Saimi Jeong never intended to be a journalist, but winning an award that recognises national excellence in journalism is certainly helping to change her mind.
Last July, Jeong was awarded Student Journalist of the Year at the 2015 Walkley Awards for her articles published in The Guardian Australia and Reportage – an online magazine by UTS’s Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
“I didn’t expect to win and I was completely shocked when the finalists were announced,” recalls Jeong.
Two of the young writer’s award-winning articles exposed corruption in the fundraising industry with insight from her own experience; the other took an engaging look at female bodybuilding in Australia.
“I worked at a fundraiser for a few days and thought it was dodgy, so I quit and found there was an opportunity to investigate it.
“The body building story stemmed from a photo I saw of my friend’s friend who participated in this sort of thing. I wanted to know why someone would be interested in shaping their body in that way because it looked like a lot of effort.”
All three stories, says Jeong, were first submitted as assignments. “Tom Morton, who taught me for Investigative Journalism, mentioned The Guardian when I was speaking to him about my second fundraising piece. I thought if he's mentioning it, it's worth having a go pitching it – so I did. I pitched the bodybuilding feature the following semester of my own accord.”
The award-winning journalism student, who finished an undergraduate degree in public relations at UTS in 2013, decided to take on journalism as an elective unit during the final semester of her undergraduate degree. The impetus came to Jeong during a public relations internship at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
“I really enjoyed the parts where we would have to make media alerts, go out and interview people and write a paragraph for the journalists.”
And her enjoyment of the elective inspired Jeong to continue her studies with a Master of Arts in Journalism.
“UTS has a good reputation for journalism and the lecturers are all practicing journalists or have recently practiced which is helpful because they understand the industry.
“The course has a balance of practical and theory where you get the chance to make quality work that you can showcase, but also get the theory to build your critical ability.
“That really helps you develop your practical journalism skills because it gives your work context and also helps you to understand why you do the things you do on the job.”
Currently, Jeong is a contributor to The Guardian Australia and a casual producer at The Sydney Morning Herald. She also recently interned with ABC’s Lateline and SBS.
“It’s nice to be in the newsroom to see how it works. I definitely feel comfortable in that environment,” Jeong says.
And she’s always on the lookout for new stories. “Even if I’m having coffee with a friend and they mention something interesting it’s just a matter of research to see whether it’s a viable lead or not.”
With graduation just mere months away, the young writer hopes to continue investigative journalism. “My main aim is to reveal more about areas that don’t get as much coverage and add new takes on old issues.
“It’s important for people to understand that those who are different from them are only human beings too.”