A career break

Reporter sitting in radio studio.

It’s been close to five months since stopped working as a journalist.  Taking a break 10 years into my career so I could move to England was once of the scariest decisions I think I’ve made.  I had a good job that paid well, worked with a wonderful team and enjoyed what I did. Why leave all of that?

Laptop and video camera set up on a desk.
On the road reporting: a temporary desk at the Deniliquin Police Station, NSW Australia.

I was never one of those kids who dreamed of being a reporter, I sort fell into journalism. My year 11 English teacher had suggested I investigate a degree in journalism.  It seemed interesting so I applied and got accepted into my university of choice to study for a Bachelor of Journalism. It was only perhaps half way through my first year of that degree that I knew that I’d made the right decision. I got such a buzz from writing under deadline.  Researching, interviewing and penning stories gave me a thrill like I’d never experienced before.

I worked in commercial television for three and a half years before accepting a job at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where I became a jack of all trades working across radio, television and online in a two person newsroom covering a huge part of regional New South Wales.  It was bloody hard, but fulfilling work. Telling the stories of country Australians is something I’m hugely passionate about and I think regional voices should have as much of a say as those who live in big cities.

Australian journalist doing a television interview in the bush.
Picture: Philippa McDonald

Despite the perceived glamour, journalism is a gritty business.  Day after day you are confronted with horrors – fatal car accidents that claim the lives of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons; natural disasters that wipe out millions of dollars of crops and a farming family’s livelihood; decisions made by governments and bureaucrats that profoundly affect people’s lives. Sure you get stories that bring a smile, but overwhelmingly you’re dealing with negativity.

In the two years before I left Australia I covered two very high profile stories involving brutal deaths.  A murder-suicide involving a family of five and an abduction, rape and murder of a young school teacher a week before her wedding.  In both cases I reported on the initial incidents and the subsequent coroner’s/criminal court proceedings that followed. Over many months I heard horrific, detailed evidence, witnessed families and small close-knit communities struggling to comprehend what had occurred, and in a way, got to know the victims involved. The professional journalist in me never wavered – my reports and stories were always accurate and sensitive, but it got to a point where I was starting to getting affected by the material I was producing.

Journalist doing a television cross.

It’s not something I’m ashamed to admit.  I don’t think  you can hear what I did and not have some sort of reaction.  There are a handful of times I can remember walking out of a courthouse, filing a radio story or doing a live television cross and then promptly going to a bathroom so I could have a cry. I’d then have to pull myself together to work on the story for the next hour’s bulletin. Some might say it’s a sign I’m not meant to be a journalist, I rather think it’s having a human side that makes you a better one.

For me, the opportunity to move to England came at the right time.  Despite my love for my job and the dedication I’d given my career, I needed a break.  I was exhausted both mentally and physically and didn’t want to burn out to the point where my love of journalism would be extinguished forever. It felt risky to walk away temporarily, but I think my career (and me) will be better off in the long run for it.

Have you ever taken a career break? If so, why and what happened when your ‘break’ was over?

(Top picture: Sonya Curran)

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