Finding your strength: The joys and perils of reporting on journalist peers

Amanda Meade has been a journalist since 1989. “I love journalism so much that I wanted to keep going, a lot of my peers left and got a job in PR or comms. They get paid more. But I just couldn't do that, I'd be so bored.” Picture supplied.
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“Have more confidence. I remember when I started, every time I got a story, I would completely shit myself … just that fear. And that goes, thank God. Believe in yourself.” Amanda Meade speaks to Jack Meehan

“It’s definitely a tough environment, working in a newsroom. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now, so I’m tough.”

Amanda Meade is The Guardian Australia’s media correspondent. She’s reported on the media for more than 20 years.

How did you get started in journalism?

I started pretty late. I got my first job as a cadet when I was 28.

They had an internship at The Herald, it was just exhilarating. I loved it so much and I knew it was what I wanted to do. When I left on Friday, they called me on Monday and said I could have a cadetship. It was like a dream come true.

Why report on the media?

I got into media reporting accidentally. The Australian needed a TV writer. Then the “Cash-for-Comment” inquiry happened. I started writing a media diary column and did that for 10 years.

When I left The Australian, The Guardian asked me to start writing freelance pieces. Then we decided to start up The Weekly Beast column.

What are you most proud of?

I think I’m fair to people. I like it when I do a column and people really enjoy it.

The ABC had a crazy managing director, Jonathan Shier, in the early 2000s. I knew, from the first time I went to a press conference with him, that he was a bad fit. I broke a lot of exclusives about crazy things he’d done. I found out he was about to be sacked, so we reported that on the front page of The Australian.

Finding your strength: The joys and perils of reporting on journalist peers
One of Meade’s proudest memories was reporting Johnathan Shier’s sacking from the ABC on the front page of The Australian in 2001. Picture: Max Uechtritz.

I was a single mum and working full time, that was extremely hard. I’m most proud I managed to look after my daughter and keep my career going with absolutely no support. She’s 19 now, so I’ve done it. 

What were your biggest challenges?

The media beat is really hard because you’re writing about your peers. It’s very difficult to walk that line.

When I was doing it for The Australian, it was a different beast. You can really push the envelope. You can offend people and get away with it.

It was a brutal culture with a lot of demands on you to get the story at all costs. It is really good training, but sometimes the demands were unfair.

Finding the strength to say, “I’m not going to do that.” What I always did was just come up with another story.

Amanda Meade speaking about the joys and perils of media correspondence.

What do you wish you learned sooner?

Especially for women – that we don’t back ourselves enough.

You’ve got to fake it a lot as a journalist, you can’t be an expert on everything. 

I was in Canberra when Paul Keating announced his superannuation reforms. I had to write an explainer, and I’m the worst when it comes to finance. I guess you just try to digest, come up with something an ordinary person would understand, because you’re really only an ordinary person.

Any advice for journalists starting out?

There have been so many cutbacks, but there’s still a good career to be had, you’ve just got to be smarter about it and you’ve got to be multifaceted. All the young people we hire now, they can do live-blogging, video, podcasting, everything. 

You have to really, really want to do it, because it’s not easy. It’s not an easy choice.