Young journalist win prestigious Walkley Award

Young journalist win prestigious Walkley Award

Lifting the lid on sexism in the medical profession lands UOW graduate Alice Matthews a coveted award in journalism.

Less than a year after graduating and starting as a researcher at the ABC in Ultimo, Sydney, Alice Matthews has won a Walkley Award. The 24-year-old was nominated for, and ultimately awarded, the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Award for Radio/Audio Journalism for shedding light on sexual harassment in the medical profession.

By broadcasting the concerns of vascular surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin about sexism among many male surgeons, Alice helped spark a conversation that has continued until today, even prompting universities to consider implementing sexual harassment education in health courses.

“This was a story that landed in my hands on my very first reporting shift for radio current affairs. A colleague, Lindy Kerin, passed on an alert for an e-book launch last minute and I just had to run out the door. I attended thinking I would cover the launch and the book. But I was also given an article by Dr McMullin which I read in the cab on the way, and that led me to believe she had a lot to say.”

“What I thought the story would be is not what the story became. Dr McMullin’s words changed it. The story she told was powerful, she was frank and what she said was shocking. She was very brave to speak out and even braver for following through. I kept pursuing the story because Dr McMullin sparked an important discussion and I wanted to make sure that continued, and hopefully led to change.”

Alice said she learnt a lot doing the story: “It taught me that journalism, someone’s story, can be an instigator of change or at the very least create widespread awareness … It made me realise the impact giving someone a voice can have, and highly value the role journalism can play.”

About Alice’s work, the award judges said: “Alice’s stories help expose behaviour that seems unimaginable in Australia in 2015. Acting on instinct, and working within tight time constraints, Alice has detailed the sexual abuse suffered by women training to be surgeons and the steps educators have now been forced to implement to deal with the controversy. Gripping, revealing and a wonderful example of powerful current affairs.”

From Bathurst to Broadcast

Photo: Walkley Foundation | Adam Hollingworth

Winning a Walkley is a defining moment for many journalists. In 2008, the Walkley Foundation launched the Young Journalist of the Year Awards to recognise the hard work, creativity, and skill of new and emerging talent in Australian journalism. For those who are recognised early on in their career, it’s an event that opens doors in a competitive industry that is continuously in a period of change.

“It’s awesome to see people get behind young people entering the industry,” Alice said, adding that, though awarded to an individual, the award recognises the work of many. “I think the most validation is for the people involved in the story. It’s an indication that the issues Dr McMullin raised have been brought to light, acknowledged and given the time they deserve."

Alice said she chose to study journalism because she wanted to tell stories. “Journalism seemed to be a profession where I could combine everything I loved. It was a way I could work with people, be creative, write, take photos and learn about sound. But I think the main reason I chose journalism was because I fell in love with storytelling. I was always fascinated by the stories of my mum and dad and that has always stuck with me.”

Before she became a Walkley Award winning journalist, Alice, who was born in Bathurst, naturally had moments of doubt, wondering if she had made the right decision.

“I went through what I call a mid-degree crisis. I questioned why I was studying journalism and worried that maybe it wasn’t for me. I think that was a valuable experience because I was forced to solidify the reasons to keep going and get past the challenges.”

UOW’s journalism lecturers, including journalism lecturer Shawn Burns and oral historian and documentary maker Dr Siobhan McHugh, played a significant role in maintaining her enthusiasm for the job, providing encouragement and assurance along the way.

“My experience with my teachers is what I valued most while studying journalism. They showed me that journalism can be a beautiful craft. Undoubtedly, it was their encouragement that kept me going when I thought I didn’t want to. They were supportive, patient, passionate, and talented and I have so much respect for them and their work. My teachers gave me the opportunities to connect to the industry and the survival skills to stay in it.”

Alice studied broadcast journalism under Dr McHugh and received internships at both ABC Illawarra and ABC Sydney. Alice was a reporter with UOWTV, she contributed to an extended feature with Dr McHugh about improving outcomes for recipients of Meals and Wheels in the Illawarra, which also aired on ABC Illawarra, and was among a group of students who travelled to Paris to work with journalist and academic Julie Posetti and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), working on the UNESCO Internet Study: Privacy and Journalists’ Sources.

“Alice was one of those students that always went the extra mile,” Dr McHugh said. “From day one, Alice was blown away by the capacity of radio. She was open to all forms of media but she understood that radio can go deeper than just news. She appreciated that an audio story allows the listener to focus on what’s being said and how it’s said.”

Alice said: “I value that people don’t get as intimidated by a microphone like they do a camera. There is something about not showing your face than seems safer. A voice is very powerful, because when it’s on its own people don’t tend to judge, instead you listen and you hear details in a voice that communicate emotions in a very raw way. Siobhan McHugh opened up my eyes to this. Also, I love podcasts.”