By Emily Bradfield
ABC journalist Cathie Schnitzerling always had a nose for a good yarn or should that be ears? Schnitzerling’s mother dubbed her ‘Little Miss Big Ears’ for the way she devoured stories swapped across the dinner table in regional Queensland.
“I wanted to be a writer or an actress and somehow I ended up as a television journalist which is kind of a combination of both,” she says.
Schnitzerling was the first female director of news at Network Ten in Brisbane and then in Sydney. Her perception of the world was shaped by her regional upbringing and a family of strong, straight-talking women.
“There’s a saying: ‘Don’t wait to see the light at the end of the tunnel, go down there and light the bloody thing yourself’. So they’re that type of people, and that shaped me,” she says.
With more than 30 years of success in the broadcast industry, Schnitzerling has shifted her focus to help others achieve their career goals.
She is a mentor and founding member of Women in Media Queensland and is passionate about female empowerment in the industry.
“We were just a bunch of well-meaning people who really shared the same goals of trying to improve gender balance in senior positions and pay equity and provide some solutions and advice,” she says.
Since its launch in May 2014, Women in Media Queensland has held events with the aim of providing advice and networking opportunities to women in the industry, including last year’s inaugural national Women in Media Conference at Bond University on the Gold Coast. The university will also host the 2018 conference.
Schnitzerling recognises that change is a collaborative effort requiring the engagement of men.
“That was the reason why we had an all-male panel last year at the national conference,” she says.
“Don’t men have enough of a platform? Well yeah, they do, but also they’re the ones in charge and you need to engage with them and you need to know how they think.”
Schnitzerling would like to see more women in senior editorial and management positions.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says.
“For a lot of young women, unless they see people in those positions of authority and working on strategy and in senior editorial decision-making roles, you don’t think you’re ever going to be there.”
Her key piece of advice to young women moving into the industry is to believe in yourself.
“When people tell you that you can’t do it or you’re not good enough or you feel that that’s what they’re saying, success is always the best revenge, even if it takes years.”
“Just go ahead and become a success and that is really fulfilling and rewarding. You don’t even need to go back to that person who said you weren’t tenacious enough and you’ll never make it as a news reporter because they will see it.”
Schnitzerling draws on her past as a country girl in her current role as ABC’s regional editor for Queensland.
“A third of all Australians live in the regions,” she says.
“A lot of our Indigenous communities are in the regions. They’re the first Australians and their stories are really important because they help shape us, they’re still shaping us now.
“All our agriculture and mining, so much of the wealth in this country comes from the regions.”
In her role at the ABC, Schnitzerling has gained a new understanding of the demand for digital content.
She urges journalists to learn and keep up with storytelling technology as the media landscape changes.
“The way we’re operating today using this technology, I’m telling you in two years’ time it will be different again and you just need to keep up or you’ll become irrelevant,” she says.
“It’s exciting but it’s also terrifying because it means change and that can be very threatening for people that have worked one way for a very long time.
“But it means there is an even bigger demand for content than what there was before because you have more avenues of getting a story out.”