Words by Eva Baxter, Northern Daily Leader journalist
MONTHS after I had finished my journalism degree, I was still in Sydney, juggling a poorly paid contract role in media, with the swim instructor job I’d had since I was 17.
That was until one of my female lecturers, journalist and academic Jenna Price, asked me why I didn't yet have a proper media gig.
So, with Jenna's help, in 2022 I landed my first full-time job as an editorial trainee at the Northern Daily Leader, an Australian Community Media newspaper based in Tamworth, Australia’s country music capital.
Did I know what I was in for?
Let's just say that while I was being offered the job, I held the phone to my ear while my free hand typed 'Tamworth' into Google maps on my laptop.
The first time I stepped foot in the regional centre was the day I started working there.
Reporting for a community that I did not yet belong to, has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. I knew so little, and was suddenly in a job that required me to know so much.
But, more than a year later, I’ve built up knowledge, as well as strong relationships - and have reported on farming, mining, renewable energy, water security, rural health, accessibility gaps, extreme weather disasters, country music (obviously), and heaps more.
Joining the ranks of regional early career reporters at age 25, I feel lucky to have such a creative, engaging job. The next career steps may not be clear yet, but getting this kind of newsroom experience is essential.
Like many women beginning their media careers, I’ve learnt that you need plenty of resilience, and need to keep an open mind about work, in such a competitive market.
Journalist Soofia Tariq was also among the pool of trainees hired by ACM in 2022. Before scoring her first full-time role at The Canberra Times, she volunteered in radio, and at a university publication, interned with The Guardian Australia and got a casual role on its audio team.
Now, she works as an audio journalist for SBS in Canberra.
“Sometimes, I find it insane how far I’ve gotten,” she said.
“It’s those seeds of self-doubt that are like, ‘How did you get here? Like, you’re only 22’."
Soofia was born in Australia, and has a Pakistani background. She believes that journalists of colour can feel the need to work twice as hard to succeed.
The Sydney and Canberra newsrooms she’s worked in have given her experience and fostered her confidence, she said.
They are opportunities she is grateful for, in an industry that is largely white, and male-dominated.
“There’s always that inkling in the back of my mind, ‘was I not hired for a job because of my race or my religion, or where I grew up'?” Soofia said.
And there are times, she says, that she feels her race, religion or background worked to her advantage.
"But the industry is trying to change," Soofia said.
"There’s an understanding that diversity in the newsroom makes for better journalism."
For Victorian government media officer Sakina Amani, who arrived in Australia as a migrant at the beginning of the pandemic, the barriers to entry have also been high. Formerly a senior journalist in Afghanistan, she couldn’t get an entry level news industry job in her new country.
Hiring managers told her they admired her skills, but other candidates born in Australia had decades of local experience.
“It isn’t easy, especially for me coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse background,” the 28-year-old said.
“You have to compromise a lot; you have to keep your expectation at a very low level; you have to go for any kind of job just to survive, and still to keep the passion for journalism.
“I love journalism. I believe I’m born to be a journalist.”
Through an organisation advocating for migrants and refugees to pursue their careers, Sakina started a three-month internship as a communications advisor for the Victorian Government, and moved into the media team.
But the contract will finish soon, and she feels it’s still a hard slog to get jobs in the media industry. There’s no chance of moving back to Afghanistan, where the Taliban returned to power in 2021 and curbed women’s freedoms.
Sakina says many journalists left the country after being targeted by the Taliban, leaving dozens of real stories, in a humanitarian crisis, untold and unknown.
“Afghanistan now should be the focus of journalism on earth,” she said.
Sometimes the reality of a job you think is ideal doesn’t actually suit you, as Chloe Henry, Launch Link communications account co-ordinator, discovered. Chloe interned at a metro newspaper and a regional newspaper while studying journalism but wasn’t happy in either.
The bigger, metro publication wasn’t what she expected, and the regional newspaper had few journalists on multiple stories working to tight deadlines, which she found stressful.
PR was the way to go, she decided, despite an editor telling her it’s “the devil”.
“I think it’s that stigma around PR that puts a lot of journalists off,” the 22-year-old said.
“It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right one.”
Chloe works in Fitzroy in Melbourne, working remotely two days a week, and loves the workplace culture, flexibility, and understanding that you’re not always meeting daily deadlines.
“I know that I’ve had experience with peers where they’ve ended up working for the ABC straight out of uni, or A Current Affair, even,” she said.
“And you can envy them, but at the same time know that your journey is going to be completely different, and that doesn’t mean that you’re not as good as them in the industry."
"That just means that you’re taking a different path, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Whatever the path, the experience, or the part of the industry you end up in, the way into the media for many women today is as diverse as the group now making their marks in the sector.