The status of women in newsrooms is changing but rural areas continue to provide great learning grounds for new journalists

There was a time when the only place for a woman in the nightly news service was in front of the weather board. How times have changed. Now women are the anchors for nightly news bulletins around the country and Brisbane’s own Sharyn Ghidella did the hard yards to get there. Following in her footsteps are young reporters—Amanda Abate and Angie Asimus—with their eyes firmly fixed on the prize.

Women now make up 55.5 per cent of Australian journalists, a significant increase from 20 years ago when they represented little more than 30 per cent, and women account for about 70 per cent of journalism students, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast. In Channel 7’s newsroom there are more female than male reporters on the road.

Sharyn Ghidella recalls: “When I started there was only one other girl in the newsroom and it’s well documented that it was a boys’ club, but not anymore,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who delivers it, as long as it is accurate.”

Angie Asimus agrees. “Women are not necessarily just in front of the camera; we have a female chief of staff and many are producers. Women are cutting through.”

Even though their careers started decades apart, all were born in rural newsrooms from Cairns to Wagga and everywhere in between. All three women completed university degrees while working weekends and holidays in unpaid internships.

“There are so many students graduating from journalism, the real challenge is finding a job,” Asimus says. “I was offered one in Townsville, which I had to start within two weeks. You just don’t turn something like that down.” The move saw her leave golf pro boyfriend Chris Abbott behind in Sydney, “but six months later he followed,” she says.

Ghidella’s first internship was in Cairns, which not only launched her career but it was where she met cameraman Paul Croll.

“We were the only two single people at the station so we were thrown together,” she says with a laugh. “We’ve been together more than 20-something years and have two boys so obviously it worked.”

The newest recruit to the team, Abate, has a cat. “He’s my significant other. Samson is his name,” she says with affection for the grey and white moggy who fits in with her schedule. “They are long days; every journalist will tell you that. You are up at 6am reading the papers, listening to the radio or perhaps already on the job. Then you work until the news goes to air at six at night, you watch it and finally go home, and that’s only if you are on day shift.”

I ask Ghidella if she considers herself a mentor to the two young women. “I don’t think the girls need me, but I hope I lead by example. I do my job to the best of my ability.”

Abate and Asimus then divulge that’s exactly what she does. “It’s not a deliberate mentor role, it just happens naturally. You do watch the more experienced reporters and you grow that way,” says Abate, with Asimus continuing: “I’ve always felt if I have a question, Sharyn and everyone in the newsroom is always willing to help.”

Ghidella is proof that you can have children and return to your career. “Just don’t look at me in the morning with the bags under my eyes and a stressed, deranged look,” she laughs. “I’m fine by six o’clock with the make-up plastered on, I have it together by then.”

I ask Ghidella for her secret to longevity. “I pray a lot,” she jokes. “No, you really have to love news, that is the key. If you have a thirst for knowledge you will survive. I hope to be the Barbara Walters of Australian television; I want to be here when I’m 80. Wish me luck with that!”