The important role mentors play

When I was 17, Jessica Rowe, who presented Sydney’s Ten News at the time, called me on my Ericsson flip mobile offering advice about how to crack the journalism ­industry.

I had written to her, along with a few other journalists, asking for help. For years I worked on community radio and newspapers in Wollongong on the NSW south coast, participated in public speaking competitions, and even did some extra-curricular journalism studies, but despite persistent requests just couldn’t get my foot in the door at a network to gain some experience.

Jessica listened to my story, offered some advice, and kindly said she’d help organise some work experience at Ten News Sydney.

A few weeks later, I sorted out my own insurance, jumped into my green Suzuki Swift, and drove from Wollongong to Sydney.

At Ten, I sat behind the chief of staff’s newsdesk, watching the news-making process, and shadowed a number of reporters as they went out into the field collecting their stories. Thanks again, Jessica. That experience made me realise two things.

One: a small gesture by someone who you admire can have lasting effects. Two: developing a professional relationship with someone your senior is essential to building your career.

In the early 2000s I had a job working for finance journalist David Koch and was based at the Channel 7 newsroom in Epping, Sydney. The role encompassed a very broad range of responsibilities. One of them was to provide a telephone voice report for 2GB on the daily moves on the sharemarket. So, I’d pick up the phone, drop my voice to try to sound more authoritative, and deliver a forced-sounding presentation.

Seven News presenter Anne Fulwood was sitting nearby and overheard the report. She turned and said: “Ricardo (she used to call me Ricardo even though at the time I went by Richard), tell me about what happened on the sharemarket?” I remember looking at her all confused, saying: what do you mean?

Anne simply wanted to engage in a conversation about the moves on the sharemarket. At the end of our chat, I remember her saying: “See the way you just told me about the sharemarket in a conversational manner? That’s the way you should read your report.”

I’ve never forgotten that. We built a lovely professional relationship and caught up for a casual coffee now and then when she’d check in on my career development and offer some ongoing advice. Absolutely invaluable as a 20-something journalist at the start of his career.

There have been plenty of other news professionals who’ve had an impact on my career, and I don’t want to mention them all, but boy did they have an influence.

“Don’t write anything you don’t understand, even if you think it sounds important.”

“Don’t wear black shirts on air.”

“Shave.”

“Continue to report from the field even though you’re a presenter now.”

It’s important to continue developing your skills and your network no matter the stage in your career.

To this day, there are some senior professionals with whom I catch up from time to time, just to chat about where I am and where I want to be. They’re from different fields of the corporate world, but gaining their perspective is important too.

These days it’s becoming more common that I’m the one being asked for advice, which I’m happy to offer. But I would say this: show me what you’re doing to build your career. What are the steps you’re taking to get to where you want to be? Show some initiative, and I’ll be more than happy to help, but I won’t be handing anything over on a silver platter.

I was born and grew up in suburban Wollongong. My family were migrants. Portuguese was my first language.

Sure, at times I felt like it would be too hard to develop a career in television news, but that was never an excuse and I did everything I could to develop skills.

And that trait, probably, is what my mentors and senior colleagues saw in me, and why they were happy to offer some advice.

The last time I crossed paths with Jessica Rowe was at the Logies a few years ago. I hadn’t seen her for years but thanked her once again for giving me my first real chance at experiencing the world of television news.

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