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Interview with Cassandra Steeth, ABC journalist and supervising producer of the Podcast Ladies, We Need To Talk

30 April, 2020

Cassandra Steeth is an ABC journalist and supervising producer of the award-winning podcast 'Ladies, We Need To Talk'. Cassandra has worked at the ABC for five years as a producer for Radio National’s Life Matters program and as a rural reporter. In 2017 Cassandra was awarded Best Rural Broadcast Journalist by the Australian Council of Agricultural Journalists and currently lives in Sydney. Cassandra tweets at @Cass_Steeth.

How do you think the recent COVID pandemic has affected the way Australians consume media?

We’re all on our phones and we’re all information hungry. I’m finding I only want the important COVID information, which I rely on the ABC for. But I also need to switch off. Classical music on Spotify is helping me, as are ABC podcasts like 'Mindfully'. I’m also doing dorky exercise apps because I found out you can access free yoga with Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye on the FitOn app.

I think a lot of people are curating playlists, lists of movies and books to get people through isolation. So there’s a lot more ‘personalised and collaborative sharing’ of content I’d say.

For a press release to stand out to you, what should it contain?

Original direct language is key. I want to know what it’s about in the first sentence, to see a picture (when relevant) and it should be as short as possible.

Have you always been a journalist? What attracted you to journalism?  

I’ve been a journalist my entire professional life and it was a very discursive and meandering journey to get here. When I was 18 I had a job digitising death certificates for the Cancer Council Victoria. It was a mindless job and each day I’d ponder and obsess over what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Every day a new profession would ‘reveal’ itself to me —a doctor, lawyer, scientist, I went through them all.

But I eventually connected the dots; I liked to read good books, had a knack for writing, enjoyed learning about new worlds and liked connecting with people. I’d like to say I had some hot-shot female journo as my hero. In reality, it just took a lot of thinking.

What is the most memorable story you’ve reported on? 

My great grandfather James Steeth designed and made the Melbourne Cup in 1919. A few years ago Radio National gave me the opportunity to make a radio documentary about it. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart and represents both a deep sense of pride and loss for my family. I’ll be forever grateful I got to ask the questions I did and document my father’s oral history which otherwise could be lost.

How do you gather research for your stories?

Reading from trusted sources like The Conversation, ABC online, The Guardian and The New York Times. I talk a lot on the phone. Whether it’s pre-interviews with experts, peers, colleagues or friends—everything has a place. Then there are the seemingly less tangible sources like the music you listen to, books you read, or the films and TV shows you veg out to—it all feeds into your work.

What’s your favourite Ladies, We Need To Talk episode and why?

Hands down The Secret Life of Hormones episode because it’s relevant for everyone. It provides women with an insight into themselves and helps men understand what it’s like to inhabit the female body. Essentially it looks at the strong link between our reproductive hormones and our mental health. It helped a lot of people understand why and how severe PMS exists and what you can do about it.

Any advice for anyone wanting to get into the media industry?

Hold on… job security is hard to come by and in the current climate, I’d go for security over your dream job.

How has the radio industry changed and is there anything new you’re excited to see grow or are concerned about losing?

Creating local content is the key for me. It’s easier for many networks to just pipe in shows from major centres, but having grown up in a small country town I see the huge role local radio plays in informing the community as to what’s going on. Understanding what is important to those who listen to you can’t be understated. 

During the bushfires, we were the only commercial radio in the Inverell area and it really hammered home that we were needed to keep people up-to-date with accurate information and directions from the RFS. While social media can provide information, radio still broadcasts information in real-time and as it happens, and as radio evolves to digital and other online platforms this is only going to strengthen our reach. But keep it local and relatable to your community. That to me is exciting.

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