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10 questions with Karen Percy

Women in Media recently sat down with seasoned journalist and media advocate Karen Percy, who has been elected the MEAA Media President.

What is your current role?

I’m wearing a few hats at the moment. I am the volunteer President of the Media section of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which counts 5000 journalists and media workers as members.

I also volunteer as a director of the Walkley Foundation board where I am Deputy Chair, and at the Dart Centre Asia-Pacific (which looks at trauma in journalism) where I am chair.

I am also freelancing and doing some teaching. I love that I am doing true passion projects right now, after being made redundant from the ABC in 2020 – you know in those budget cuts that weren’t cuts?! (sarcasm!)

How did you get into journalism?

I have been telling stories all my life – and love having an audience!

My first real story was telling schoolmates in Adelaide about our family’s experience in Cyclone Tracy in Darwin in 1974 – particularly that I saw Santa that night and that my hair blew away in the cyclone.

Technically, the hair bit was true. My mother had cut my hair and saved it in a plastic bag, which got blown away.

Officially I started a journalism course in Adelaide in 1986, followed by a TV cadetship at the ABC the following year.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Providing a series of webinars on self-care and trauma-informed reporting for my colleagues at the ABC and others during the pandemic in 2020.

I did more than a dozen online sessions and 300+ people attended.

I knew my media friends and colleagues were struggling and I knew with a little knowledge and support they would find the comfort and tools they needed to deal with what they were going through.

Peer support is crucial.

I understood what my colleagues were going through and why they needed help, even if sometimes they didn’t realise it.

It felt good to be able to pass on what I had learned as a fellow attending two programs with the Dart Centre.

I got such good feedback. ABC MD David Anderson even gave me a shout out during one of his internal addresses to staff.

And there was also the time when a young woman I mentored got her first piece published and broadcast a couple of years ago. Wow, did that feel good. She was so persistent and did such a good job. I am so proud of her.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?

The trust deficit that besets our industry now.

I know how hard Australian journos are working these days and the huge pressures on them to produce, produce, produce when there are fewer staff and dwindling resources. Inevitably mistakes are made, bad decisions are made.

Of course there are bad journalists and propagandists and biased news outlets – there always have been.

But these days there are very broad brushes being used to tar all journalists.

We need to ensure we are producing ethical journalism that is in the public interest.

When dealing with sensitive and traumatic events – interviewing survivors in particular – we need to take a trauma-informed approach that centres “do no harm”. We have to be prepared to respond to constructive criticism. But so much of the hate and anger directed at journalists is unwarranted or misguided.

Who has influenced or mentored you?

I have been so lucky to have many wonderful people support me through the whole of my life and my career. It’s a long list!

My mother firstly. Maura Percy was a fiery pioneer who suffered no fools and told me I could do anything. She had dementia when she passed away in 2020 but she remains my best mentor. My younger sister Ann-Marie Percy continues to mould and shape me and keep me in check as only a sister can. I also have a long line of older and younger cousins as well as nieces and nephews who inspire and support me.

My friends Janine Sim-Jones and Mardi Anderson go back to our days in our journalism program – we were the bogans of the class. We have seen each other through career and life highs and lows and still support each other as much as we can. I bounce ideas off them, share problems, celebrate life events.

I was very young when I started as a journalist in Adelaide and my colleagues were incredible. They are still my dear friends today. Victoria Purman and Ruth Brisbane in particular were fab to the teen me back then. Stephen Halliday got me into the union.

Sherene Strahan was the reporter I took over from at the ABC in Alice Springs in 1989 – if she had not had faith in me to do the job my life would be very different. Ruth Dexter was EP of the 730 Report in Darwin when I was a reporter then presenter. She fought for me to be paid equally for the job I was doing.

More recently I have been fortunate to work alongside top women including Adele Ferguson, Victoria Laurie, Marina Go and Lenore Taylor via the Walkleys board.

My union buddies are so dear to me – Erin Delahunty and Leigh Tonkin are Media section VPs. Erin Madeley, MEAA’s Operations Director has the greatest strategic brain! Cassie Derrick is so energetic. I learn from all of them. Jenny Farrar recruited me as a workplace union activist when I returned from overseas and I owe her so much.

I now have three Erins in my life, after DCAP hired the terrific Erin Smith as CEO late last year.

My husband Norman Hermant is a constant source of strength and encouragement. We share an incessant need to know things and are constantly trading titbits of information.

I am also hugely indebted to my father Joe Percy, and my brothers and their families. My eldest niece is the reason I do taekwondo!

There are many many women and men I have not named here but I have been very lucky they have supported me. I have learnt from them all. You know who you are!

What is something no one knows about you?

I own about 15-20 Paul Weller albums on CD! Yes CD! I love the quality of CDs. I love the way artists curate their work on an album.

Weller – formerly of The Jam and The Style Council – is a brilliant songwriter.

I am acquiring his back collection but his recent stuff is also great.

True Meanings from 2018 is a lovely album. On Sunset from 2020 is also a great listen! I drive my husband crazy because I am ALWAYS listening to Paul Weller!

How do you wind down after work?

I do taekwondo which is brilliant at allowing you to safely kick the sh*t out of something. It takes physical and mental concentration which is a great way to forget about the world. I find if I am distracted by work or other worries I lose focus and can hurt myself – it is a great way to ensure I put all of my mind and body into it.

I might also have an occasional glass of wine. (*might be more than occasionally!)

What are you reading at the moment?

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, a novel set in Philadelphia where a young African American reporter finds herself reporting on the death of a teenager from her community, shot by the cop husband of her childhood best friend. It is confronting but eye opening.

What does the immediate future hold?

Travel, teaching and meeting a whole lot of journos.

Being the media president at the union (MEAA) gives me a great excuse to meet and converse with my favourite kind of people.

Journos are the most interesting people!

Describe a perfect day in your role

A live cross on TV or radio for a key client on an important subject, seeing my journalist colleagues producing ethical public-interest journalism, delivering a well-received lecture, finding converts to trauma-informed best practice!


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