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You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get grubby before you can land a gig reading the news on a national network. Channel Ten’s Candice Wyatt talks about the brutal lessons she learnt while working as a reporter.
She had no idea what she was doing
Deakin got me into Channel Ten for a week of work experience. I had never contemplated television – my dream had been to work at The Age. At the end of the week I thanked the news director for the time at Ten and he told me the best journalists are created from newspapers. So I did what he suggested and I went to the Werribee Times. Two weeks after I finished my degree I was writing the front-page story, a feature and page three through to the sport section every week. I remember thinking, ‘This is amazing, but I don’t really know what I’m doing.’
She had to move for the right jobs
I was offered a job at Southern Cross in Tasmania. I’d never even been to Tasmania – didn’t know a soul. I packed up my life, my dog and we jumped on the Spirit of Tasmania. I’d never done TV. Beaconsfield mine collapsed two weeks after I started. I covered it with some of the best journos from around the country. Two and a half years later I felt it was time to move on. I wanted to come back to Victoria where I was from, but I could not get a job. I’d made such good friends in Tassie, but a lot of them had moved on. I found myself feeling like the only one left on the island and I nearly threw in the towel.
Sometimes she had to go backwards to move forward
Out of nowhere I got a job at ABC radio in Ballarat. I’d never done radio but I took it because I really wanted to come home. Three journalists covered Ballarat to the border and down to the coast. It was a quarter of the state, really. There was a lot of planning involved and it was high stress. I relied on making friends wherever I went. I never dreamed I’d end up in Tasmania or Ballarat. Wherever you go you have to embrace it or you’ll find yourself isolated and alone. I still have lifelong friends from times in both of those places. If you’ve got that support network around you, you go out with your friends and it’s better. Two years later some jobs came up at Ten. The same news director from when I did work experience was there and he hired me.
Death knocks are part of the job
If someone has been killed in a drink driving accident, we go to their home. It’s not to be intrusive. It’s not to exploit their grief. We do it so that the person who has died doesn’t become a statistic. We do it so that they have a name and a photo and their life matters. It’s really hard. I’ve had situations where people have chased me down the street and sworn at me until I’m off their property. You can’t blame them; they’re going through a horrible time. At the same time I’ve got my boss telling me to door knock again. Other times people surprise me. They say, ‘We don’t want our son to be a statistic either. Come in. Here’s a photo of him at his graduation.’
'I’ve had situations where people have chased me down the street and sworn at me until I’m off their property. You can’t blame them; they’re going through a horrible time. At the same time I’ve got my boss telling me to door knock again.'
Covering the Jill Meagher’s murder in 2012 was the toughest test
I didn’t know Jill personally, but she worked at the ABC and journalism networks are tiny – we had mutual friends. I was one of the first people to interview her husband, Tom. I was blown away by how level headed he was. He understood we were trying to help him. A lot of the time with a missing person there isn’t something happening every day. In Jill Meagher’s case there were regular twists and turns, though. On the day they caught Adrian Bailey I worked 23 hours. They had to go to where her body was, which was hours away. He didn’t appear in court until 3 am. You’re not going to say, ‘It’s time for bed, I’m going to bail.’ Come Friday there was the outpouring of grief in Brunswick. People were walking around crying and lighting candles. I was exhausted. When I’d finished a producer said, ‘I’m not sure you’re coping.’ She sent me some links for coping with trauma and grief counselling for journalists. I did spend a lot of time crying. I think about her a lot.
Reporters battle against weather, people and technology during live crosses
Live crosses can be hard. There’s wind and rain, the umbrella inverts, hair ends up all over your face and your make up is running down your cheeks. People stand behind the camera and try and put you off – they think it’s funny. Or they come and stand behind you to be in shot. You can find yourself in awkward situations and you have to tell people to move on. Sometimes you’re crossing on breaking news, the signal’s lost and you’re not on air anymore – there’s nothing you can do about it. One time, when Essendon announced they would take ASADA to court, I got 30 seconds notice before I had to go on air. I had to run out to the Essendon balcony where my cameraman was and started reeling off everything the chairman had spoken about. It’s amazing what can come out of your mouth when you’re under pressure. It made sense, I don’t know how.
You have to be insanely tenacious
Journalism has become a very different industry in the 19 years since I’ve graduated. Ten’s been through tough times for the past few years. My friends have lost their jobs. We’re bouncing back. It’s the little newsroom that could. I have never got a job that was advertised, except for the ABC. I got every other job because I pestered people. There are opportunities, but you have to beat down the doors.
Candice Wyatt studied Journalism at Deakin University.
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