Passion and hard work are the only requirements to break into journalism

Having discovered her passion for journalism at five years old, winner of the 2017 Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship Lydia Bilton describes her experiences during her first year as a journalist and shares what she learned about breaking into the industry.

I was just five when I had my first taste of storytelling. It was a sweltering, bright summer’s day in my hometown, Moree — a small cotton-farming community in North-West NSW.

That day I was at the local swimming pool with my mum, trying to find some reprieve.

While splashing about in the cool corner of the pool, I remember spying a glamorous lady wearing a broad brimmed hat.

She carried a microphone with a Marantz recorder draped over her shoulder.

She was a journalist.

Working for ABC New England North West, she had been sent out to Moree chasing a yarn about the local swimming pool.

To our community, the pool holds a vast significance. In 1965, Indigenous leader Charles Perkins led a company of students from the University of Sydney on an activism expedition to North West NSW in what became known as the Freedom Ride.

Charles Perkins on the Freedom Ride Source: Sydney University

The pool had been the site of a violent demonstration and when I was five, the council announced plans to renovate it.

To gauge the community’s thoughts on the project and tell this important story, the local journo had travelled the three-hour trip from Tamworth out to Moree.

She interviewed my mum before asking me: “Lydia, tell me what do you like doing at the pool?”

“I just learnt to dive!” I excitedly declared, in a nasal, high-pitched voice. “It’s so fun.”

Upon reflection, it’s embarrassing knowing that this was my first on-air stint. But from here on in, I was hooked.

This was the moment I knew I wanted to make a career out of telling stories — an unexpected career move for the daughter of a doctor and nurse.

Earlier this year I completed my degree in Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.

My definitive break into the industry was winning the Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship last year. Allowing the winner a two-month internship at the Nine Network (across news, brekky, daily current affairs and 60 Minutes), a month long stint with The Walkley Foundation and a grant to attend a short course at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, the scholarship is the ultimate opportunity for undergraduate journalism students.

Over the three months, I met a plethora of passionate journalists and producers, cementing to me the importance of journalism.

And following that, I was lucky enough to walk out of university and straight into full time work in the media.

Acknowledging that my situation is somewhat of an anomaly, especially given my initial lack of industry connections, I thought I’d offer some advice to aspiring journalists unsure what to make of our incredible (albeit intimidating) industry.

First tip, engage in news media. One of my journalism lecturers said to me, “you’ll only ever write good journalism, once you read good journalism”.

Read, listen and watch, widely and frequently. From print to political reports to personality podcasts. And yes, this will mean subscribing and paying for news media.

Tip number two: have heroes. Find your favourite journalists. Follow them on Twitter. Read their articles. Buy their books. Watch their reports. You just never know when your paths may cross.

Tip number three: grasp every opportunity with eagerness and enthusiasm. Write features for your university newspaper, apply for internships, demonstrate an avid interest in our craft.

The Walkley Foundation frequently organises free seminars with journalists and media types. These events are insightful, inspiring and are fantastic networking opportunities.

Intern habitually and with heart. Over my four long years at university I experienced a range of media, from food magazines to online women’s websites.

I had flashbacks to my poolside days when I interned with ABC local radio in Orange and most recently I experienced the frenzied but fabulous world of television through that internship at the Nine Network.

You can’t expect to know your calling immediately. My advice is try it all. (Or as much as you realistically can while balancing university, work and general life).

A final word of advice: jump straight in!

While our industry is undoubtedly changing due to social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s far from lifeless. At the heart of journalism is storytelling- and that isn’t going out of fashion any time soon.

Lydia Bilton was the recipient of the 2017 Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship. She is now an associate digital producer for 60 Minutes.

Entries for the 2018 Jacoby-Walkley Scholarship open today.


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