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An Interview with Jamie Toomey

Transitioning from TAFE to a career in the media industry can be a challenging prospect for many media students. The directions that your career can take you on can seem overwhelming and you may need time to explore what you really want to do. Recently, journalism student Heather Middleton interviewed Jamie Toomey, a former TAFE Media student who is currently working at the ABC. Throughout the interview, he shares advice stemming from his experiences in the film industry and in digital media, his thoughts on the need for more indigenous voices in the media and talks honestly about the importance of doing what you love.

Heather: Can you tell us about what you studied here at TAFE?

Jamie: I started off at Eora TAFE in the entry-level certificate level of skills for work and training but I developed a love for the camera at that time. So, I followed through and went to media and studied film and screen for a couple of years under Lisa Duff. From that, I got a couple of really interesting opportunities to work on two films, Last Cab to Darwin and UnIndian. From there, I felt there was no real future in film. The way the film industry works is you could be working for three months of the year, but for the other nine months, there might not be another film coming and that wasn’t sustainable. So I went back to TAFE, this time at Petersham where I studied a Diploma in Journalism and in Radio broadcasting, as I felt media was a more sustainable career than the film industry.

Heather: It sounds like your career goals began to clarify as you went along and media is definitely a really great direction.  

Jamie: Well, I had a lot of achievements going in there because I had the two films under my belt. Radio’s a completely different format and I learnt that very quickly, because if something happens… the first thing you’d want to do is jump out and get vox pops with the public. How do the public feel about that? You want to jump out there and get the public’s opinion.

Heather: It can be quite hard to approach people as a student, can’t it?

Jamie: The biggest thing I found being a media student is that it’s very intimidating to approach people on the street and ask questions. You usually don’t have a way to do it but as I’ve been with ABC for a while, I’ve learnt from journalists how to do it. You can’t just go up and say “I’m a TAFE student” because some people will not really take notice, but if you say “I’m with Sydney TAFE Media and we’re doing a story on what the broader public think about this case”, people are going to take notice because they hear “media”, so I think you really have to present it the right way.

Heather: That’s good advice for TAFE students. Can you tell us a bit about what happened to you after you did your TAFE course?  Did you get straight into a job?

Jamie: Well, I’ve always had things going on the side, like my work on Last Cab to Darwin, which actually came out of TAFE, because my teacher Lisa Duff at Eora was the producer on both films and that’s how I got these opportunities. That was my entry to the industry. But from here, I had to stop relying on Lisa to give me my opportunities, and started doing more things here at TAFE.  We filmed a couple of the fashion parades for years so I kept going with that until I actually got to the ABC, where I started as an unpaid intern. I remember thinking, “I’m going to prove that I belong at the ABC. I’ll do it for three or six months or whatever they give me, because as soon as that six months is over, how can they get rid of me if I prove that there’s no-one there who can do what I do?”

I think that everyone has to continuously evolve.  The only way you can stay relevant in this industry is if you evolve with the times. One teacher in TAFE media has been around since analogue and he’s seen the whole change from analogue to digital in radio. During my time, I’ve seen many content changes – cassette tapes, CDs and now it’s digital, it keeps evolving and people in the industry must continuously evolve to stay on top of the times.  At the ABC, we’re focussing on digital first in a lot of ways and I feel like that approach is going to work. It’s not going catch on immediately – I think a lot of people have to start thinking the future is coming very fast and it’s going to be a digital future. How can we be ahead of the times, so that when the change does happen, we don’t get left behind?

Heather: That’s an interesting question to ask. So you’re working in digital media at the moment at the ABC?

Jamie: I’m still a trainee at the ABC but I’ve been through a lot of different areas. I’ve been in just about every area of the ABC that you can imagine. So the past month or so I have spent a bit of time with the digital news team so that means getting some stories up on the website, understanding what’s newsworthy, how search engine optimisation works in general and how your stories will come to the top of a news page. You’d have key words there that people might search for and that’d put it higher on the search however you search for media – on a search engine or Facebook, for example.

Heather: Speaking of highlights, what has been the biggest in your career in the media thus far?

Jamie: I’ve had so many different highlights, as the media industry is just so broad. For film, it’s always going to be Last Cab to Darwin which was a big film and went on to gross $8 million. Working on UnIndian was great, but it isn’t going to have the same appeal as the first film I worked on. Once I began working with the ABC, one thing that I’ve really loved doing is jumping out with the camera crews and going to certain places as you never know where you’re going to go on some days.

These days, your day might start at 8:30 and the chief of staff will brief you on whether there’s a job coming up. Sometimes you’ll have to wait around because there might not be a job at the time. It might be a slow news day which means that nothing is happening or it could be out of state. If something happens… he (the chief of staff) might send myself and someone else along to cover it. Then it’s straight through to News 24 or the news, and quite a complex process begins until it’s on air.

Heather: What are your aspirations for the future?

Jamie: I have a lot of aspirations for the future. I try not to limit myself to one box because in the industry at the moment you have to be of a mind to do different roles. You can’t just be the person who carries around a camera and films things any more. You can’t just be the radio presenter who sits behind a desk and spins records. You have to be someone who can edit the show and also present the show.  You have to have many titles under your belt. With that in mind, I’ve tried to be, sort of an all-rounder. So I try to be someone who can jump on and off camera and film the premier, for example, or jump in front of a mic and read the news. Honestly, I haven’t actually read the news but you know, I’m open to the idea.

Heather: From what you’re saying, it sounds like you really need have a broad skillset.

Jamie: You don’t want to spread yourself too thin; I have to stress that a lot. You really have to have specialised areas as well. You really want to have your hands in as many pots as possible but if you also feel that there’s something you’re doing because you’re trying to have your hand in that pot for whatever reason and you’re not passionate about it, just don’t do it. Tell people you don’t want to do it too is important. One thing about me is that I don’t really like editing, but I really like doing VOX pops. So if I ask, “Why don’t you send me out with a mic, I’ll grab some VOX pops and we’ll throw them on air”? Then everyone’s happy because you’re pulling your weight but you’re also doing it in a way that makes you happy.

Heather: That sounds like a good balance.

Jamie: You have to do what you love. You have to be in love with what your career is, and that’s why I try stay as real to what I love as possible. I love working in the media and it’s quite fun when a lot of people tend to know your name when you’ve done a bit of that. I joke around the ABC saying, “You know you’ve made it once Leigh Sales knows your name,” which is fun.

Heather: That’s some really great advice for everyone out there, not just media students. Just to finish, were there any big obstacles you had to overcome to either get to TAFE or get into work?

Jamie: One thing that was really special to me was being indigenous. I feel like indigenous people are under-represented in the media and I’ve felt that or a while. Although there are always been a few big names on TV like Stan Grant, Miriam Corowa and Ernie Dingo for example, but it’s starting to change now to where you have a Brooke Boney hosting a Today Show entertainment segment, or Miranda Tapsell doing her part in the industry. There are also radio stations that have a lot of indigenous people, like Koori radio based over at Redfern. A lot of indigenous talent will get recognised through networks like Koori Radio or NITV. But I feel in the main areas like news, radio, you don’t have that representation of indigenous people.

Heather: There really is no real representation across most media platforms.

Jamie: I feel like it’s still under-represented to an extent so I try not to just take up the aboriginal roles because I believe strongly that I can get to where I need to be without using the aboriginal card.  Now the traineeship I’m doing at the moment is indigenous certified, but after this I’d want to look at jobs in ABC for now that don’t have that title because I don’t feel I need the title of “the indigenous person”.  I’d rather leave that spot open to someone who’s just come from the bush and want to get their foot in the door. I have enough of a reputation now that people like the ABC now know who I am and what I’m capable of so now I could apply for a camera job and I could possibly get it, because I’m at that level now where I feel like I know what I’m doing. But I’m also aware that I can’t block that spot. I can’t be the trainee for five or ten years because in time the next bunch of indigenous students or students in general will come along.  You have to keep evolving.

Featured photo: Jamie with journalist Stan Grant in the studio at the ABC courtesy Jamie Toomey. You can find Jamie on Twitter @jamietoomeylive.

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