Expat Chats: Tracy Alexander

Tracy Alexander on i24 News

A number of Aussies have made the move overseas as they chase the dream. Some come back with new ideas and perspectives, while others stay on to forge a new life.

Journalist Tracy Alexander is one of those who is kicking goals overseas. The former Southern Cross Austereo newsreader is now carving out a TV career in Israel as a host on i24News.  

She chats with Radio Today about making the most of opportunities and the journey from Oz to the Middle East.

How did you get your start in media?

I was very lucky to have an incredibly supportive industry heavyweight take a chance on me. My initial focus as a journalist was in documentaries.

The former CEO of FILM AUSTRALIA and former head of factual programming at the ABC, Daryl Karp, gave me an internship while I was studying and the opportunity turned into a fulltime job as a researcher and associate producer on several documentary projects.

At the same time, I continued a second internship on the weekends at Sydney’s 2UE – just for fun, as you do! That ended up paving the way for a job at Southern Cross Austereo, later on.

What led you to move into TV?

Television was never the plan, in fact, I resisted it at first. While working as a radio newsreader at Fox FM and Triple M, I was offered opportunities in television, but for whatever reason, it didn’t “feel right”.

Due to my interest in documentaries (I was working in radio after moving interstate for my partner’s work) when I was offered a role as a Video Journalist, that piqued my interest.

I was attracted to the idea of producing, filming, editing and writing my own stories… and for the adventure of living in ‘the country’ for a while.

And from there, how did you wind up in Israel?

I was working as a field reporter for Channel Nine’s Today Show at the time, and it was actually the grand master plan of my sneaky best friend, who had moved to Israel many years prior; she heard that i24News in Tel Aviv was looking to grow their team and passed on my details.

I was contacted by the head of the network. The prospect of working in the heart of the Middle East appealed to me and I was excited to cover international news – so, off I went!

How have you found the experience thus far?

I expected that I’d stay a year or so and re-evaluate from there. I’ve now been here just over two and a half years and it’s flown by. You know what they say, “time flies when…”

What’s been the biggest hurdle/life adjustment?

Wow. How much time do you have?!

The most obvious one is working and living in a country, which speaks a language that’s not your mother tongue – or any part of your tongue! I’m slowly learning how to speak Hebrew.

The cultural differences are significant both inside and outside of the professional space.

I suppose, in a country like Israel, which has been under threat since it’s very establishment, people here have a “c’est la vie” attitude; they live with the sense that they don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so just live for today.

In the newsroom, I often have to remind myself that all the local Israeli staff members have served in the army and have a very different experience of life than the Westerners who work here. It means that they stress less about things we’d lose our minds over in Australian newsrooms.

If you look at it anthropologically, the historical context and demographic and political climate also lends itself to a very different professional approach – Israelis don’t mince words, the formalities and niceties are seen as unnecessary padding.

They speak straight to the point – it can often feel like you’re having a conversation with your cousin or uncle rather than a colleague. It’s been jarring and liberating all at once!

What have you found to be the biggest differences/similarities?

Living in a conflict zone, the mentality and resilience is hard to wrap your head around; we recently filmed my show in an outside broadcast on the Israel Gaza border.

It just so happened, 15 minutes after we arrived on scene, Hamas began firing hundreds of projectiles into Israel. The sound of booms, the flashes of iron dome interceptions and red alert sirens were all around us. Metres from us we watched as return tank fire from the Israel Defense Forces was being shot towards Gaza.

Let’s just say it was a far cry from the “burst water main” saga that, as any South Australian reporter would know, can become one’s bread and butter! These violent flare-ups are, in many ways, their version of a ‘burst water main’. It boggles the mind.

Breaking news is another difference. Being an international, 24-hour news channel, we do A LOT of it. Jumping into the studio and anchoring extended hours of live events was completely new to me when I started. A few weeks into the job I was anchoring hours of breaking coverage on the 2016 Turkey coup. Talk about sink or swim!

Working in an international newsroom, with three channels in different languages (French, English and Arabic) is something completely new.

The newsroom is made up of staff from dozens of countries around the world, all speaking different languages. It makes for an incredible experience. Just yesterday, a senior producer was on a phone call and then yelled into the newsroom, “Can I get somebody who speaks Russian?”

Two people came running to assist. I love those moments. It also makes it easier to translate and dub soundbites!

We have a lot more autonomy and responsibility vis a vis content generation, at least in my role. It means that I’ve been forced (or allowed) to grow a lot faster and I’ve loved that. There’s a real dialogue between upper management and staff – I enjoy the collaborative aspect immensely.

What’s radio like in Israel?

Gosh, I really don’t listen to that much radio, being in Hebrew and all – but interestingly, the ‘army radio’ is one of the most popular stations for both programming, news and music.

It’s effectively manned by 18 – 21-year-olds during their years of military service. It’s a very competitive unit to get in to… and it’s where a lot of Israeli journalists cut their teeth.

Is a move back to Oz on the agenda any time soon?

I’m not sure about ‘SOON’ – but for an opportunity that grabs me, that could shift the ‘agenda’. Israelis can’t understand why I’d leave Australia

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in radio or TV?

Before I went out for my first live cross at Channel Nine, my EP said this to me regarding what I’d say in my report: “Don’t tell us what you think, tell us what you know”.

What advice do you have for anyone?

Be KIND. Be helpful. Keep what you do in perspective.

When starting out as a journalist, take the approach that no job is below you. Intern as much as you can, get as much experience you can, work for free and give it all you’ve got!

Be keen to learn and show that you are committed. A good attitude will get you far – and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

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