Reimagine the news: an open invitation

Emma (they/them) 26 VIC

One piece of advice from journalism school still sticks with me: pick an AFL team and learn all about it – you will need it to survive breakrooms as a journalist.

This small sliver of industrial wisdom may seem innocuous to some but it’s not. It’s a warning.

Impartial? Journalism never has been

It warns us of the whiteness that oozes out of newsrooms like syrup. Of the sexism that seeps like stains into the office carpet. Assimilate to the established culture or perish.

The white editors follow footy so you must learn the script too. You must be like them to make them like you. The tidbit about AFL teams is Victorian specific. However, it speaks less of sport and a lot more about the dominant culture of breakrooms and newsroom floors.

Racism is no stranger to Australian newsrooms. Even media darlings like Lee Lin Chin at SBS or Stan Grant at the ABC have, despite their clout and profile, contended with the pervasive racism built into our media landscape.

Young Aboriginal journalists and young journalists of colour don’t have that clout. HR and PR departments offer these individuals as sacrifices so the newsroom can boast about how they are ‘diversifying’. Yet it’s these young journalists who suffer as they try to survive the assumption that their presence alone will be enough to erode layers of colonialism and racism.

Given that the main purpose of journalism at the time of federation was to rationalise colonial occupation of Australia [1], none of this comes at a surprise. The legacy of this colonial foundation shows itself in many ways, whether it be the unquestioning regurgitation of police PR lines or a disingenuous ‘bothsidesism’ approach to an on-going genocide.

Journalism is not the romanticised profession that films like The Post or Spotlight would have you believe.

To the aspiring young media worker: your energy and ideas are destined to be chewed up and spat out. This will inevitably occur when your output is no longer turning a profit, or you’re deemed to be rocking the boat (see also: Antoinette Lattouf). Think twice before you enter.

Let’s pause here for a moment. That statement is actually untrue.

You are not destined for anything. Nothing is inevitable when we come together as a collective.

Where do we go?

We, as young folk, do have agency to determine how newsrooms should function. It’s a mammoth task, but to really design new news, I believe there needs to be a communal reimagining of the entire industry.

The question then becomes: where?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be within newsrooms themselves.

Plenty of quality individuals have tried the ‘change it from the inside’ approach. These acts of internal resistance are important in their own way, but they won’t reconfigure the industry. Or, at least not on their own. Newsroom powerbrokers simply won’t tolerate anything that threatens the status quo they maintain, and from which they benefit.

Universities too are failing to facilitate a site for necessary reimagining work. Again, this failure is despite the valiant efforts of individual teachers who want to help their students change news for the better.

There are moments when student press shows gleams of promise – Honi Soit comes to mind as one of the more hard-hitting student outlets. And yet these publications too are ultimately curtailed from fully growing teeth due to their existence within the academic institution.

Instead, university management prioritises ways in which they can turn your ambitions into profit while ultimately serving – like they always have – ongoing colonisation. And don’t even get me started on how hard it is for many people to access university in the first place.

Personally, I doubt I’ll work for another newsroom anytime soon. It took me three unpaid placements and one short-term paid contract for me to declare, “That’s enough for me, thanks!” And promptly left the industry. I’ve since been working in marketing because if I’m going to sell my soul either way, I’d rather do it for a higher wage.

But I don’t equate exit to abandonment. I still have appetite and I know others do too.

So back to the question: where can we establish a creative commons to do this important reimagining work?

I am open to suggestions.

The exceptions to the rule

In the meantime, there are already small pockets of journalistic endeavours that go against the grain (in a good way). The rise of journalism via Substack has manifested in projects such as Amy McQuire’s and Rebecca Shaw and Patrick Lenton’s just to name a couple.

These publications led by individuals generate their own reporting on and within communities that mainstream media outlets refuse to properly understand and represent. They also provide a critical voice of mainstream media that mainstream media itself often fails to execute.

Then there are larger outlets such as the Koori Mail who demonstrated their community commitment by temporarily ceasing publication to help flood-affected Lismore residents in 2022. This act shows more courage than major news titles who throw their hands up and excuse themselves with claims to ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’.

To paraphrase journalist Amy McQuire – if you are not serving the oppressed and victimised, then why are you a journalist?

By their mere existence, these critical voices challenge the status quo perpetuated and upheld by mainstream media. And that can only lead journalism to a better place.


[1] McCallum, K & Waller, L 2017, The Dynamic of News and Indigenous Policy in Australia, intellect, Bristol, pp.23-4.


Bio for Emma Hartley: I’m a lapsed journalist living on unceded Wurundjeri country and am quite serious about being open to suggestions. Drop me a line: I am also a member of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the rank-and-file group Unionists For Palestine.

Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio


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