Journalism is always full of surprises as Region Illawarra’s new editor, Jen White, learned at 18.
“My first job in the media was as a copygirl at Cleo,” she recalls. “It wasn’t long after the Ita Buttrose era and male centrefolds were still a thing.
“As the office junior my job entailed running around the CBD getting the editor’s lunch, picking up fashion for photo shoots and opening the mail.
“As a naive young country girl I got quite a few shocks when wanna-be centrefolds sent in photos in all their glory. It was quite an introduction to both Sydney and the media!”
Region Illawarra is the latest addition to Region’s rapidly growing digital news network. Headquartered in Canberra, Region is wholly locally owned and independently operated, recently winning a national Telstra business award for “Building Community”.
Jen joins a growing team of experienced local journalists in Canberra, the Riverina, the South Coast and Capital regions and a newly acquired Far North Queensland masthead.
It’s a long way from her decision to chase a young bloke to Sydney after finishing school a few decades ago. After her father threatened to cut off her funds, Jen got her first job at Cleo before moving to the suburban Cumberland newspapers (where there was less chance of running into a self-nominating centrefold in the mail room).
“I started at the Parramatta Advertiser as a cadet and worked across Western Sydney, and I loved it,” she says.
After marrying, she and her husband decided they didn’t want to stay in the Sydney rat race and headed for the Illawarra where she picked up a job at the Illawarra Mercury. It was a fortunate turn of events: they loved the ‘Gong, decided to stay, and she eventually became the paper’s long-serving deputy editor before moving on a few years ago.
“The Illawarra offers absolutely everything you would want – the beaches, the escarpment, we’re an hour from Sydney, but still have that big country town feel that I love, there’s even an airport on our doorstep,” Jen says.
“Every culture is represented in the city and I love that we diversified from a steel city in the early 90s to an education hub with the University of Wollongong and so much research work happening, as well as a major health care sector.
“This city offers something for everyone from university-trained researchers to tradies.”
Jen is relishing the opportunity to get back into journalism in her hometown where, she says, there’s so much to talk about.
“My vision is to tell the stories of the people of the Illawarra who may not have had a voice on other platforms. We’ll be very accessible for the whole community and I want us to appeal to people from all kinds of backgrounds across the region.
“It should be balanced, fair, local content that connects strongly with the locals – and it will never be behind a paywall.”
In addition to “one gorgeous son” and an antisocial cat who shadows her every move, Jen has recently rediscovered gardening.
It’s a matter of pride after her husband unfairly insinuated she had a black thumb and couldn’t grow a cactus. “I’ve proved him wrong! My plants are growing and they love me,” she laughs.
It’s possible there will be less time for pot plants soon, though, as Region Illawarra gathers steam. Jen has begun recruiting her team and they’re keen to keep bringing you strong local stories.
Look out for Jen and Region Illawarra, coming to a computer near you – and reach out if you have a story idea!