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#Flashback Fridays: Denby Weller

Hatch reporter Tom Livingstone profiles the industry professionals teaching at Macleay College, for a new series – #FlashbackFridays

Macleay College is paving the way for future journalists with innovative, practical and, most importantly, fun teaching methods. The staff are exceptional, giving students the best education and sculpting them into elite professional communicators.

What shapes these amazing people and what journey have they been on to get to where they are today?

This week, #FlashbackFridays is excited to bring you the story behind new faculty member Denby Weller. Denby is already making a great impression on students and staff alike. Her skills behind the camera, as well as her ridiculously impressive talents in editing and visual storytelling, are evidence Macleay College is putting aces in their places. 

Image above: Denby preparing to do a piece-to-camera with her phone on a selfie stick (MOJO at its finest), in the Marshyangdi Valley in Nepal… “about two weeks after my last encounter with a mirror…”)

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What job did you first start out with in the industry?

I left the film industry in 2014 and fell into a job as a VJ at Fairfax. In my second week on the job, I was asked to go down to Martin Place to cover a bomb threat… which turned into the Martin Place Siege. It was a sink-or-swim situation and I learned massive amounts over the next two weeks of covering the events and the aftermath down there. I felt like a total rookie. I knew how to shoot but had no journalism experience outside of a few shifts editing breaking news videos in the office and a year writing for a wedding magazine to make ends meet while I was making films! But the community of journos down there was incredible. People from competing news outlets lent me gear and showed me where to set up for press conferences (I’d never been to one); they tipped me off about good locations to get a shot of the cafe (my lens wasn’t long enough) and we all shared information. It was an experience of the worst of humanity, but also of the best.

What did you love about those early days?

I loved the camaraderie and idealism of the newsroom at Fairfax and it was a very tough decision to leave this year. I’d never been in a workplace so thoroughly driven by principles. Also, being in a small team like video, I was able to get really broad experience relatively quickly: reporting on local, domestic and international stories; taking assignments and pitching ideas. Video is a fantastic storytelling device and the speed with which the technology evolves rewards innovation. I was fortunate to have an editor who appreciated the need to experiment and pursue unconventional ideas to keep up with that evolution.

Image: Journalism Lecturer @denbyweller (Image: Bunyip, The Movie)

What did you hate about them?

Because my background wasn’t in journalism, I spent months and months of sleepless nights teaching myself basic ‘reporterly’ skills. I started working the night shift and my editor would go home halfway though my evening, leaving me as the only video producer in Sydney, basically making decisions about what should be covered now, and what could wait until tomorrow. Developing a ‘news sense’ seemed like black magic to me. I got it wrong as often as I got it right, and was legitimately worried about being fired for ages!

What is a career highlight you have (or are there a few)?

Going on assignment to Nepal in 2015 for SMH’s interactive Trekking the Annapurna Circuit was another baptism of fire: amazing, challenging, rewarding. I also really loved my role as the National Lead Explainers Producer, which I held before I left this year. Producing explainers about research breakthroughs and big social issues like the gender pay gap or same-sex marriage – I felt like I was doing fundamental public service journalism, which to me is what journalism must always seek to do.

What do you enjoy about teaching at Macleay?

The first few months in a newsroom can be really tough, and I love having a chance to pass on the things I wish I’d known or practiced before I got my first job as a journo. Teaching also reminds you what you love about your work, and it’s breathed new life into the freelance work I do outside of Macleay. Even in the last two weeks, I’ve learned new skills or honed crafts that I can bring into class and share – all very rewarding. I’ve got some really enthusiastic and conscientious students in all my classes, and their passion is contagious.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a journalism superstar?

Probably something to do with my passion for the outdoors – I’m a mad-keen climber and trail runner.

Something quirky, most people don’t know about you.

I had a massive collection of stuffed toys as a girl. Like, embarrassingly huge.

A quote or belief that personally motivates you each day.

Thomas Carlyle: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all.”

I don’t always do work that’s worthy of such lofty ideals – I write travel and comedy stories as much as I report on science breakthroughs or important social issues – but I think you can bring a solid journalistic ethic to every piece of work you produce.

Originally featured on Hatch, Macleay College's student run news site. 

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