering the aftermath of a fatal crash in a small community.

"As I knocked on the door of the mother's house in one of those dreaded 'death knocks,' the young man's father arrived. I was there as these now-separated parents grieved together, seeing each other for the first time since their son was killed the night before. It was awful. And I still had to get some grabs."

One reporter had to draw on all her inner strength when she was sent to the Royal Children's Hospital for a story on premature babies. Just days earlier, she had buried her nephew, who'd died in that very ward. Even more appalling was the fact that when she asked for the day off to attend the funeral, her boss suggested she could still work in the morning, since the service wasn't until the afternoon.

But, if there was ever an illustration of how television reporting is more about heart than hair, it comes from reporter Mia Greves. In 2006, she contacted the family of a Muslim boy who had drowned while saving his sister at a suburban beach. His parents were keen to share their story in the hope it would encourage migrant families to teach their children to swim, and invited her to the nine-year-old's funeral at the Coburg mosque.

"However," Greves says, "they wanted me to 'meet' their beautiful son first."

"I was given a scarf and led into a room inside the mosque with the elderly grandmothers, aunts, relatives wailing and heaving over a little boy in an open casket on the a table. I'll never forget it. His dark hair and closed eyes, with black eyelashes."

"It was one of the most amazing and distressing stories I have ever done... and one that needed to be told."

To say that female television reporters deal only in fluff is an insult to that boy, and to the people who feature in every other story we tell. Anyone who says we care only about our hair and make-up hasn't been to the scene of a big story, and seen us standing for hours in the icy rain or searing heat, trying to get a shot or an interview. They haven't seen us sitting in a gutter writing a script, or working the phone so hard calling contacts that it goes flat. Things as essential as buying lunch or even going to the toilet go out the window when you're covering a breaking story. Former Nine News reporter Rachael Rollo remembers staking out a prison at Castlemaine at 3am to get a shot of a prisoner being released. She and her cameraman took it turns weeing behind a bush. She pulled another all-nighter when she was five months pregnant, waiting for Tony Mokbel's then-girlfriend to arrive from Athens. Having had no sleep, her chief of staff called the next morning insisting she come in to cover a doorstop with Julia Gillard at a primary school. 

In highlighting the more challenging aspects, I'm not saying our job is more difficult than other professions. Far from it. Nor am I asking for sympathy. For every negative - danger, prejudice, discomfort - there are enough positives to keep us here, to prevent us jumping the fence to PR.

Says Johns: "I have loved it and feel privileged to have been part of an industry that has intimate access to interesting people and places."

It would just be nice if it was acknowledged that for female television reporters, under the glossy hair, there's a brain, and beneath the make-up, there's a thick skin.

Fairfax News
11 December 2012

They’d been inflicting death by a thousand cuts for years, but, in 2012, newspaper bosses swapped their scalpels for samurai swords, and started swinging. Reporters, photographers, designers, editors – the heart and soul of the sector – were all lopped, leaving remaining colleagues at The Age (Fairfax) and the Herald Sun (News Ltd) questioning how their organisations could possibly survive such a body blow.

Alicia Hall
29 August 2012

There are times in most journalists’ careers when they glance over the fence at the greener grass of public relations and wonder what it would be like to jump. Former Seven News reporter Alicia Hall switched teams eighteen months ago, and offers valuable perspective.

Paul Bentley
16 July 2012

While reporting on trauma is commonplace for journalists, talking about it is not. Former 3AW police reporter Paul Bentley says the media should follow the lead of emergency services and look after its own when tragedy strikes.

Dean Felton
21 June 2012

In the increasingly bleak world of television news, ‘soft’ news is falling on hard times. The colour stories that once had a stranglehold on the second break are increasingly being squeezed out. But one of the best surviving exponents, Seven News reporter Dean Felton, says colour writing is an art worth saving.