One of Australia's most highly regarded journalists Sabra Lane will relocate to Tasmania to host the ABC's national flagship radio program AM.
Lane, 52, who is president of the National Press Club, currently presents AM from Parliament House in Canberra but will host the program from Hobart in the new year.
A keen bushwalker, she will move with her partner Simon, who lived and worked in Tasmania for 20 years.
Born in Melbourne, she grew up in Mildura before starting her media career with Channel 10 in Adelaide.
She talks about her career, the state of journalism in Australia, how she can speak Norwegian and shares some personal insights into living with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Where did you grow up and did you always want to be a journalist?
I was born in Melbourne, but spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Mildura. I enjoyed a lot of freedoms in the country that kids growing up in the cities just wouldn't have experienced. During year 12, I had a hunch that journalism would be my career choice - but it was a year overseas as an exchange student in Norway that cemented the idea. I was really curious about world affairs and politics.
Where and when did you begin your career and how long have you been at the ABC?
I started my media career at Channel 10 in Adelaide. I had been working night shift there while studying for a BA in Journalism at university. I'd always fancied a radio job, but that first night shift job helped me through university. It involved listening to police, ambulance and fire brigade 2-way radios on weekends and Friday nights, and calling out cameramen (yes, they were all men in those days) to possible news stories. That part-time job morphed into an offer of full-time work as an assistant to the chief of staff. That position was the bottom of the rung! I still had a year to go on my degree, but I grabbed this chance. I would answer phones, make coffee, dig out library vision, drop journalists off to jobs, help some with their research and run basic errands for everyone in the newsroom. But it was a solid grounding, and it meant I learnt just how valuable every job was in a newsroom and that a first-class, smooth bulletin required everyone to be working at their best. I worked there for five years, leaving the network as a fully-fledged reporter/producer, and landed a job at the ABC in Adelaide. In 1995, I moved to Sydney with the ABC, and shortly after that became the chief of staff at the TV newsroom. It was a stressful job but extremely rewarding. In late 1997, I left the ABC for the Seven Network in Sydney, to a producer's role. I also worked on the Olympics and became the executive producer of the national current affairs program Sunday Sunrise. In 2006, I was at a career crossroads. I wanted a shot at ABC radio current affairs, but the radio chief at the time wouldn't hire me - I had no radio experience. I freelanced for a while and attended night school, completing an audio engineering certificate. I learnt how to use recording equipment and edit. And by the end of that course, I could mic up a rock band! With that certificate under my sleeve, I hooked a temporary job in radio current affairs, Again, it was at the bottom rung, but I was determined to give it my best shot.
Any interview you remember for good or bad reasons?
Former federal Labor minister Barry Cohen. I interviewed him in 2014 about his dementia. He was funny, open and vulnerable. It was impossible not to be moved by his honesty. He broke down in the interview, and I reached out to hold his hand to assure him 'it was OK' ... I was in tears too. Likewise, an interview with Liberal MP Craig Laundy - again, we were both in tears at the end. Moments like these show the broader population that while politicians are viewed dimly by many, they're as frail and vulnerable as the rest of us.
While I relish the job of keeping people accountable, I appreciate those tender moments, of honesty and vulnerability, that show us we're all human.
Why did you leave 7.30 - is radio your preferred medium and if so why?
7.30 was a terrific job. The hours were long, and the pressure unrelenting (radio is too!). An opportunity to present AM unexpectedly popped up. Radio is my true love. It is a really intimate form of communication. For years and years, it had been the program I listened to each morning as I prepared for the day. And I am a believer in the bus of opportunity stopping only once. You get on or let the chance pass. I wasn't going to let that bus go without jumping on board.
What do you enjoy about presenting AM? What hours do you work and how does that impact your life, particularly those early starts?
I feel very privileged to have this position. The responsibility of it weighs heavily some days. I have the opportunity - on behalf of our listeners - to interview decision-makers and ask them about what they're doing and why. Sometimes that means asking the same question, firmly and politely, two or three times. The hours are long. I work split shifts. I am up at 4.15am checking my phone for advice about early interviews with our correspondents. I'm in the office before 5am, and on-air at 6.05am. I work in the office until 11.30am (when the Perth version of AM is over). And I am back online mid-afternoon, checking in with the program's EP (executive producer) about what we're aiming for the next day, possible interviews and research. If parliament is sitting - I will tune into Question time. I work at home in the afternoons on research and questions if we have interviews lined up for the next day.
The early starts mean I am in bed by 8.30pm. That's the aim, some nights I make it, some I don't. Good sleep is essential to feel refreshed in the mornings, and for the interviews - you can't be foggy or slow! It's a fantastic job, and I'm relishing the opportunity of being the program's anchor.
I fell in love with Hobart before I met and fell in love with my partner, Simon. He's been studying here (Canberra) for a couple of years, and he's thrilled to go back home. I travelled to Tasmania in 2017 (for the first time in decades) for a multi-day walk on the Overland Track. I loved my time out in the wilderness and felt right at home in Hobart.
Will any of your staff relocate too?
Not at this stage. Currently, I present the program from Parliament House, with the show broadcast from Sydney.
What does it say about the ABC that they are in favour of you relocating?
It says the ABC is serious about achieving its goal of being more relevant to more Australians. Part of that ambition is about relocating key roles from their traditional Canberra and big city broadcasting bases in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. Having the anchor of a flagship program in Hobart, I think, Illustrates the corporation's commitment to achieving this aim. The ABC has been nothing but supportive of my move. I will cover national affairs from a smaller state, living and working in a community far removed from the corridors of power in Canberra. Being part of the Tasmanian and Hobart communities, getting feedback from locals, will influence my thinking, and it will help us be more in touch with Australians in regional centres.
Did you enjoy your role as president of the Press Club?
I have loved my time with the Press Club. I've been on the board for six years, and president for three of those years. It's a treasured institution. It was a highlight to moderate the leaders' debate last year. I will still be part of the Club, as a paid-up member, from Hobart.
Any anecdotes from that time?
The Club's staff are its heart and soul, and I've also enjoyed working with them and getting to know them. I'm a North Melbourne fan (and yes, I'm looking forward to seeing them at Blundstone Arena). I've enjoyed swapping sob stories with the Press Club's CEO Maurice Reilly and hearing him talk about the "old days" at North.
What is your view on the state of journalism in Australia - has it changed for the worst?
Like so many other industries, journalism has contracted in the digital era. Many community newspapers have vanished, and hundreds of jobs have disappeared. That is a huge tragedy. The diversity of views and, importantly, the basic requirement of factual and balanced news, has never been more critical in this era when so much false material and 'fake news' is circulating online. It is shocking that so many towns have lost their regular newspapers and sources of reliable information. It's also another reason why the ABC has never been more crucial. We can't possibly fill the void entirely, but we can help provide reliable, credible, and factual reporting to keep communities informed.
How do you relax when you're not working?
Bushwalking is a big part of my life, being out in nature and spotting birds and native flowers. Yoga is a brilliant way to calm my mind, be peaceful, and help with sleep. Sketching and drawing are also important hobbies. And reading, for work and leisure.
Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
I speak Norwegian, and I love Norway; perhaps I was a Viking in a previous life! Hobart and a lot of Tassie reminds me of Norway, a country I regard as my second home.
How have you dealt with your polycystic ovary syndrome?
I was part of the PCOS support group POSAA for many years. I had been looking for information and support from other women about how they managed the syndrome and ended up joining the volunteer committee that ran it. I led the group for a couple of years, and from 2005 we lobbied for national guidelines on diagnosing the syndrome; there were so many myths and lots of misinformation about PCOS among doctors and patients. A number of other doctors and health groups joined that call, and it's satisfying that Australian guidelines were released in 2011. Australia subsequently lobbied to get internationally accepted guidelines a couple of years ago. I am childless despite trying many years ago. PCOS probably is the reason for my infertility. Not all women with PCOS are childless - three in four will have kids - though some will need a little medical help to get there. Having the syndrome means I have to work every day at being healthy and keeping my weight down. What I eat, what exercise I do, keeping my stress levels down (not easy in a job that sometimes involves a lot of stress), they're all important things to keep my symptoms in check, and for me to be healthy and happy.
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