"All people would constantly talk about was hair, clothes and makeup"

Switching on the 6pm news bulletin used to mean relying on a middle-aged white guy to tell you what’s been happening. Nothing wrong with that—except when it’s *only ever* a middle-aged white guy. (There are only so many Ron Burgandys we can take, alright?) The face of TV has been slowly changing, and earlier this year, Channel Nine announced three new female presenters – Vanessa O’Hanlon, Jo Hall, and Samantha Heathwood – as part of a reboot of Nine’s regional news service. So what’s it like to be a woman behind the news desk, reporting on what’s important to people outside our major cities? We spoke with Vanessa O’Hanlon, a veteran newscaster and reporter — and presenter of Nine News Canberra, Illawarra, Central West and Riverina — to find out. By Mia Abrahams

In your experience, what matters right now to people in regional areas?

One thing that really matters right now is infrastructure. In the Federal budget we’ve had some money allocated [$8.4 billion] to Inland Rail, which will connect many of our regions, including Riverina and the central west to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Barnaby Joyce made an announcement that he would be putting $4 billion into financial agencies in the central west as well.

I think for the regions like central west and Riverina, it’s definitely important that the infrastructure is being connected to more than just the regional areas, so they can build their economy. In Illawarra, there’s a lot of discussion around public hospitals and privatisation.

So definitely, feeling connected to the rest of the country; economy; and infrastructure.

And what about women in regional areas?

For women who have children, it’s important that their children are cared for, that they have the right health infrastructure and have the right schooling.

Education is also a big deal. Women need access to education, and there’s been some discussion about education funding being cut in the federal budget. Universities are big in these regions as well.

Women in particular are thinking about employment, and knowing that they are financially secure and safe.

There’s a lot of crime and violence in some of these towns, that’s also a really big issue for women.

What’s an average day for you in the newsroom for you?

It can be quite crazy. We are very reliant in what our regions are doing and what time the stories are coming in.

In the early morning, I’m reading newspapers, checking Twitter. Then I go into hair and makeup at 1.30pm, but I’ve already read the run down so I know what’s going to happen. I do a lot of “subbing” before and after hair and makeup — editing the stories. At 3.30 we start recording the updates. At about 4.30 we record the regional windows, and then at 6.00 we go to air, live.

In much of the coverage I’ve seen about you and your move to Nine, there are a lot of mentions of hair, makeup, styling, sometimes more than the actual news itself… Does this get frustrating?

I don’t find it as much news-reading, and I haven’t heard much about it since I took on this role. But when I was a weather presenter, it would drive me insane. I would research, write, and present my own stuff —often without an autocue— and all people would constantly talk about was hair, clothes and makeup. While it is flattering, it does overshadow the amount of work you put in putting that piece to air.

I think now, as a newsreader, because I’m sitting down, there’s more focus on the story. Weather is focused around fashion. That’s the style that it is. But I did used to get frustrated being a blonde female presenter that people weren’t taking me seriously.

What advice would you give women looking to get into journalism?

If it’s what you want, work very hard for it, and it will work out for you. You have to put in the time, say yes to everything, and put your heart and soul into it.

In an industry where there are a lot of cutbacks, and people are unsure where the industry is going, we’ve actually employed 100 people for this [Nine regional news] project. It’s also bringing healthy competition into a market that was becoming stale.

Even though it is a changing industry, there are still plenty of stories to tell, we might just need to find different avenues to tell them.

Image: Supplied. Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist