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What I learned from an incredible mentor

Laura Chalmers’ skill as a writer took her to the prime minister’s office but it was her love of journalism that led her back to newspapers.

Chalmers, the news editor of Queensland’s Sunday Mail, first dreamt of becoming a journalist at 12.

“I was desperate to write, loved writing stories and just thought journalism looked so interesting — that you could write every day and be published,” she says.

Chalmers launched her career through pure determination, applying for a cadetship at The Advertiser in Adelaide three years in a row before being accepted.

“I got knocked back twice and was devastated, and eventually got in and did a three-year cadetship. It was really tough, but the best grounding for journalism,” she says.

From the second she walked through the door, Chalmers had her sights set on becoming a political reporter.

She covered state politics in South Australia for several years, then moved up to the Press Gallery in Canberra.

“It’s the most extraordinary place for journalists because it’s where the best journalists from around the country are basically in one small confined space together,” Chalmers says.

As a political reporter she had close contact with politicians and after being convinced by Labor Senator Penny Wong she switched over to politics, becoming a press secretary.

“It was purely on the basis of personality. I had a huge amount of respect for Penny Wong,” Chalmers says.

She then worked for Julia Gillard and after her prime ministership ended, Chalmers had a choice to make.

“I could continue working in politics or I could come to News Corp, which was what I had known,” she says.

Returning to her journalism roots, Chalmers found that while the technology had changed, the core of being a reporter hadn’t and she walked back into the newsroom like she’d never left.

Talking to Chalmers, her passion for journalism is infectious.

“It’s a great career,” she says.

However, it hasn’t always been easy and Chalmers has struggled with some of the things journalists are exposed to.

She recalled her early days as a cadet when she was sent to a fatal accident on a country road in the middle of the night.

“I remember standing there thinking this is too much,” she says.

Chalmers remembers the horrific scene like it was yesterday.

“I can still remember that scene and that was more than a decade ago. It’s still so vivid in my memory,” she says.

While she said the traumatic stories were hard to forget, there had also been some extraordinary stories of resilience too.

“You see the best and the worst of people in this job, but it’s often those really incredible stories of overcoming adversity and optimism in the face of horrific circumstances that stick with you,” she says.

Chalmers joined the Queensland’s Women in Media committee when it formed in 2014, a group which aims to improve gender equality in the media industry.

Chalmers says women in the media can often be more reluctant to put themselves forward for promotions and pay rises.

The strength of the WIM committee is that it brings women together, to share their experiences.

“I think generally the more we can share our stories, the more we see we’re in the same boat,” she says.

“We all talk and realise we’re all making the same mistakes, and it empowers you to speak up.”

She says women have to push back against the unconscious bias that can exist against women in the workplace: “People not taking you seriously or thinking that your opinions aren’t influential or important because you’re a woman.”

Having learnt some top tips during her time working for Penny Wong and Julia Gillard, Chalmers hopes to pass these on to other female journalists.

“Penny taught me so much in how to conduct yourself, present yourself, how to fight gender inequality in the workplace and how to overcome those stereotypes – she was an incredible mentor,’’ she says.

She says the fellow women on her committee are also extraordinary role models.

“They’re a spectacular bunch of women and doing really great things in Queensland,’’ she says.

Author: Alexandra Bernard

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