When I first started Jshool, I was taking a subject called Introduction to reporting & newswriting, where I was tasked with writing a hard news story.

I considered a few different ideas when suddenly one topic became front and centre across Australian media: Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape in parliament house, which she spoke of in an interview on The Project.

The story idea

The interview and the subsequent media attention sparked nationwide outrage about women’s safety in the workplace and wider society.

My Twitter feed was filled with discussions about the topic, and I followed in real-time as a plan for a rally in Canberra began to take shape. Soon after, rallies were announced across the country.

I found a link to a website that listed all the different rallies and spotted one in Brisbane on March 15th. I wrote an email to pitch the idea to my lecturer and to ask for tips on how to cover the event.

Preparation for the day

My lecturer agreed covering the rally was a good idea and gave me some advice on what information to seek out. Here’s a summary:

  • Interviews with people of different ages and genders, as well as both organisers and marchers
  • Taking note of messages on placards and t-shirts
  • Getting an estimated crowd size
  • Paying attention to the gender ratio at the protest

He also pointed out it was important to be mindful of how sensitive the topic could be for some attendees. Anyone who may have experienced the trauma of sexual assault themselves should not be pushed to relive their trauma, so it was important to tread carefully when interviewing people.

With all this in mind, I grabbed my camera, phone and notebook and left for Brisbane feeling ready to tackle the story.

Attending the rally

The rally started with a few speeches and chants at King George Square. From there, the protesters started marching through the city towards the Queensland parliament.

I started by listening to the speeches, grabbing some photos and following the marchers as they made their way through the city. Once the marchers got to Queensland parliament, I started looking for potential people to interview.

The protesters were mainly women but represented all different ages, so I found it important to show that variety in my piece. I spoke with women in their 70s who had travelled from the Sunshine Coast, as well as a group of students in their twenties. The hardest part was finding a male interviewee, as men were in the minority, and the first one I spoke to was hesitant to comment due to his gender. After I explained it would be great for balance he agreed to comment.   

When the event was wrapping up, I stayed around for a moment as I had spotted the rally organiser. I managed to get a quick interview with her which was a great addition to the story. She was also able to tell me the crowd size estimate from the police.

Writing the story

I headed home, feeling confident in the material I had. Once I was back at my apartment, I started going through my photos and transcribing the interviews.

I had already done a fair bit of background reading on the topic over the days leading up to the rally, so once I had interviews and observations from the rally, the story was already quite clear in my head. The main task now was to include core details about the day and to pick out the best quotes from all the different people I had interviewed.

Before submitting the story, I went through the numbers, spelling of names and other details once more to ensure it was accurate.

What I learned from covering the rally

Covering a rally was a great exercise in newswriting. As much as we can report events remotely now, going to the rally showed me that you can’t beat being amidst the action. It gives a different sense of the atmosphere as well as the types of people attending.

It was also a good exercise in approaching people for interviews. It can feel nerve-wracking to go up to people, but almost everyone I approached was happy to speak with me.

Writing this story, I got to exercise several journalistic skills from background research to conducting interviews and pulling the story together from it all.

Watching professional journalists work on the scene got me excited about my chosen study area. To think that I could report on what’s happening in the world for a living is an exciting prospect.

The final story from the rally was published on Newsbytes.