Wendy Tuohy, feature writer and opinion columnist at The Herald Sun

Wendy Tuohy, feature writer and opinion columnist at The Herald Sun. Image supplied by Wendy Tuohy and taken by News Ltd tks.
“Journalism is definitely not a place for the faint-hearted so put yourself out there!” Wendy Tuohy, feature writer and opinion columnist at The Herald Sun talks to Helena Abdou about her 30-year career as a journalist.

Why did you go into journalism?

Well I decided very young – that makes me sound like a dinosaur – that I had the right personality for journalism and it was the right career for me. I was just very lucky at home that we always had The Age on the table and always had the ABC radio on. In about year 10, I started trying to pursue work experience at The Sun, The Herald and The Age; I was always inquisitive and interested in the news. I eventually got some at The Weekly Times and I thought it was exactly what I wanted. I was not disappointed at all to see how exciting newsrooms were. I was interested in indulging in my love of current affairs, which I realised that I had quite young. I found that I was very fortunate to have made the right choice. I essentially went into it for two reasons: to meet people and to write.

What made you choose feature and opinion writing?

It’s actually quite interesting, I always enjoyed feature writing. In the olden days we had cadetships that often lasted three years; you were exposed to every part of the paper. I always enjoyed feature writing and writing profiles because I very much enjoy meeting new people, so one of the best things about the job for me is the huge variety of really interesting people that you meet. By really interesting I mean everyone you start talking to usually has a very interesting story, they don’t have to be a powerful person or a politician. Once you get someone opening up to you, you’ll find it’s rare to find a person who doesn’t have an interesting story.

Opinion writing didn’t come to me naturally, I wasn’t ever seeing myself as an opinion writer and I never did it at The Age in the 10 years that I was there. I wasn’t interested in talking about my opinions up until I got to The Herald Sun. So it took me several years of blogging to be confident in my own voice and then it took the backing of people here for me to believe that it was worth sharing with other people.

What’s the biggest challenge you face on the job?

The biggest challenge is finding enough time to write everything that I want to write. It’s time because everything in our industry has changed dramatically since I started and the days when we had one thing on the go are really over now. It’s more fragmented, which is also quite stimulating and keeps you on your toes but it’s also hard to jam everything in that you want to. I have a restless mind and I do find it hard to just get it all done.

What has been the most memorable story you’ve written?

That’s really hard; probably the most memorable in my own mind is one I did this year for The Herald Sun. It was about how the conviction rate for sexual assault and rape in Victoria being handed down to sexual assault perpetrators is believed to be as low as 1 per cent; as many as 99 per cent of sexual assault or rape crimes currently aren’t resulting in mainstream judicial punishment. For that story I interviewed lawmakers, I interviewed police, I interviewed victims, it was a typical feature style thing but I also wove into it opinion. I think it’s absolutely outrageous. There’s no doubt, anyone who would know the statistics would know that we’re serving our women so badly.

Is there a story you haven’t written that you still want to do?

I would like to do a lot more on sexual assault because I’ve noticed that Australia’s discussion around gender has become really vitriolic and nasty. There are a lot of voices at the moment for reasons that I don’t understand that appear to be quite dedicated to discrediting women and their claims of assault or family violence. That backlash is something that needs to be discussed more and I also think the actual problem still needs to be talked about. I would still like to write a lot more about that because I think it needs to change before my daughter reaches 18.

What advice can you offer someone looking to get into the industry?

I offer advice to quite a lot of young people who come and ask me. I would say that obviously the most important thing you have going for you is having published material and it doesn’t have to be published in a newspaper or a mainstream media outlet. I also tell people to fight as hard as you can to get your name out there; don’t be put off by rejection. Be shameless about pursuing contacts that you have, push journalists you know or that you’d like to support you. Journalism is definitely not a place for the faint hearted so put yourself out there!