A cluster of journalists have carried the Harvey surname. Generations on, Claire Harvey is likewise blessed with the journalism gene.
She may be the daughter of Peter Harvey, the late Channel Nine legend, but Claire has made sure her media career was earned, not given.
Claire was recently a panellist at Macleay College’s International Reporting Conference. It was immediately apparent that she’s intelligent and compassionate … but speaking with her afterwards, it became clear that you also need a thick skin to succeed in journalism.
Claire’s love for news started early as she was being raised in Australia’s capital city. Her appetite for world news made that an advantageous location. “I grew up in Canberra and you could get papers from all over the country, so we would have seven or eight newspapers on the breakfast table,” she told The Newsroom. But it wasn’t just papers – The Today Show was served with breakfast, and the AM radio would barely ever be switched off.
After leaving high school, Claire enrolled in an arts degree at the Australian National University, majoring in politics, history and literature. While studying, Claire worked in a newsagency, a muffin shop and as an unpaid copygirl at The Australian’s bureau in Canberra.
She insists that offering to work for free is the perfect way to get a foot in the door of a media outlet and sure enough, her hard work paid off after three months, when The Australian gave her a cadetship and started paying her.
One position led to another, and soon Claire was a fully employed journalist on The Australian, a position she held for more than a decade. “Essentially it was just hanging around. There was nothing particularly special about me, except that I was keen enough to work for free while I was at uni.
“I had faith that eventually someone would start paying me. I was just grateful to be able to hang around with real journalists and learn from them,” she tells The Newsroom.
But owning the Harvey surname wasn’t enough for young Claire; she was on a mission to prove she deserved it.
Claire proves she can make it on her own
“My dad was a journalist; there were several journalists before him in the family, several generations before him, so it always just seemed like the most interesting thing I could possibly imagine,” she says.
“I was very conscious as a young journalist of avoiding TV, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was riding on dad’s coat-tails. My brother went into television; he had a long career in print and then went into TV. He’s now the ABC’s correspondent in Indonesia,” she says.
Claire, determined to forge her own path, decided to prove she could make it on her own.
In 2004, she was one of four journalists named to a pool that would cover the Pitcairn Island child sex trials. Seven men had been accused of abusing children on the world’s most remote inhabited island – with a population of fewer than 50 at the time. It was a duty that held a high level of importance. Claire recalls this task as the most fascinating and immersive news story of her career. Temporarily living on the Island, Claire filed articles published in media spanning News Corp newspapers, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and Vanity Fair.
Now working as deputy editor and columnist for The Sunday Telegraph, Claire is honoured to hold a position with a paper that is so significant to her.
“Dad, as a copyboy and cadet, worked for both papers (the Daily & Sunday Telegraph) across seven days,” Claire says. “I feel really proud to work for that paper.”
Recalling her father’s Telegraph times with joy, she laughs and goes on to tell the story. “Back in those days it was owned by Frank Packer, so I grew up hearing great stories of Frank. If he had a bad day at the races on a Saturday, he would come in and sack everyone and tell them ‘You’re all bludgers get out, you’re all sacked’. They’d all go down to the pub and wait for two hours for the editor to come down and say ‘OK come back up’ – and they’d continue working for that paper. It’s a paper with an amazing rich history and it’s also part of my family history, so I’m really lucky.”
As a journalist, Claire says three things get her through the tough days: humour, respecting the deadline, and a genuine love for news.
“I think we’ve got the most incredible privilege, of when something’s happening in the world, our job is to go and check it out. We’re so lucky,” she says.
Claire also holds a position on the advisory board of the Walkley Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism.
She believes it is a privilege to have a place within a panel that recognises journalistic work across all media platforms. “It’s very daunting actually, all these decisions that we make are just human decisions, and criticism of journalism can be a bit like criticism of art. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
Claire is delighted to play her part. “The Walkleys are incredibly prestigious, they’re the elite awards for Australian journalism. I think at News Corp Australia we’ve always felt that we don’t get our fair share of Walkleys, that it tends to favour Fairfax and the ABC and for a number of reasons, News Corp journalists get overlooked – I think that is changing, and we did dominate the finalists last year.”
There’s always time for one last call
She is a perfectionist: “On every story there’s a point at which you can stop making calls and you have to say ‘OK I’ve finished now’. The story is finished because the deadline is approaching. But, I’ve always found that it’s always worth making one more call when you reach that point, when you think ‘OK that’s probably enough, I’m done now.’
“I always force myself to make one more call. Whether it’s one more short interview on the phone, or just checking one fact. I’ve never regretted making that last call. It is always worth doing.”
Though falling revenues and job cuts across the print industry are causing widespread pessimism, Claire is adamant her first love will persist. So where does she see herself in 10 years?
“I would love to still be working in print. I love consuming TV and radio, but I love print. I know in my heart that print will survive – I think people are more hungry than they’ve ever been for written journalism. We as news organisations just need to work out how to make it happen, how to pay for journalism.”
Any advice for future journalists? “Work for free!” she says.
“People say it’s hard to get a job as a journalist now; it was really hard when I was that young too, but you stick your foot in the door, force your way in, and show how keen you are. By working for free and sustaining yourself with a job at McDonald’s, or wherever you have to do it, you will eventually get a job in a mainstream news organisation.
“[There] aren’t that many people who are that keen. I know now when we look for staff, it’s not easy to find people who are incredibly keen and are willing to do whatever it takes. So if you are, there’s a job for you.
“Don’t be shy. We’re all keen to have young people working for us.
“I’m 39, I don’t know what’s happening in young peoples’ world now, and we need young people in our newsrooms to tell us what’s going on. So it’s up to people from schools like Macleay to come in and help shape the media that they want. If you want the Telegraph to be representative of you, you’ve got to get in there and help us do it.” – Olivia Grace-Curran
Claire lives in Matraville in Sydney with her husband and kids, baby Suzanna and toddler Reg, who spend their weekends splashing around at the swimming pool or at a playground.
Top photo of Claire Harvey by James Mott.