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A ‘perfect tribute’ to Caroline Jones

Women in Media could not have wished for a better national ambassador and role model.

By Victoria Laurie

Today’s National Press Club event epitomises all the things that Caroline Jones loved, all the things she stood for in her life.

Courageous women like Aminata Conteh-Biger, support for those less fortunate and mentoring of women making their careers in the industry she adored.

Caroline was due to be here today as national co-patron of Women in Media, the not-for-profit organisation that grew into a national body in 2013 to support and empower women working across the media sector.

We couldn’t have wished for a better national ambassador and role model.

Women in Media co-patron Victoria Laurie pays tribute to Caroline Jones.

Caroline made history in Australian journalism, becoming the first woman among male reporters, on the ABC program This Day Tonight, then becoming Australian TV’s first female anchor for a current affairs program, on Four Corners.

In a Women in Media interview years later, she laughed about what she nevertheless described as “outrageous” newspaper headlines about her appointment at the time, headlines like ‘Girl will take over Four Corners’.

Yet she also knew how important the symbolism of her success was, how her credibility and stature could help elevate others.

“I hoped that would open the door for other women,” she said. “If it did, I’m very happy.”

Aminata Conteh-Biger’s address to the National Press Club. Photo: Karleen Minney.

Caroline’s distinguished career – mainly with the ABC – lasted more than 50 years until 2016, when she retired from her anchor role with ABC TV’s Australian Story – incredible longevity in a fast-changing media sector.

She set high standards, both in her own fiercely intelligent reporting and presenting on TV, but also her warm, incisive interviewing style on radio, such as her ground-breaking ‘Search for Meaning’ program on ABC Radio National.

She won a Logie, a Walkley Award, three Gold citations for the Australian Media Peace Prize, a place in the Australian Media Hall of Fame, and an Order of Australia.

Caroline had something precious, an uncanny ability to inspire confidence in the people she met.

Caroline Jones award winner Brooke Littlewood asks the first question. Photo: Karleen Minney.

There are literally hundreds of women in all sectors of our industry who would say: “I only half believed I could do it until Caroline convinced me I could.”

Her favourite quote was: “There’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women.”

In that spirit, she took a hand in helping manage every aspect of an award set up in 2017 in proud partnership with the National Press Club.

It is the Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist’s Award, Its latest winner, Brooke Littlewood, is here today.

Women in Media Canberra convenor Emma Macdonald with guest speaker Aminata Conteh-Biger. Photo: Karleen Minney.

It was conceived by Canberra Women in Media convenor Emma Macdonald as a way to open the doors of Parliament to young rural and regional female journalists who would otherwise not have access.

Perhaps because of her own country upbringing, Caroline cherished this award, responding personally to almost every entrant each year, selecting those she felt deserved additional encouragement and sending them words of wisdom, guiding her fellow judges to understand some of the personal circumstances facing each applicant, and finally settling on a winner.

Always in her impeccably fair, gracious and good-humoured way, Caroline absolutely loved these National Press Club addresses and would sit proudly at the table beside each of the winners, whom she would have helped craft their first Press Club question ahead of time.

So finally, I come back to the poignant nature of today’s Press Club event as having the ingredients of a perfect tribute to Caroline Jones AO because it celebrates a courageous woman,

Aminata, a young woman in the early stages of her career, Brooke, and, sadly now, it celebrates the memory of one of Australia’s great broadcast journalists and a wonderful human being, Caroline Jones.

On May 25, Women in Media co-patron Victoria Laurie delivered this tribute at the National Press Club after the address by Founder and CEO of the Aminata Maternal Foundation, Aminata Conteh-Biger.

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