Just because I’m a white young woman doesn’t mean I don’t deserve my job at SBS

Ellie LaingIn this opinion piece SBS journalist Ellie Laing hits back at a report in The Australian suggesting she and colleagues were hired because they were attractive.

I’m a 32 year old married woman who like so many, endures a daily struggle with frizzy hair and the occasional breakout.

So when a compliment suggesting I might be, in some way, “attractive” comes my way, I’ll take it.

With delight.

What I won’t take is a suggestion that because I’m “attractive”, white and a woman it somehow detracts from the credibility and substance of the news service I work for.

Yet that’s exactly what I woke up to on Monday morning.

A photo of me, in the middle of the media section of The Australian, along with a number of other photos of my “attractive” female colleagues – suggesting our boss had deliberately hired us because of the way we looked, and because we were women.

The photos used in The Australian's article this week.

The photos used in The Australian’s article this week.

And the suggestion was there – that the news service has suffered as a result.

It said SBS newsrooms now buzz with “young”, female reporters who were good looking and Anglo-Celtic.

Of course it failed to mention anything about our abilities. Our work-ethic. Our experience.

No, the author left all that out.

In my case it didn’t mention the near decade of experience I could bring to the newsroom after enjoying a long career across radio and TV at the ABC, Seven and Ten.

Never mind the fact that I work damned hard.

There was nothing in there either about the network of contacts I’ve built up over the years by earning people’s trust.

And no mention of the six day week I work at the moment to fit in a day of Journalism teaching at Macleay College – nurturing the reporters of the future.

It said SBS’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Jim Carroll, had wanted a more commercial approach and better ratings.

Heaven forbid! A News Director that wants to get more people watching!

The author claimed while SBS viewers want world news, the newsroom is focusing more on domestic news content.

Watch our bulletin and you’ll see just how much world content there is. There’s no other evening bulletin like it.

But viewers also deserve strong coverage of major local stories. They want to know what’s going on at home. Improving our domestic coverage is important to providing a complete news service.

And then the article went further, criticising SBS for covering more lifestyle stories. It cited examples including one about an app, a Cambodian-Australian fashion designer and a ballet dancer.

Oh please! Forgive us for covering a technological advancement, a Cambodian-Australian refugee turned fashion designer who’d overcome incredible hardship to see his designs gracing the catwalk, and a Japanese-Australian ballet dancer who was now the Principal Artist of The Australian Ballet.

Forgive us for dedicating a few minutes to the Arts! Or showcasing multicultural Australia at its best!

Any good news producer will tell you bulletins are about balance. Especially when you’re covering so much heavy content about fighting around the world. If only I had a dollar for every time someone told me “why doesn’t the news include good news?.” People want to hear good news stories. And this is a perfect example of telling inspiring stories, that leave viewers uplifted.

There is no doubt this is a time of incredible change in the media industry. Across the board, whether in papers, radio or TV we are all doing more with less.

I agree that as budgets are cut, jobs are shed, and experienced people leave, quality will suffer.

Journalism is so important. We have the ability to shape people’s views of the world. We can make people smarter, more informed and can even inspire them to be better people.

That passion is why I was hired.

Not because, on occasion, I scrub up alright.

Oh, and as an aside, the author got my name wrong. Perhaps if he’d watched the bulletin a bit closer he would have seen I’ve changed my name to Ellie Laing.

I got married late last year. And yes, on my wedding day, I looked the most “attractive” I’ve ever been.

  • Ellie Laing is a news reporter for SBS 

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