This is the full transcript of journalist, and current Australian Nine Network TV presenter, Lisa Wilkinson, who delivered the annual Andrew Olle Lecture at the Australian Technology Park, Redfern, Sydney on Friday 25 October 2013. This transcript was originally published online by the Australian ABC.
ANDREW OLLE SPEECH
By Lisa Wilkinson
Good evening, and thank you!
At the outset I have to say how truly thrilled, humbled and honoured I am by the privilege of being asked to deliver this year’s Andrew Olle lecture – a journalist still remembered and perhaps now more than ever deeply admired, for his integrity, cool professionalism, and one of the best raised eyebrows in the business. And I know I speak on behalf of everyone here, Annette, when I say that it is testament to the impact Andrew had on journalism and a community fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of his work, that nigh on two decades since he was taken from you – and us – that we are still here in such great numbers to honour his legacy.
I was lucky enough to get to know Andrew towards the end of his all-too-brief near-half-century of life and, as a result, I confess to the uncomfortable feeling that if Andrew himself had been invited to deliver a lecture such as this, I suspect he would have very graciously declined – so humble a man was he.
But when I discovered I was the first female journalist to be so invited since Jana Wendt back in 1997, it was a hard one to knock back. Yes, for those who are doing the maths, that’s two female journalists in sixteen years. Still, I suppose that’s better than double the representation women are currently enjoying in our Federal Cabinet.
So Mark Scott, thank you to you, to you Annette, and to the Olle Media Lecture board for this enormous honour.
And thank you also to our Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey for still honouring us with your presence even though you knew I was going to make that jibe about the lack of women in the Cabinet. Never fear, there’s more to come!
Back in 1997 when Jana gave this lecture, I was in the audience. It was powerful.
But as the whole media world has transformed itself in the interim at warp speed, it feels like a lifetime ago.
In 1997 the Saturday paper edition of the Sydney Morning Herald was selling a robust 408,000 compared to just over half that now and the proverbial rivers of gold were still flowing; ABCNews24 didn’t yet exist; The Bulletin still had 11 years to run, Nene King was the most powerful person in Australian publishing, Blue Heelers was the Number One show on TV, John Laws was the King of Australian radio, Stuart Littlemore was striking fear as host of Media Watch, OneTel was the country’s hottest telco, TV wunderkind Adam Boland was still a ‘kinde’ in high school; and social media was a bunch of journos at Friday night drinks at the pub across the road from work.
In 1997, most of us in this room didn’t have an email address, had never been on the internet, there was no Facebook, no smart phones or ipads, no Google, no texting, no Wikipedia. AND we were still a decade away from the first tweet.
How far we’ve come . . .
Sixteen years ago could we ever have imagined that this new media and these new platforms would enter the fray so quickly, flourish so rampantly, and have such an impact on our profession . . . making news gathering so much more layered, immediate and – depending on your view – dynamic, blushingly populist or, for many, simply dangerous.
For as we know, we are all members of a once-rock solid profession in full-blown transition, as this rising tide of new media swirls around us, sweeping away much of the landscape we once knew, and too often taking cherished colleagues with it. I am sad to note that since Mark Colvin delivered the 2012 Olle lecture, the MEAA reports that more than 1,000 jobs for Australian journalists have been lost, with the numbers going from around 9,000 to just under 8,000 around the country. With the collapse of the funding model, our once exclusive Fourth Estate has been under siege, by millions of enthusiasts bearing iphones and laptops.
So now, while traditional media struggles, contracts, reinvents and tries desperately to survive, everyone, it seems, can now join us in the sandpit and play journalist. Who needs membership in the mighty journalists’ union, when all you need is a smart phone, an opinion that can be tightly compressed, and the desire to experience the sticky sweet rush of a 140 character tweet gone viral?
I have no doubt that every journalist in the room could right now name the story that carried their first by-line, or the time they nailed their first live piece to camera, got their first radio news bulletin to air, or the letter they received when a story they’d covered touched someone. It’s a hard-fought thrill and one to cherish ever after. You’ve communicated, told a story, made a yarn live and breathe. It’s the moment you realised someone, somewhere, noticed the work you’d done.
It’s the moment you realised you had an audience, however large or small, for your work.
Now, that same kind of rough rush can be experienced by a sixteen year-old fanboy with an iPhone crying “Leave Britney Alone!” in his bathroom.
Bang. 50 million Youtube views. How do we as journalists compete with that? And should we even have to?
As David Marr famously said in his first meeting with the new editor of the Guardian, Kathryn Viner, “There’s one thing you need to know about me. I don’t tweet.”
Kathryn was undaunted and employed him anyway.
I daresay in the current climate, David may be the only one afforded such latitude. And no doubt Andrew Denton . . . (How good would it be, if Andrew Denton tweeted?)
Our bosses now encourage the rest of us to engage in social media. Lord knows my former Executive Producer at Today, Tom Malone, took years to convince me I should get on board. In the end he stopped trying to convince me, and used a much better method. He ordered me to do it.
Even then, I was far from convinced.
Too self-indulgent. Too intrusive, I thought. Even the name of this new form of communication seemed to be its own running gag on those who chose to partake.
And I know Richard Glover felt the same. Indeed, in those early days of working out who I would follow on twitter, I checked out Richard’s feed. Richard it turned out was one of Twitter’s early adopters. But a closer look revealed a single tweet in April 2008 about what he had had for breakfast that day . . . then nothing. For four years. Presumably you did have another meal during that time, Richard?
To me, Richard’s silence said it all. Twitter was a place for the truly self-obsessed and narcissistic. Kim Kardashian. And Kevin Rudd.
Now, Richard along with me and 218 million others adds his tweets to the 500 million sent around the world every day. Not all of which are from Kevin Rudd . . .
There are now tweets from Popes and Queens and even tweets from space. We can watch whole romances bloom and wither . . . and bloom again courtesy of Liz and Warnie.
I am sure I speak for many in the room when I say that despite our initial disdain for social media, journalism’s dirty little secret is a certain quiet obsession with how many twitter followers other journalists have, and why on earth they are ahead of you! (But enough about Karl’s 150,000 followers. I really don’t want to talk about it. And I notice you’ve been working it hard lately, Mike Carlton! 15,000 followers added in just the last 4 months? As Seal would say, “Well done!” And by the way Mike, I haven’t seen Piers Akerman here, tonight, but if he is, no throwing wine over him like you did at the end of the Olle evening back in 2002.)
Certainly, the industry is now taking social media seriously, and media bosses tell me that a journalist’s social media following is now a real factor when it comes to hiring and promotion. It’s measurable, it’s of tangible benefit and value to an employer and it’s being viewed by media bosses as your own personal circulation number . . .
In fact, I know of at least one news boss who will, in the next few months, have a real-time ticker giving him daily updates on the social media following of each of his journalists . . . from re-tweets, to Facebook shares, to Instagram likes, to the white knuckle ride of that widget that tells you how many people are reading your article RIGHT NOW. He believes this will be the ultimate test: how many readers is each journalist driving to the paper’s website . . . and the toll-gates at that all-important paywall.
But, with all this pressure to engage with social media, to share of ourselves, our thoughts, our behind-the-scenes moments, add our two cents worth to the day’s hottest hashtag in the constant daily churn and burn of the 24 hour news cycle the problem is this:
With it, social media brings a need . . . a need for speed. And obviously, that speed – the greatest weapon social media has going for it – can be the enemy of accuracy – the greatest thing traditional journalism has going for it.
If I can take you back to April 15th of this year and the Boston Bombings . . . the event I believe where social media and traditional media collided. On the day the news broke, social media was at its instantaneous best. Within moments the first images were online. As news gatherers, this was gold . . . and authorities went on to use many of those images to help identify their suspects. But that’s also when social media became problematic and traditional media came to the fore. With so much confusion and conjecture flooding social media, an avalanche of misinformation went viral.
Fact-checking, accuracy and official confirmations – the bread and butter of our training as journalists – became casualties of the adrenalin rush to be first with the news – even if, in some cases, it turned out to be wrong.
That day, we were also reminded of the schism in views of what now constitutes news . . . because on April 15th there were two hashtags vying for the Number One spot on Twitter worldwide: “Boston Bombings” and “Kardashian Divorce.”
What happened next though, was encouraging. Despite the instant gratification of social media’s hashtag feeds, people turned and returned to traditional, trusted media in their droves – the TV and radio news bulletins, and news websites – in search of the truth: the measured, fact-checked, considered truth. There was no competition: traditional media – on all platforms – was the preferred option.
And as a news-gathering source we were reminded that these new media channels, should only EVER be seen as one aspect of how we gather information in order to tell a story.
For despite this engulfing tide of social media, the rock of solid journalism is still there, still needed! And in a world of swirling communications on so many different platforms, the eternal values of traditional journalism have never been more crucial in establishing what the truth of a matter is, and putting it on the public record.
But with all this pressure to engage with social media, to share of ourselves, our thoughts, our behind the scenes moments, increase our followers, add our two cents worth to the day’s hottest hashtag in the constant daily churn and burn of the 24 hour news cycle, are we unwittingly heading towards a generation of journalists who will lose the art of listening? Of being interested in OTHER people’s stories? Is social media in fact, the natural born enemy of why we became journalists in the first place?
My own entry into journalism is probably typical of many in this room. When I got my first job, I simply couldn’t believe my luck. And after more than three decades in this profession, and despite tonight’s honour – and despite this room boasting so many titans of this media age – I still think of myself as a magazine-junkie kid from the suburbs who lucked out big-time after answering a tiny three-line ad in the Women and Girls employment section of the Sydney Morning Herald. And I can tell you, compared to the plethora of positions being offered up to the Men and Boys each day back then, that Women and Girls section didn’t exactly trouble the printer for too much ink or column inches.
But there, buried under the letter ‘D’ without fanfare, in unremarkable 7 point type it read: “Dolly magazine is looking for a secretary/editorial assistant/girl Friday who is prepared to do absolutely anything. Phone Kathy on 6993622.” I was . . . prepared to do absolutely anything. And I did . . . phone Kathy. Three days later I caught the all-stations 7.48am train from Campbelltown to Central wearing the brand new frock I’d had on lay-by for six months, and nervously walked the three blocks to the Fairfax magazine building in Chippendale, with my pretty ordinary HSC results in one hand; my certificate in advanced secretarial studies in the other; and my thumping – some these days might say, bleeding – heart in my mouth. One interview, and a demonstration of my Sale Of The Century-like knowledge of every popstar Countdown had ever featured later . . . I had the job! My dream job. At Dolly. The very magazine I had spent all of my teenage years reading.
I was going to be sitting in the same office as journalists. REAL journalists. With notepads, deadlines, and typewriters . . . heck, some of them were even electric. (The typewriters, not the journalists.) Watching. Learning. Questioning. And no doubt breathing in enough second hand smoke to kill a brown dog. Trying to work it all out . . . how this magical thing called a magazine was actually put together: from the Bay City Rollers to Tan-Through bikinis and every shade of Cutex nailpolish in between.
This was a magazine that back in the early 80s was read by one in every two Australian teenage girls – an audience totally and uniquely devoted to it. A readership that today’s media proprietors and advertisers could only dream of. And one I felt an incredible responsibility towards.
One of my first jobs was choosing the Dolly Doctor letters and as every woman in the room – and yes, every man with a sister – knows, it was the most well-thumbed page in the magazine.
Questions about surprising places hair can grow aside, looking back, I can’t help but imagine how different that whole first-job-in-the-media scenario would be today . . .
Would that job at Dolly even be advertised? No need . . . now all it takes is a single mention on Mamamia, 10,000 likes on the Dolly Facebook page, a Leigh Sales retweet and bang! Aspiring editorial assistants for as far as the eye can see, all with their own blog, a Linked In page, tumbler site, and a perfectly produced showreel with 300 Youtube views, all packaged up with a selfie in the latest ASOS frock ready to strike a pose for the Sunday Tele social pages.
Remember the days when a one page CV and a couple of fake references was all that was required?
Just for the heck of it, I’d like to show you a few pics from two years after I started at Dolly . . . when I’d become the magazine’s freshly minted 21 year-old editor.
Now, it’s actually really hard for me to look at these pictures . . . and not just because of that yellow novelty jumper. It’s hard because I am immediately reminded of the sheer terror I felt at being handed such a huge responsibility as the editorship of Dolly at such a ludicrously young age . . . I also have to wonder, if in today’s image-conscious, camera-ready, Facebook-fabulous world, if that raw, still far-from-formed young woman with fear in her eyes and just a pure passion for working in magazines – would get that same break, today?
Who knows? . . . what I do know is that someone back then thought I was worth taking a chance on. And for the first time in my career I knew the incredible power that comes from someone believing in you – when perhaps you are not yet believing in yourself. That said, certainly not everyone was believing in me at that point. Dolly being a part of the Fairfax group of magazines, I knew for sure that there were fully trained up journalists all over the building with decades of experience under their belts thinking who the hell does this trumped up little typist think she is?
Although I did get one call of congratulations – from a Fairfax board member – who rang to wish me a helluva lot more luck with the teenage population of Australia than he was currently having with his 15 year old daughter. Well I’ve got one of those daughters now and let me tell you; some things never change . . . though she’s 16 now, and here with my family tonight, and fabulous!
But while the challenges of parenting haven’t changed much, a great deal of journalism has. Because today, so often, it seems, the old combo of talent, a love of words, and the power to communicate – powerfully – are not always enough.
Because today’s media landscape, particularly for women, is one now so focused on the glossy and the glamorous it often eclipses and undermines everything else.
And it is everywhere.
I kid you not – even in preparing for tonight’s lecture, the most common question I was asked was not “What are you going to say?”, but “What are you going to wear?”
And when you’re a woman doing breakfast TV, you quickly learn the sad truth, that what you wear can sometimes generate a bigger reaction than even any political interview you ever do.
I absolutely love co-hosting the Today Show and I do feel truly privileged right now to be part of such a great team – yes, even over the last month when we have somehow entered that disconcerting place that I know many of you in the room have visited where you somehow go from reporting the news to being it.
Breakfast TV is an endlessly diverse journalistic experience: but it does come at a cost. Yes, the alarm does go off at time starting with the number 3, and the hours do wreak havoc with normal family life. As I mentioned, my three children are here tonight and for seven years now I haven’t been there in the morning before they head off to school . . . and even Pete would admit signing excursion notes and finding missing socks is not his forte.
And I have been known to put on a load of washing in the dark at 3:30 as I head out the door to work. I know I should leave it to my husband . . . but do you have any idea how hard it is to get red bandanna dye out of a load of whites?!
Speaking of dirty laundry, as a woman in the media, it has long saddened me that while we delight in covering public issues of overt sexism – possibly the hottest topic in media over the last twelve months – the media itself can be every bit as guilty of treating women entirely differently to men.
And in terms of our audience, the cliché is so often true – it is women who can turn out to be a woman’s harshest critic.
Take this email that arrived in the Today Show Inbox, from a viewer called Angela, in March of this year . . .
Who the heck is Lisa’s stylist?
Whoever it is has Lisa in some shocking clothes.
Today’s outfit is particularly jarring and awful.
Just my 2 cents worth.
Get Some Style.
Now, while I know I am far from being above criticism, good sense should tell me to leave that sort of semi-anonymous stuff alone. But some mornings . . .
Thanks for all of your “Get Some Style” feedback.
Please feel free to send me a list of all the outfits you don’t like out of the 200 or so that I come up with each year, and I’ll see what I can do.
Just so I can prepare, are we just talking about the outfits I wear for the Today Show, or the ones I come up with to wear for red carpet and charity events as well?
You’ll need to be very specific because that is a lot of outfits to remember.
Please include suggested colours, sleeve lengths, skirt shapes, your preference for prints, fabric weights, jackets vs blouses, etc . . .
Of course Angela, given that I am a journalist – and not a supermodel – it is important that anything I wear allows me to feel comfortable for three and a half hours on set or perhaps outside when we’re on location.
Oh, and I’m a married mother of three, so nothing too revealing.
And nothing I wear can ever clash with what Georgie is wearing. And I have a larger bust, so nothing tight, thanks. Oh, and I’m not very tall – did I mention I’m not a model? – so please take that into consideration as well.
And finally, I must never clash with Karl’s ties. Or suits. Or the couch.
And I must be seasonally appropriate.
Look forward to hearing from you.
I think I did her head in because I never heard from Angela again.
Even our most esteemed female media guests aren’t immune from criticism. Not even when she is the Australian of The Year.
Take this recent email from viewer Steve.
I don’t think you guys should allow Miss Ita Buttrose on the show . . . She has so much to answer for. Before she started writing all that stuff in her magazine all those years ago, women were happy, they didn’t need to vote, or have a license, they didn’t even know what an organism was…. Now they expect it, EVERY TIME !!!!! Steve.
And at the risk of overdoing it, I can’t resist delving into the mailbag one last time and sharing this email that popped up in the Today Show inbox one recent morning when Georgie Gardner and I were co-hosting the show:
I am totally fed up with the combination of Lisa and Georgie – they’re shocking together and its like listening to a chorus of cats.
Please replace Karl when he’s on “assignment” with a male partner for Georgie or Lisa. In fact, Lisa’s interviews are very biased and I think she should just stay at home with her husband and that stupid red turban he wears on his head. No doubt that’s where she gets her Tony Abbott interview questions from.
You know what’s coming next . . . yep, I couldn’t help myself.
Really sorry to hear you feel that way. What’s disappointing though is that you think a grown woman can’t come up with her own questions in an interview with the Opposition Leader, and that for some reason she needs to ask her husband to write them for her.
Then again, I note that you have sent this email from your husband’s email address, so maybe that is the way things are done in your house.
Well, Joanne did write back to me. And what you may be surprised to learn is that Joanne told me she’s a former executive at Unifem, the organization charged with the care, protection and promotion of women.
She then mentioned that she was now running a new business and would I mind terribly, given I was a member of the sisterhood, giving it a plug on the Today Show.
And I’ve been receiving press releases from her ever since.
I despaired: how could a woman whose job it once was to change the culture of discrimination of women, feel OK being so anti-women? Was it the semi-anonymous nature of flicking off an email to someone she’d never met that somehow, in her mind, made it OK? And why are women so often the targets of vitriol? And why in so many areas of Australian life, are the rules of engagement still so different for women?
When I saw just a few month ago that Australia’s most trusted publication, the Women’s Weekly ran a cover story, “Why Women Hate Women,” I despaired, because I recognised the syndrome. I don’t believe Australian women do hate women, but I despair when I see the same media that decries sexism and misogyny, itself engaging in it with such uncaring ease.
* I despair that every time a female journalist is profiled in the press, her age is usually mentioned by the second paragraph, as if it is a measure of her sexual currency and just how long it will be, before it expires. And yet, does anyone here know or care how old Kerry O’Brien, Kochie, Tony Jones, Hugh Riminton, Ray Martin, Peter Overton or Laurie Oakes are? They are all brilliant at what they do, and the rule of thumb is that the more experienced they are, the better they are at their jobs. So why, so often, doesn’t that same measure apply to women?
* I despair when so many gossip magazines use ridicule of women as their stock in trade. How many times do we see female celebrities used as the mass bully targets, almost always based on their appearance.
* I despair whenever I hear the words “Post Baby Body” accompanied by images of yet another celebrity who in four amazing weeks has managed to immediately wipe away any physical trace of evidence that she had ever been pregnant in the first place. And we’re meant to aspire to that?
* I despair when I see another “Celebrities With Anorexia” gossip cover complete with before and after paparazzi shots, calculated to show each one of them at their sad, tortured worst. It’s pure voyeurism and ridicule masquerading as concern.
* I despair when I see the young female radio DJ disappear from sight and unable to work, after being caught up in a prank call to a London Hospital, that saw a troubled nurse take her own life. Meanwhile her male co-host gets promoted and is given a major industry award by his employer as “Top Jock’ of the year. Oh well, as they say, “shit happens.”
* I despair, when our Federal Cabinet of 2013, has just one woman to 19 men – and we women are told, even by other women, we must shoulder the burden of blame for this lack of female parliamentary presence due to our lack of “merit” . . . if only we were more talented, we’re told, we might get half a chance of a look in.
* I despair that so many young girls are growing up, held hostage via social media to the views others have of them, long before they even know who they are themselves.
* I despair of the Instagram culture, where young girls learn to take off as much clothing as possible in order to generate the greatest number of “likes” from an audience too often made up of strangers. This is now the screwed-up arbiter of a girl’s self esteem?
*I despair when a retired male journalist called Jeff Barker complains that he can no longer watch the TV news because young female journalists who are simply – and competently – getting on with their job . . . are apparently TOO attractive for him to concentrate. Wake up, Jeff!
*And, as a former magazine editor, allow me to speak on something I feel most passionately of all: I TRULY despair, every time Fashion Week rolls around and another parade of tragically skinny young women make their way down the catwalk. Every year! The designers blame the agents, the agents insist the girls are healthy, while the fashion editors hand the models yet another size 6 garment to wear in photos shoots because, and I’m quoting fashion editors here: it’s the only size the designer samples come in! Meanwhile, former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements admits that she’s seen models eat tissues to suppress their appetites so they can stay skinny enough to fit the clothes they’re required to wear.
But I say no more excuses! No more pointing the finger at others as the cause of the problem. We need a simple rule, a compact: we the editors of the women’s magazines of Australia feel that our duty is to present healthy images to the young women of Australia, and this far outweighs any other consideration. Therefore, we will not display in our magazines, clothes that arrive in a size 6!
If not our generation, then whose? If not now, then when?
Because so many young Australian girls are struggling. And this barrage of impossible, unattainable images is a big part of why. It is no decent solution to our broader journalistic problems of how to retain eyeballs and circulations. It is a betrayal, to use an old-fashioned term, of our duty of care.
To the rising generation of female journalists in the room, and those watching at home, allow me to say that I appreciate you have come into the media at a difficult time. I know the frustration and concern many of you feel, because a lot of you have told me.
The wonderful thing is – and I want to end on a positive note, there are actually are a lot of bright shining stars for us all to steer by.
I encourage you to look, as I regularly do, to the women I most admire in this wonderful profession in which we find ourselves: from Leigh Sales who had the unenviable task of stepping into Kerry O’Brien’s shoes and now totally owns 7.30; to the easy charm of Liz Hayes and her ability to draw out unexpected admissions from her interview subjects; Sarah Ferguson, whose every TV expose is cause to lean in so as to not miss a word; Georgie Gardner’s obvious compassion in every news bulletin she delivers; Emma Alberici and Jenny Brockie’s sheer professionalism and depth of experience; Sam Armytage and Mel Doyle’s extreme grace under professional pressure; Annabel Crabb’s quirky individuality matched only by her sharp-as-a-tack political acumen; Tracy Grimshaw, my predecessor at Today, who picks up another bloody Walkley nomination every time she sits down for one of her signature interviews; the wonderfully incisive writings of Julia Baird and Wendy Squires; Kate McClymont’s forensic research and take-no-prisoners bravery; Deborah Thomas’s seamless capacity to work across so many media platforms; Fran Kelly’s warmth and piercing intellect as a broadcaster; Mia Freedman’s trail-blazing bravery and insipirational innovation in the online world; Morag Ramsay’s capacity as a producer to make the complex comprehensible; Jennifer Byrne’s infectious enthusiasm for every subject she turns her hand to; and the gentle grace and warm wisdom the wonderful Caroline Jones brings on a Monday night, as this tribal elder and enduring pioneer of female journalists in this country introduces another episode of Australian Story.
All of these women are at the top of their game. And we can all celebrate that despite the current glossy environs of so much of the media, their paths have been sure and steady: learning, growing, honing their craft, withstanding the temptation to compromise, and SURVIVING, despite all the extraordinary pressures placed upon them.
These are women for whom public approval comes from their desire to be authentic and get on with the job. Their very lack of desire to be liked – hasn’t that word changed its meaning? – in all its guises (including the old fashioned way,) is the very thing that drives their enduring and much deserved respect.
I am honoured to work in the same profession as them.
I am humbled by your attention tonight.
I am so glad I answered that ad at Dolly Magazine.
For, I am eternally thankful to be a journalist.
Long may journalism last, in all its glorious and ever-changing forms.
I offer a final salute to Andrew Olle, and I thank you all.