AIR TIME

ONCE STRICTLY THE DO­MAIN OF ANCHORMEN, FE­MALE NEWS­READ­ERS ARE CHANG­ING THE FACE OF THE NEWS

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by WENDY TUOHY

Fe­male news­read­ers are chang­ing the face of the nightly news.

When then up-and-com­ing news­reader Jo Hall found out she was preg­nant with her first baby 35 years ago, she was “dev­as­tated”. At just two years into the ca­reer she loved, she knew there was a good chance her happy news would sound the death knell for her job.

Back in the bad old days of TVbloke­land, when Hall gave birth to her son Rhyss, ca­reer paths for women in the Aus­tralian in­dus­try of­ten lasted only as long as the woman in ques­tion re­mained young and avail­able (ie: “hot”).

Although news of maternity-leave “bon­ings” still sur­face now and then ( Week­end Sun­rise’s Talitha Cum­mins re­cently filed an un­fair dis­missal suit for just that), and “mum­si­ness” can still be cited as a rea­son to move a woman on (as was ru­moured to be the case with Melissa Doyle’s 2013 de­par­ture from Sun­rise), Hall is one of a new wave of fe­male tele­vi­sion tal­ent con­sid­ered prof­itable longterm in­vest­ments.

At a trou­bled time for the tele­vi­sion in­dus­try, when even the ABC has been scal­ing back on its re­gional broad­cast­ing, Hall has been named as one of three fe­male an­chors of the Nine Network’s ven­ture into na­tional re­gional news broad­casts and will host the Vic­to­rian bul­letins start­ing March 6.

Hall, now aged 58, will be joined by for­mer ABC News Break­fast weather pre­sen­ter Vanessa O’han­lon, who will an­chor re­gional broad­casts for New South Wales from to­mor­row, and fast-ris­ing Bris­bane pre­sen­ter Samantha Heath­wood, who will present the Queens­land bul­letins fol­low­ing the Vic­to­rian launch.

Fur­ther dis­prov­ing the old no­tion that women are no longer as ap­peal­ing to view­ers post-par­ent­hood, two of the three are sin­gle moth­ers. Hall has four

chil­dren, aged be­tween 35 and 17, and Heath­wood has two chil­dren, aged six and three.

She didn’t know it at the time, but Hall – whose sec­ond el­dest child Tysyn is now 25 and her youngest, twins Fynn and Em­mer­son, have just be­gun their fi­nal year of high school – was a trail­blazer. Many women of her era who man­aged to re­main in TV for the long haul did not have chil­dren. She puts her abil­ity to keep work­ing in the early days down to a mum who would not see her daugh­ter de­railed. “I fell preg­nant re­ally young and I was just dev­as­tated, but Mum said, ‘Joanne, don’t worry, women can have it all now.’ I said, ‘Mum, what woman does?’ But she said, ‘I’ll help you, it will be fine.’ And she was ter­rific; I went back after three months and was even do­ing night shifts.

“Mum died when Tysyn was six months old, and my beau­ti­ful older sis­ter said, ‘I’ll help you,’ and with a bit of day­care and sup­port from my [then] hus­band’s par­ents, again, I could go back after three months.”

It’s worth not­ing that even a quar­ter of a cen­tury later, this is still not a con­ver­sa­tion you’d have with a male TV pre­sen­ter. Nor does the much-loved news­reader dis­play any of the self­im­por­tance some­times per­cep­ti­ble in a long-time “face” of a network.

De­spite her nearly four decades ex­pe­ri­ence, Hall con­fesses that her new gig prompts a lit­tle “fear of the un­known. But live TV is very ex­cit­ing,” she adds. “Bring­ing news out live is the best.”

Bris­bane’s Samantha Heath­wood has also de­fied the old moth­er­hood stigma – but she had to work at it. Heath­wood lost her news­read­ing job in her home re­gion of Toowoomba with the WIN Tele­vi­sion network be­fore her first child, James, turned one, and was forced to re­con­sider if she even wanted to re­main in TV.

“When I started read­ing in my twen­ties, the WIN model was very much once you start hav­ing chil­dren it’s not as en­tic­ing [to keep you] any­more,” says Heath­wood, 34.

“It’s a tough thing to go through; it makes you de­cide if you want to stay in the in­dus­try. But I was for­tu­nate to get a job with Nine in Syd­ney, which meant tak­ing the whole fam­ily down there and do­ing the hard yards.”

She took a break after her sec­ond child was born, be­fore “start­ing from scratch” as a pro­ducer, then a re­porter on the Nine Network in Bris­bane. Such is the es­teem in which she is held, Queens­land TV writ­ers were last year tip­ping Heath­wood as the next an­chor of the network’s prime-time metro bul­letin in Bris­bane.

For Heath­wood, the chance to re-en­gage in a se­ri­ous way with the re­gions is the big draw­card of the new job. “I spent so long in re­gional Queens­land [she also pre­sented for Rock­hamp­ton and Mackay] and I love the com­mu­nity en­gage­ment; meet­ing peo­ple and Mc-ing lo­cal events, go­ing to func­tions and be­ing in­volved,” she says.

“Peo­ple in the large towns don’t see them­selves as ‘ru­ral’ or parochial, they see them­selves as mini-metro cities with so much to of­fer: towns in their own right. We need to give them a ser­vice tai­lored to them.”

Vanessa O’han­lon also has se­ri­ous re­gional chops. After study­ing in Mel­bourne, she started her ca­reer 20 years ago at Sun FM in Alice Springs, and moved on to Vic­to­rian re­gional hub Shep­par­ton, then Dar­win.

Fol­low­ing a stint back in Mel­bourne re­port­ing traf­fic from chop­pers, O’han­lon was hired as the in­au­gu­ral

weather pre­sen­ter eight years ago on the pop­u­lar morn­ing news show, ABC News Break­fast.

As one of the close-knit team at News Break­fast, she bid view­ers a tear­ful farewell last Novem­ber be­fore wast­ing no time get­ting to know her new beat, tour­ing re­gional NSW over sum­mer to in­tro­duce her­self to view­ers as their in­com­ing news an­chor.

“I think re­gional peo­ple do get left be­hind some­times by peo­ple liv­ing in the city,” she says.

Tour­ing the re­gions in which her new 6pm bul­letin will be broad­cast has given O’han­lon – whose show, start­ing to­mor­row, will be the first of the three new prod­ucts to be rolled out by Nine – a grass­roots view of the con­di­tions in which her view­ers live.

When Stel­lar caught up with O’han­lon, she was driv­ing be­tween Dubbo and Or­ange after vis­it­ing Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Wol­lon­gong. She has been struck by the dry in the ar­eas she has vis­ited, and be­lieves un­der­stand­ing the im­pact na­ture and weather have on the day-to-day ex­is­tence of peo­ple liv­ing in re­gional ar­eas will help in her new role.

O’han­lon’s part­ner, Greg Trap­pett, ac­com­pa­nied her as she shifted states from Vic­to­ria to take up the new role, and while look­ing for a new home the couple had a glimpse of how rusted-on some peo­ple’s per­cep­tions re­main re­gard­ing tra­di­tional gen­der roles.

“Greg is re­ally sup­port­ive,” says O’han­lon. “But when we were out find­ing some­where to live, one of the real es­tate agents as­sumed it was Greg mov­ing up here for work and was shocked when he found out it was me. I was quite taken aback when he said that.”

Prov­ing per­haps that de­spite hav­ing come a long way, there is still a lit­tle bit fur­ther for women to go yet.

re­gional peo­ple can get left be­hind by those in the city

TRAIL­BLAZER Vet­eran news pre­sen­ter Jo Hall.

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