Youth Journalist Jack Ward on giving young people a voice

By · 15 July, 2020 · Blog, Features, Interviews

Jack Ward is a 17-year-old journalist based out of Ararat, Victoria. After his local newspaper shut down earlier this year, Jack was the only journalist for the entire town. He spoke with UN Youth about the importance of journalism, youth voices and skills.



What drives your passion for storytelling in journalism?

My passion for journalism really started in primary school and I always used to watch the news of a night-time, watch Peter Hitchener on Channel 9 and I read the papers. Broadcast journalism is probably the main way I was consuming media in primary school and still is the ones that stand out now and yeah ever since then I guess it’s just growing. When I turned 12-13 I was thinking for a way to actually do journalism, already which was looking back on it I was on way ahead of my time, but I guess when you had that passion you can always go for it whenever you like, there’s no age barrier, which has been a learning experience for me. As well recent times age is no barrier but yeah when I was 12, I was sorting out opportunities and I found an organisation in America that I started writing for kind of correspondent from Australia. I had a really good support network there and they were really supportive. I’ve never done anything like that before I was 1, in schools you don’t Brighton news articles that was a learning experience for me as well, that’s kind of where I grew.

Then I launched AC news in Year 8 and turned into a massive project it went with three years and last year was a huge you launch the website and we were doing TV style segments and then we moved into a website. We’re creating written content online, we have a team of 12 student journalist and cameraman, camerawomen and editors. It turned into a massive source of news for Ararat and I think there was thousands of views every month and people accessing that. Regional journalism is struggling, we did have a local paper here in our Ararat, but they’ve been struggling. We’re providing something about it, when the community got behind, it was great to see that. My passion was always about bringing the stories to the community.

When we started, we thought maybe the community won’t consume what were putting out there any kids so that not going to look into that. But the community was really responsive to that and it was amazing, and AC News was amazing three years and all of us team members really enjoyed it. Then the transitioning to the podcast this year, I stepped down from AC News end of last year. It was just a huge commitment and I was I was running a team as well as covering the news and I wanted to focus on that. I’m covering the news in working my craft.

Started this year I launched Ararat’s Latest and that’s been going ever since and now pay journalist at our new local paper, so it’s just amazing that’s where the passions come from watching the news at 6:00 o’clock at night when I was in primary school.

In your opinion do you believe that issues that affect young people they are mentioned in current mainstream news as prominently as they should be?

That’s a really interesting question I did actually get it right that an earlier and it’s one that I was thinking about. I think the recent climate strikes have seen a lot of coverage on that young people. I think I think it’s great to see organisations arising that really focus on young people as well as news organisations out there that are really focusing on bringing news to the younger generation a lot different too I guess the mainstream media that we have as well which is The Herald Sun, The Age which are the most sort of sources of news. I think the issues of young people are being covered but I think there’s always room for improvement and room for more issues to be covered.

But in a time of such change in society when we are seeing things like climate change coming into it and we can look at the coronavirus now we had the bushfires is so much going on and I think young people are getting a say. Sometimes the issues can be covered but people won’t necessarily seek that information from young people to interview to find out what their thoughts are. So, I think that can be improved and I think there’s always improvements but in my opinion. The issues that are affecting young people are being covered.

What youth issue are you most passionate about so at the moment, for example, youth mental health is brought up because of the coronavirus? Do you have an issue that in particular resonates with you the most?

Back in 2018 I was a part of Victoria’s first youth Congress and we focused on a lot of issues for the state government around young people. In that year we focused on mental health in particular in the workplace and how workplaces can support mental health. This has always been something that I’ve thought as very important, especially around young people. Statistics don’t lie; I mean you look at those and you can see how big the issue is. That’s been something that I’ve always strived to share that message and also ensure that people only some adults out there that still look at mental health and think it’s a joke and it’s not something that is of a necessity.

But I people are coming around to that and we are seeing a lot of changing the mental health space, which is fantastic in supporting schools. My school has implemented counsellors we aren’t had a therapy dog we’ve got so many things in place now. I think school is a huge one and when we say education, it’s not just in the classroom for me because I love hands on learning. During my years of following my passions of journalism, already I’ve learned that what happens in the classroom is important but what happens outside the classroom like life experience and extracurricular activities that you take part in are also important.

I think sometimes regional students are always a step behind those in the city and I guess that’s moving space at the moment and we’re seeing him with this pandemic, things are probably even more of an even playing field at the moment everyone at home and everyone’s online. But sometimes regional communities can be left a little bit behind. My main issues when it comes to young people is definitely education.

Turning on a bit of a positive note throughout your journalism journey so far what’s been the most rewarding story that you’ve worked on today?

Ararat is a vibrant and community is always so much going on. In the early days when I was writing for Youth Journalism International which is an organisation based in the US; the one that I was speaking about earlier.

I covered a story on the future of journalism, and I went down to Melbourne and that’s when I first met Peter Hitchener and I interviewed him and what his opinions where on the story. It provided me with the great insight about what’s going on in the industry at the moment. That was one Storey that I remember, and I guess that was a personal moment for me as well getting a chance to meet Peter Hitchener, who I had been watching him since primary school. But the biggest stories were actually in my second year at AC News, one of our local primary schools has it actually burnt down in a fire that destroyed the school. That’s where I finished my primary school and it was only a couple of years later and the students from our primary school ended up coming to our school and then we did a lot of coverage on how the students were feeling.

I interviewed the principal. It was really moving and seeing the community come together. There are so many interesting stories it’s on a weekly and monthly basis here and there’s always something. I think everyone has a story to tell. But the story on the school fire, it’s great to see the the school has rebuilt since then and they are back on their feet. It was a pretty touchy one for me as well. I was at the scene on the day covering it and you have to hold back tears sometimes when the personal element comes in and comes into it but sometimes you can’t help that.

Speaking to someone like Peter Hitchener he really encourages young people to pursue a career in journalism. But there is that stereotype that journalism is it can be a dead-end industry and news is what it used to be. So, when people when people say things like that what some words of advice that you would say to them in terms of pursuing this career?

I don’t think you can let anything like that stop you want to do something you’ve just have to chase. It if you put in the hard work it’ll happen. There is a lot of negativity about journalism and the future of journalism and I remember speaking to Peter Hitchener about it you know there is concerns about what’s next. We’ve seen the struggles with print media especially recently and leaving the last five or ten years. I think the journalism is struggling, but I think it’s changing, and we’ve got an organisation are adapting with that and I think they always they always will be a place for journalism and communities because they need to know what’s happening.

There’s no point you know just got something on Facebook and social media people actually need to know the facts. Also, at the moment with coronavirus, we know the gossip that happens in all communities at the moment about cases and what’s going on and who’s not staying home and that sort of thing. Journalism is there to bring you that factual information.

You can’t let those negative negativity talks and get you down and I think a lot of talk is negative but there’s a lot of positive talk. Sometimes we can focus on that negative but as long as you’re doing your passion and following your dreams, I think yeah there’s always possibility for something to come out of that, not necessarily journalism. There’s lots of different areas in the media and marketing and PR and so different wait for people to get involved in the in the industry but yeah, I think you just have to stay positive.

Speaking of positive feedback about journalism in this day and age, COVID-19 has actually proved that journalism and news and storytelling is an essential service. What’s your words of advice for journalists and people in the media that have lost their job during this time even though we are essential?

I mean everyone I think all industries are affected by this at the moment and it’s hard to watch. I interviewed a young man who used to go to the local high school here, when he was back in his high school years. He works in the Arts industry he was working on Billy Elliot the musical in Melbourne and he’s out of his job. It’s just so widespread at the moment and I think it’s a struggle for everyone. The local paper here in Ararat suspended printing and the staff have been stood down of the old paper. She’s had to look at alternatives so maybe creating her own a blog where she can cover some stories. You’ve got remember that we’re not all in the same boat but we’re all in a very similar situation. Not everyone’s situation is different, but we are all struggling at the moment and you might have a job. I know I’m probably not the best person to give advice about this. I’m not being affected like other people.

My parents still have their jobs and I’m lucky to have a new job. But there are people out there that are struggling and I think you’ve just got once again try and stay positive and seek out those opportunities, and even if you aren’t being paid at the moment maybe just seeking out some volunteer opportunities and helping out with some organisations that might be struggling as well. Even if you are out of a job some news organisations might employ you down the track are struggling as well with ad revenue.

You are definitely right about finding your own in creating your own opportunities because of COVID-19 youth unemployment rates have soared and minimum wage roles like hospitality and retail were the first to go and marked as a non-essential service. But you’ve taken the initiative do you know follow your passion still an create opportunities for yourself. What’s your advice to young people to keep pursuing their dream even though they have restrictions? How can they how can they create something of their own?

I think you first need to seek out the opportunities and if there’s not an opportunity to make the opportunity. There’s so much opportunity out there for people to use on digital platforms you make a website create an online space create an online business. There are still ways to I think wasted to have positive moments out of this. I was speaking to one of my friends, you know some of my friends in the hospitality industry.

One of my fellow school captains, she works at she’s doing an apprenticeship at a local restaurant and they are out of work and they’re actually working for free lot of them at the moment. But I think you know you’ve just have made those opportunities to yourself and we also have to stay connected at this time. I know that’s an important thing that we all keep talking about, but I think the opportunities can we do have that support behind you to really seek out those opportunities.

If your parents are there in your friends there and are pushing you along, you’re more likely to seek them out. Sometimes it might come straight away I’m one of those people were quite impatient, but sometimes you do have to wait, and these things will come in the future.

Do you think the voice of young Australians has been prominent during the COVID-19 crisis?

I think we’ve had a very heavy focus on schools, I know that’s been something that’s been quite high discussion and particularly about parents I think in that situation there probably been the ones that have been most covered by that forum. I think students are getting a voice and I’ve been contacted by news organisations to get quotes on how we’re dealing with it I’m in my community. On a national level I think that can like I said earlier that can always improve.

But I think students are having a voice about COVID-19 and especially around education because they are not yet out of school or out in University that is quite an effect on them. I think we’ve probably heard a bit too much about that in the media recently and it’s been quite a heavy topic in the media. I think young people’s voices are being heard in regard to COVID-19. In my opinion I’ve been contacted, and I’ve been able to have my voice and my school communities have been able to have their voice. On a national platform, I think it’s always hard to have young people have their voice.

I’ve been watching numerous programmes which actually had young people on panels. I was watching The Today Show a couple of weeks ago and one of my friends was on it. In other news platforms have been doing the same and getting young people and I’m in university and schools share how and even year 12 how it’s affecting their schooling, so I think it is being covered.

What’s your final words of wisdom for every young Australian in the COVID-19 crisis?

Stay positive and support each other. I know a lot of the talks been around social isolation and I know talk in my community is kind of drifted into more physical isolation. We still got those social aspects online we could still use FaceTime, House Parties and still get together virtually. Also, I think just stay motivated, it’s hard sometimes a note to say motivated when you stay in your bedroom all day and staring at a wall with screens in your eyes are getting tired and you just want to go to bed and sleep.

But I think we do have to stay motivated and that comes with the support with each other and we can kind of push each other up go for a walk go for a run and stay motivated and stay physically active. That will be what gets us through. We’re all supporting each other, and I think that’s the key to getting out the other side, that’s hopefully not too far away.

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