Herald Sun Education Reporter Olivia Jenkins on award-winning protest coverage
Herald Sun’s Olivia Jenkins probably didn’t expect her Quill award-winning coverage of a Melbourne anti-lockdown protest to involve her own arrest.
Now the masthead’s Education Reporter, Olivia was recognised as the 2021 Young Journalist of the Year at the Melbourne Press Club event last month for a body of work she wrote as a Herald Sun Editorial Assistant and Cadet.
This included her coverage of the rally during the lockdown in February last year, when Olivia and a photographer were handcuffed by police for defying public health orders, before receiving an apology from Victoria Police for the mistake.
Olivia says she holds nothing against the police who were “just doing their jobs”, but that the experience solidified her passion for journalism.
“I think it was just one of the turning points in a lot of media's covid coverage where we were dealing with a lot of hostility and tensions on the ground between protestors and police,” Olivia says.
“For me personally it was a very weird mix of 'I can't believe that happened' but then also it solidified that this is what I want to do. And as out of the ordinary as it was, it was sort of the moment where I went 'if that's the day in the life of a journalist for me then I'm happy with that'. "
“It was quite a confronting experience but I think I'm stronger for it and better off for it and, whether it's to my detriment or not, I'm not easily fazed at all for any story now.”
Journalists in Melbourne faced extremely challenging conditions reporting from protests throughout 2021, and Olivia says many would attest to having their multitasking skills pushed to the extreme.
“We did live coverage of a lot of those particularly major protests. So I'd be running from tear gas and police and flares while I'm typing out copy to send through to the newsroom, and sending through video while I'm there,” she says.
“You really do put your skills to the test and how many you can actually utilise at one time.”
Also in Olivia’s Quill award-winning portfolio is an interview she did with the mother of an eight year-old boy who drowned in School camp in May last year.
Olivia says it was an “incredibly difficult” story to cover, but that it also sparked legitimate questions about density rules at the funeral, given how far the family were living from COVID hotspots at the time.
“It was so courageous of the mum, Skye, to open up to me during such a confronting time, and at that point she was really just looking for answers,” she says.
“I think it touched a lot of hearts of parents in Victoria, particularly with the added strain of mourning someone during lockdown. That sort of sparked quite a big conversation around … why couldn't they have more people at their funeral, particularly given the circumstances were just so unusual and so heartbreaking.”
Having started as an intern with the Herald Sun in 2019, before going on to work as an Editorial Assistant and Cadet, Olivia has covered many breaking news stories that sometimes involve reaching out to families in distress or challenging times.
“You want to be sensitive to [the fact that] while you are having a horrible day writing this story as well because it's an awful story, to them it's the rest of their life,” she says.
“I think it's just really helpful to just acknowledge that you don't know what it's like and you just want to offer them a chance to speak about it if it's something that they find helpful, and if they want to remember their loved one in a particular way.
“I think that's what Skye wanted to do because she offered me those really gorgeous photos of Cooper, and she would tell me about what he was like as a boy and his spirit and his energy, and, not to speak for her, but I can imagine it would've been really important for her to remind us that this was a little boy and it wasn't just a COVID story, this was a young boy who had a life and was going to come home at the end of this school camp and that just didn't happen.”
Having been appointed to Education Reporter at the Herald Sun in January, Olivia is now responsible for covering all issues relating to Victorian schools.
“It could be anything from COVID developments to broader issues like crime, consent, social media, funding and the government, any issues that parents raise with us and following any news tips. That’s our main gig,” she says.
“And then the not so nice stuff like suspended teachers and misconduct and things like that. So you do get to overlap with quite a lot of other issues and other rounds in the newsroom.”
Olivia’s pitching preferences:
“I have a really big interest in social issue aspects of reporting, whether it's consent, social media, and when parents are finding issues with schools and how schools can be better, whether they're private or public, I'd always like to know about that.
“Other releases that usually grab our attention are things that help parents and kids during the school year, so for example we've done stories on how sleep is important, and study tips... all of that type of stuff. At the end of the day, every parent wants the best for their child, and if there's anything that can help them do that from a press release point of view or a study, we're always quite interested in that.”