10 Journalism Career Advice Questions With Sarrah Le Marquand
by Shelly Horton
Posted: November 20, 2016
Sarrah Le Marquand is one of Australia’s most powerful female journalists. Never short of an opinion, she is a News Corp columnist and the founding editor of female opinion site RendezView.
She is defying trends of declining magazine sales as the Editor-in-chief of Stellar magazine. She’s also a regular on Channel Nine, Channel Ten, ABC TV and Sky News Australia.
She has an Honours degree in Government and has been a journalist for 16 years.
Here are 10 journalism career advice questions with Sarrah Le Marquand, interviewed by Channel Nine regular, Business Owner and Journalist, Shelly Horton.
1. What made you want to become a journalist?
As a kid, I had a quintessentially geeky love of reading and writing, but also a hopeless weakness for theatre and the dramatic.
At the time it seemed like an unusual combination, but when I happened upon the film Broadcast News one day it started to make sense.
Even at a young age, I remember identifying with the Holly Hunter character – this obsessive and neurotic but also very driven and work-focused woman – and that was probably the moment I first realised that my particular skill set and personality might suit this strange field called journalism.
(PS: Several years later I can happily confirm that the media is indeed filled with many obsessive, neurotic and driven types who I now count among my closest friends.)
2. What was your first job and what path led you to your present job?
I went to university planning to become a political reporter and move to Canberra to work in the press gallery, but while completing my honours thesis in government in my final year I took a job manning the switchboard at Pacific Magazines.
That led to my first job in media: a sub-editor at That’s Life and, soon after, my first gig as a writer on the (sadly now defunct) daytime soap opera title Inside Soap.
Not long after I was offered a job as a feature writer at TV Week, and it was around that time I decided I was enjoying my time as an entertainment reporter too much to pack it in to chase politicians around the freezing courtyard of Parliament House.
In 2005 I joined The Daily Telegraph as a television writer, which was the beginning of a very eventful decade in newspapers. Over those 10 years, I went on to become a film editor, deputy features editor, features chief of staff, features editor, columnist and opinion editor.
Last year I became the founding editor of the opinion site RendezView and most recently I was appointed editor-in-chief of Stellar, the glossy weekly magazine that was launched in News Corp's Sunday papers in August 2016.
3. What do you love about your job?
It’s genuinely such a privilege to be able to spend your days talking about and analysing issues, speaking to people from all walks of life and sharing their stories with a large audience.
On the tougher days, I always remind myself that in many ways what I do is a ridiculous way for a grown-up to earn a living and that always helps put it back in perspective.
4. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a journalist?
Probably dealing with online abuse and trolling – whether it’s on social media, in the reader comments section or from the self-appointed army of bloggers who spend their days critiquing those in the mainstream media.
I have a few things working against me: I’m a woman (gasp!); a woman with opinions (double gasp!); and I work for News Corp (triple gasp in the eyes of some).
So I am an easy target and am routinely condemned as a “bleeding heart inner-city feminazi” or conversely a “redneck from the hate media”. Both descriptions, by the way, say more about my critics than they do about me.
5. What do you think is the biggest misconception about journalists?
That journalists are heartless and ruthless creatures who will happily twist the truth in the search for a good story. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, there are some journalists guilty of that, but the overwhelming majority are some of the most empathetic, hard-working and principled people you will ever meet.
6. Describe your typical workday.
It’s generally an early start, particularly if I am scheduled to do morning TV (appearing as a media commentator on programs such as Today, The Project, Sky News and Q&A is a regular part of my job). Suffice to say I have generally managed two or three coffees by 8am!
From there it is straight into the office where a typical day will consist of several meetings, either with various departments of my team, with other editors across the company, my publisher or with advertising.
Then there are meetings with external contributors, contacts and clients which happen off-site. A key part of every day, of course, is brainstorming, planning, editing and signing off on editorial content – the modern editor is torn in a hundred different directions, but to me, content remains the most important part of the job.
I also file a regular opinion column and often pop up on radio or TV in the afternoon and evening… Did I mention I drink quite a bit of coffee?
7. What is your dream job?
Take away some of the stress and trim the hours a little, and I pretty much have it.
8. Do you think the industry is harder for women or men?
There’s no doubt women still face more obstacles and unconscious bias than men – that’s just a fact of gender equality.
But there’s also no doubt that things have improved, and are continuing to improve.
9. Now that so much of the industry is online, do you believe it’s a case of adapt or die?
Absolutely. The rapidly changing nature of digital has long meant that no media organisation or outlet can afford to be complacent about the platforms through which they are connecting and communicating with their audience.
That said, those who have been gleefully predicting the imminent demise of the mainstream media for several years are ultimately destined for disappointment.
There will always be a crucial and irreplaceable role for professional journalists in our society and it is overwhelmingly the major news organisations who continue to fund and produce that journalism.
10. What advice would you give young people considering journalism as a career?
Do it! Ignore the naysayers (see previous answer) – journalism will be around for a while yet.
Follow your instincts, seize every opportunity and be prepared to do your time in often thankless and exhausting jobs.
It’s an industry where you will very likely attract a lot of criticism, be exposed to harrowing stories and endure long hours for so-so money.
Apart from that, it’s truly the best job in the world.
Want more Journalism career advice from professional industry experts? Read the career story of Edwina Bartholomew, from Channel Seven's Sunrise here.