Your career as journalist has spanned almost 13 years. Has it always been your first career choice?
I actually didn’t study journalism. I wanted to write for TV and seeking a lot of work experience, I would just go with whoever would have me. I went to a lot of small publications. And one of those places was a local magazine, now called Weekly Review. I got a lot of work experience there, and I loved it. A year later, they called and asked me to come in for some casual work and it all kind of started from there! I was at the Fairfax Community Network for seven years, The Age for five years and now I’m at ABC News while doing freelance.
Despite never intending to get into journalism, what motivated you to keep pursuing it?
I’m a very curious person. I’ve always loved asking questions about things. I think it’s really cool. Not always, especially if you’re an in-house journalist where you go through a lot of stuff that you’re maybe not particularly interested in, and that’s just part of the work. But it’s cool now to be able to go “Oh, I wonder about ‘blah’”. Then, being able to look into it and hopefully get some answers.
And you know, sometimes it’s not even about finding the answers. It’s about appreciating the scope of a question. I think the things I’m curious about are very varied and being able to talk to somebody who knows their stuff – not many people can do that.
What made you decide to do freelance and how has it been different from working in a newsroom?
I was working in a more traditional media role for about a year and I was getting kind of bored. So I started freelancing and everyday has been a massive education. It’s completely different to working in-house. I’m still figuring it out, even two years into it. In-house you can solely focus on pitching and writing. You’ve got built-in mentors and support. Even things you might take for granted, like organised pay, superannuation and annual leave. You don’t get that doing freelance.
I think, most importantly, you’ve just got to be really self-disciplined. You have to be your own pusher. There’s no one there to remind you about anything, so if you don’t pitch you don’t get anything. I also think it’s easy to feel guilty about taking time off just because you’re not working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. If you have that inclination, you could easily get burned out. Something I’ve been learning recently is that taking regular short breaks is better than burning yourself out. And the thing is, pushing yourself so far to the point where it affects your health, no one’s going to thank you for it as well.
What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages that come with working freelance?
I like the freedom that freelance gives and that I’ve also been able to be published in many more different places. I have this goal where I want to be published at least once in every publication! I have a list of publications that I want to get into and they’re like my little trophy collection. I have a workaholic tendency so it’s just something that I like.
But it’s also irregular and you face rejection. And that can be hard at any age or any period of your career. You just have to keep going. Would I do freelance forever? No, I don’t think it’s for me. But I think I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning!
How have you pushed through and dealt with rejection?
It can be really hard. Rejection is not fun. It’s cliché to say, “rejection is just part of the job”, but it really is. Sometimes when I get rejected for something I really want, I get upset and hurt. And I just allow myself to feel it, then I can move on. You’ve got to learn to find your way, whatever it is, to deal with rejection. Because if you don’t, it’s just not going to work. For me, it’s about taking a break. I like doing Buzzfeed quizzes, reading trashy magazines, hanging out with my cat – those are my outlets. And whatever outlet is for you, just take a moment, feel it and let it go.
For the past five years, you have been teaching journalism at Melbourne University. What advice do you give your students who also hope to become journalists?
What I think can be really enlightening, and I tell my students, you’re going to be bored when I tell you this but you just have to work really hard. And what does that look like? Well, don’t expect something to come to you. Get involved because it is a contact-based industry, and most jobs you’ll get is through knowing people and networking.
If you want to be a good writer, you have to write in between classes. And read! You don’t have to read for four hours a day, or anything like me – I realise I’m a little bit addicted. But you just have to know what good and bad writing is, and what it even looks like. Read widely – regional, international, a tiny publication from the Sunshine Coast with a thousand readers. It could include business, sports, lifestyle or travel. Don’t just get your information from a small sample, because flexibility is key. You will find something that you like.
I’ll be dying and those will be my last words, “read widely”.