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