Meet the women of news; Deborah Clay, Michelle Stephenson, Natasha Jobson, Ali Drower, Gail Watson

Staff Writer

On International Women’s Day, Radio Today has been shining a light on the women of radio.

While men still occupy the majority of on-air shifts (with some very notable exceptions), it’s women who dominate newsrooms. They are in charge, they are editing, they are on-air, and they are on the road.

With the recent appointment of Deborah Clay as ARN’s national news director, women are now running the news operations of the three major commercial FM networks.

NOVA Entertainment’s Michelle Stephenson has been with the network for almost four years after a time as an actor in the US and a career in TV journalism back in Oz.

She’s now national news director for Nova and smoothfm; two very different brands requiring a very different approach to news.

“The playing field is constantly changing and as such, we adjust news accordingly.  We always deliver ‘on brand’ news geared towards our listeners, while not giving up on what news is at its very heart.  This requires a fine balance; telling people what they should know while delivering what they want to know’.

“smoothfm has its own unique style and is more AM style on FM.  We have a full news service delivered by incredibly talented newsreaders, who have decades of experience.

“Nova is different.  It delivers what our listeners want in terms of music and entertainment, but is done in a way which gives our Nova demo exactly what they need and wants and nothing more. Star 104.5 on the Central Coast sits in between the two.

“I believe news will always be an integral part of our stations and our products.  People want to know what’s going on in the world; it’s how we stay connected”.

SCA’s Natasha Jobson guides news across the Hit and Triple M brands, taking up the role earlier this year.

“Hit and Triple M news run according to our own agenda. Our research teams are able to offer a great picture of our audience, which allows us to apply a Triple M or Hit news filter.  We make sure every bit of news we deliver matters to the people consuming our brands.

“Authenticity is the key! We don’t do ‘fake’ and we don’t do arrogant.  Tone needs to reflect both what’s going on around us, in addition to the vibe of our brands. If all of this is happening, then you’ve got a great news offering.

“We’ll continue to refine our approach to news to make sure it offers everything our listener needs from us.”

SCA also operates a regional network with Ali Drower at the news helm. A trail-blazer for women in media, Drower has 30 years on radio and TV including a stint with MTV in the 80s and Motorsport TV in the 90s.

“One of the big demands is ensuring all our journalists are well briefed on meeting the local license conditions around their daily news bulletins.

“The ACMA is quite strict in its expectations.  Regional journos in commercial markets must hit 12.5 minutes per day of locally significant news, which can be really challenging in places like Traralgon and Mareeba.

“Even if we were freed of those license conditions, I think SCA values the importance of local news and SCA has just partnered with Nine for 18 local news hour TV bulletins, so I see us finding new ways to be able to integrate content between the two.”

On the AM dial, Gail Watson is news director for Macquarie Radio’s rating juggernaut; 3AW.  While not a ‘national’ role, it’s one of vital importance for a news-talk station.

“In the past people turned on the radio first thing in the morning, to get the latest news.  Now many people pick up their phone before they even get out of bed.  So, I think our role is part of a greater entertainment and information package.

“Our newsroom is live and local 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.  We still have journalists on the road, who not only feed into the news service but also to the live program and on-line.

“Our age range is the biggest difference.  We have people in their early 20s right through to their 70s.  The mix of experience and youthful optimism contributes to a positive team.”

ARN’s Deborah Clay has only recently stepped into the national role but has guided news operations in Brisbane and Sydney for a while now.

“Radio is a fluid medium so, like a lot of people, each day I give the stations everything I’ve got to ensure that I can deliver in an evolving climate.

“The Pure Gold brand has evolved incredibly, now catering for the Gen X audience. The creation of KIIS 1065 in 2014 was one of the most amazing achievements in Australian radio history.  I really enjoy being part of the station and its culture.

“Listening to the radio, looking at how news breaks across all media platforms and how we can do it better on ours, the listener’s feedback and talking to the team about how they perceive the station is what drives the decision-making process.

“It’s more important than ever for radio journalists to focus on creating their own stories, chasing and breaking the news.  Our listeners are smart; they can tell you where they first heard a story, and they’ll also let you know if it’s old.”

While all have a slightly different take on the news, depending on formats, all agree that ‘news as we know it’ has changed and will continue to evolve.

That women are working on the evolution of the news product is a bonus.

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