By Jenna Thomas, 7th June, 2017
Mexican food is delicious – but it wasn’t going to help me get a job as a journalist. Unbelievably (on reflection) I rolled burritos at Zambrero Mexican Restaurant for three-and-a-half years before realising something needed to change. I was a second-year journalism student who really only knew how to make guacamole and tomato salsa. My confidence was not exactly sky-high – but I knew where my strengths lay. I knew that I had the rare and envied ability to strike up conversation with literally anyone and my writing-skills were not half bad. It was from that realisation that my real journey began. It’s a common known fact that nothing worth having comes easy, but in the past three years, it’s never been so true. Being an aspiring broadcast journalist is like driving on a highway, knowing your destination, but having only vague directions on how to actually reach it. Every which way you turn there’s speed-bumps, stop-signs and that big red one shouting at you, ‘Wrong way go back.’ In an industry where judgement and criticism follows you like a shadow, thick skin is a pre-requisite.
As a young, maroon-clad St Mary’s Girl on the way to school each morning, I used to giggle along to the voices of Nova’s Nathan and Nat and Shaun, as they blast through the car stereo. Never for a second did I think I could one day be working along-side them; giggling with them face-to-face at 4:45am or exchanging words over a glass-or-three of wine at a staff function. But here I am. When I decided to apply for a job at Nova, it seemed a pipe-dream. After-all I really only had experience in customer service, tortillas and cash registers. Then again what did I have to lose? I didn’t have experience in radio nor did I know what the job entailed but I found a company I wanted to be part of and a brand I connected to. After two interviews and a on-the-road trial, I landed a low-ranked but well-loved role in the station’s ‘street’ team know as The Casanovas. It was the best decision I have made to date. I learned to never hold-off from applying for role just because it hasn’t been advertised, because the best ones never will be.
Being thrown in the deep end:
I would love to say that my innate confidence and bubbly nature has always translated well on air, but that wouldn’t be true. The first time I read a live bulletin it conjured up more adrenaline than my first rollercoaster ride on the Royal Show’s Python Loop when I was 10. My hands violently shook. I told myself to calm down, it’s just community radio. But they trembled more. It was 5:56am, I switched the news panel to ‘on-air.’ I looked at the orange button illuminated below my fader, it was switched to ‘off.’ All I could think was when I switch the button ‘on,’ thousands of ears would be tuned in to my voice. 5:58. My news director sat behind me chatting away, “ham and cheese croissants are so much better toasted” he said. “Umm, yeh you’re so right,” I replied; It was honestly the last thing I cared about in that moment, and I wished he would just shut-up and let me concentrate. 5:59. One minute to go. ‘you’re going to be fine,’ he assured me. Oh well… nothing you can do now Jenna, I thought; just read. The news jingle started to play. I switched my microphone on. “It’s six o’clock good morning I’m Jenna Thomas.” It wasn’t a flawless read, nor was it very entertaining, but it was a milestone.
My worst nightmare:
The room was pitch black, the air was still, invisible sound waves were softly stimulated by the gentle inhale and exhale of my breath. Suddenly, a piercing, electronic trill shattered the silence. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. I looked at the time on my bedside clock. 6:33am. That must be a mista- oh wait. No, please no. I opened my laptop. 6:33. Oh no. I checked my phone. 6:33am. Two missed calls and as many text messages, “Where are you?” said one, followed by, “Are you coming?” I leapt from my bed, as if it were a searing hotplate. As I ran to the bathroom I muttered curse words under my breath, soft enough to not wake my housemate. A tear rolled down my cheek. My heart raced and my head was foggy as I played out every possible situation in my head. Will I lose this position? Will everyone ignore me all morning? I didn’t want to go, I couldn’t face them. I smeared on some foundation while quickly throwing on a wrap-dress and boots and then forced my jelly-legs to walk me to my car. Once I made it through the door of the newsroom, my boss softly muttered, “Don’t worry, it happens to everyone once, just don’t do it again.”
Pushing feelings aside:
I sat there, watching and documenting the fate of a man who would soon find out he’d spend the rest of his life in prison. “The trial of Aaron Raymond Craig,” said the magistrate. We sat in the first-of-two media rows inside the WA Supreme Court, at the sentencing of a man on trial for committing a brutal and pre-meditated murder. It was my first day of Industry Placement at 6PR. I sat next to my mentor, sneakily glancing over at what he was writing on his note-pad just to make sure I was doing things right. As the trial went on I hurriedly wrote down all the important information I heard. This man had brutally murdered another, over the sale of a hand-gun he had paid for, but never received. He had, along with two other men, kidnapped a man, and taken him to the Armadale pines where he bashed, burned and buried him. I stared at the accused, his ill-fitting suit, his short grey hair and leathery, weathered skin. He barely moved. But what happened next I wasn’t quite ready for. He reached toward the railing of his stand and picked up a plastic cup of water, bringing the drink closer to his face he glanced over at me. His eyes lingered, connected to mine. My stomach turned over and over, my heart sped and my fingers tingled. Was this guilt? Shame? Why did I feel this way? I remembered the role of a journalist and the publics right to know the disgraceful actions of this man. I told myself, this is your job now.
Up, down, up, down; my shoes ferociously rubbed against the back of my foot. The press-conference was at 12. I stared down at the time on my phone. 11:56. Why on earth did I choose to wear five-inch suede boots? And why has the universe paired me with a six foot tall male reporter. I increased my speed, ‘wider strides, wider strides’ I repeated to myself over and over again. “We’re probably going to have to start running,” he said. Kicking myself into third gear, I ran. It was a moment of introspection for me, as block by block we ran down through Perth, looking like well-dressed escapees. 12:01, we made it. My calves ached and my heels were red raw. “Yes, I’m Media and this is Jenna she’s on industry placement” said my mentor to the Dumas House security. “Okay, the Premier is just about to start, go right through” he replied. Lesson? Cuts and blisters are trivial, just get there on time… and never wear heels to work again.
Risk vs Reward:
Booking a one way flight is a big decision. Aside from 10 months in England when I was seven, I’ve lived in Perth all my life; so accepting a job in New South Wales was not a choice I flippantly made. At 23 years old, I’ve lived out of home for four years, a long period of time in comparison to other girls my age. After my Dad moved to Houston and my Mum re-married, there wasn’t a spare bed for me in Perth anymore. It wasn’t all bad though, I grew up, and fast and have now developed a real comfort in my level of independence. Moving house may not be foreign territory for me anymore, but moving states is. When an opportunity is handed to you, and you’re in a position to accept it, you have to take it. Despite a terrible salary, challenging hours and looming financial strain, when I sat in Introduction to Print 100, on my first day of my journalism degree, my tutor told us, “If you’re looking for a 9-5 job and a decent income, you’re in the wrong field.” It was on that day, in that class, that I knew my future may not hold wealth nor simplicity – but I didn’t care. I am positive that moving to Sydney is undoubtedly an integral step to achieving my long-term goals.
Despite the competition, setbacks and challenges, I always get back up. I want to create a real connection with my audience through my work. Whether it be writing, reading or visuals, I want to form genuine and mutually rewarding bonds and relationships with people and tell their stories with grace and conviction. I want to entertain, inform and be a friendly face in the lives of so many Australians. A ‘strong voice’ and the right ‘look’ may have initially got me through some doors, but hard work and a positive attitude has gotten me much further. I’ve learned you can’t always please everyone but you can do what’s best for you. You just have to learn to forgive yourself. But breaking into the media industry, when your only choice is to sink or swim – you have got to doggy-paddle your arms and kick your legs, because there aren’t many life-rafts.