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No easy route to the ‘family business’

By Alexandra Bernard

Claire Harvey calls journalism the “family business”. Her father, the late Peter Harvey, was a giant of the Australian media, famous for his “Peter Harvey, Canberra” sign-off during a decades-long stint with the Nine Network.

“It was a family business but it seemed exciting and fun and different and Dad was always off having adventures,” Harvey says. “It never occurred to me to do anything else.”

But despite her pedigree, there was no easy route into the industry and Harvey got her start through sheer persistence.

At the conclusion of work experience at The Australian, Harvey kept going back, spending her summer holidays making coffee and transcribing interviews. Eventually, they started paying her.

“Everyone in journalism I know has similar stories, they just hung around and were keen,” she says.

“There’s jobs if you want them.

“Don’t listen to anyone who says there are no jobs in journalism or that journalism is dying. People were saying that when I started my career and it wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.”

After 10 years at The Australian, Harvey was posted to New Zealand before moving to The Sunday Telegraph.

It was there she teamed up with editor Mick Carroll to find her passion for campaign journalism.

“We began thinking of issues where we could actually make a difference then really working out how we could pressure government and society to make the changes,” she says.

Harvey said all good journalism comes from something personal and her biggest campaign is for parents who didn’t vaccinate to stop getting the ‘vaccination bonus’ and other government payments for children in childcare, which came after she realised how many children are unvaccinated.

While looking around daycare centres when expecting her first child, Harvey saw a list of the children who couldn’t have certain foods and a list of those who were unvaccinated.

“Suddenly I realised that you’re not allowed to bring peanut butter into a daycare centre, but you can bring the measles, or mumps, whooping cough — diseases that kill children and can be prevented with a vaccine,” she says.

Within a year, the laws had changed in every state and territory in Australia.

“I’m really proud of it, I think it’s saved lives,” Harvey says.

While campaign journalism has been the highlight of her career, a gig covering the Pitcairn Island trials in 2004 will stick with her forever.

After three days travelling by boat across the Pacific, Harvey spent about eight weeks on the island with no running water, no sewerage and only a satellite phone for contact with the outside world as she reported on child sex abuse trials.

“That was a huge adventure and I’ll never forget it, it was amazing,” she says.

For women in the media industry, Harvey finds flexibility and work-life balance the biggest challenge.

She acknowledges the sacrifice that women must make to be an editor and because of this doesn’t want to step into the role herself.

“The top job just seems too inflexible. It’s not possible for me to have the life that I want with my children and to be the boss, but there are a lot of women who want to be the boss and we have to find ways for that to be possible,” she says.

Harvey sees the next big challenge for the media as monetising journalism and ensuring its future.

And she backs an idea that would revolutionise the industry.

“I think it would be fantastic if the industry could work out a way to do micropayments and you’d be able to pay 5c to read the story you were interested in from any publication,” Harvey says.

“Five years ago we didn’t know if anyone would pay, but we know now that they will and we’ve just got to make it easy for them.”


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