Jill Stark, journalist, author and former Sunday Age senior writer

Jill Stark, journalist, author and former Sunday Age senior writer. Photo supplied by Jill Stark.
“Our job as journalists is to stand up for the voiceless, shine a light onto areas of injustice and to present the public with the full facts.” Jill Stark talks to Fatima Halloum about her career-defining moments.

Can you remember your first job was and what it was like?

My first job was for a local paper in Scotland where I grew up, just outside of Edinburgh. I worked during the week from Monday to Friday and then on the Friday night I would leave and drive back to Edinburgh and go to work at a bar ‘til 4am to pay my way. Prior to working in that weekly paper I did work experience for a national tabloid and I got that internship through working at the bar and these guys, who were reporters, would come in and drink there and I’d just harass them until they gave in. I’d be sitting on my break doing shorthand homework and I’d be like, ‘you need to give me work experience!’ and eventually they let me do that. When I finished my journalism degree I wanted to go and work with that paper but they told me I needed to get more experience first, which I did and within about 18 months I was working at that national paper.

What do you think it means to be a journalist?

It’s not only a real privilege, but a huge responsibility particularly in modern times where there’s perhaps not the respect for the media that there once was. I think our job as journalists is to stand up for the voiceless, shine a light onto areas of injustice and to present the public with the full facts. It’s not our job to give a platform to hate speech.

What is the proudest moment of your career?

In 2012 I told the story of Jason Ball, who was the first openly gay Aussie rules footballer to come out at any level of the game. At the time things were very different, there was still a lot of homophobia in sport. He came to me as a journalist because I had been writing in that space and when you create a platform for people to have the courage to step up, that’s when change happens. As soon as I sat down with him I could see he was a young man who was incredibly brave, really articulate, passionate, smart and I just knew he was going to be a game-changer. Within a week, beyondblue had invited Jason to become an ambassador and he had met with the AFL chief executive and they played the No to homophobia advert on the big screens at the finals. Jason’s now become young Australian of the year for Victoria. Every week he goes to a school and some kid will stand up at the assembly and come out after Jason tells his story because they feel empowered to do that.  It all comes down to the power of human story telling, that’s what makes me so honoured to be a journalist. It’s not about telling my story, its about telling other people’s story and watching the change that happens from that.

What are the pressures associated with the job and how do you control them?

The challenge of staying true to who I am and what I’m passionate about whilst at the same time trying to be a good journalist and retain some semblance of balance.

If you could relive your career, is there anything you would do differently?

I always tell this story to young journalists to remind them you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to stuff up, don’t worry it’s a part of learning. My very first year working at The Age was during the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and one of my jobs as a junior reporter was to write profiles of events. One of them was a swimming event and I had to call up Kieren Perkins, who was a champion Olympic swimmer and ask him who he thinks was going to win the race. He told me about a girl named Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe and he said she’s the absolute number one in her field and that she’s going to win. I was like, ‘yep great,’ wrote it all up, published it and it went in the paper. The next day I got an email from a reader saying ‘You do realize Zimbabwe aren’t at the Commonwealth Games because there’s a boycott?’ I had put a picture of this woman and wrote 250 words about how she was going to win and not only was she not at the games but her entire country wasn’t there!

What would you tell aspiring journalists to be wary of?

Remain sceptical and always be asking questions. That doesn’t mean you have to be cynical or become hardened or believe that everyone’s lying to you, but you need to maintain that curiosity. The first day I turned up to work at the national paper, I was overwhelmed and I said to an older colleague, ‘At what point in your career do you come to work feeling confident that you know what you’re doing?’ And he was like, ‘Probably never’. You just have to remember who you are and not listen to the trolls.