Women to Love

Veteran journalist Jo Hall on conquering the boys’ club

People were impressed she survived ‘til age 40. Twenty years later, she’s still dominating our screens.

By Kate Wagner
If you live in Victoria, Jo Hall is undoubtedly a familiar face. She's been gracing television screens for the last 38 years and doesn't have any plans of hanging her hat just yet. She recently celebrated her 60th birthday and is currently presenting Nine News' Victoria regional bulletins, broadcasting into homes from Ballarat to Shepparton.
In 1990, she became the first ever woman presented with the Thorn Award, a national award for journalism, but she doesn't think that's her greatest achievement. When her youngest kids—twins no less—were just toddlers, Jo began the precarious and stressful balance of raising four kids as a single mum with a successful career in a highly competitive industry.
The veteran journalist told us why she thought her career was over at 23, conquering the boys' club and why women finally being able to age on our screens is a game changer.

What would you consider to be your 'light-bulb moment' in your career?

I've had so many pivotal moments in my career, but I guess the first was actually getting started. I had always wanted to be a newspaper journalist so landing a cadetship in Melbourne was exciting.
I worked on little newspapers for 18 months and I loved it. Then one day my Dad showed me an ad in the newspaper for a cadetship at Channel Nine—they'd never do that these days — but I told him I didn't want to work in TV.
He told me I should go just to get interview experience, so I kind of begrudgingly went. About 500 people applied for the three roles and I was one of them. At the celebratory Chinese meal that night, I was telling my parents I wasn't sure if I really wanted it, and Mum said I had to take it.
Almost 40 years later, I'm still here!

Do you have a piece of advice for young women trying to get their start as a journalist?

Perseverance. I applied everywhere when I was starting out and just hoped that something would stick. If I didn't hear a reply from a place, I'd send off another application — I was relentless in my pursuit.
Journalism is a very competitive career so be prepared for rejection, but don't concede. Be determined in everything you do.
I was so determined to study the exclusive journalism course at RMIT that it's the only university I applied for, even though everyone was telling me I had to have backup options. Trust me when I say my grades were average, so I think it was the interview that got me across the line. There's a lot more to being a journalist than grades, young women should remember that too.

Looking back, what have you been most proud of during your career?

When I was 21, I landed my cadetship at Channel Nine and at 23, I fell pregnant. I was absolutely sure that meant my career was over. No women started a family and then came back to work, it just wasn't done.
It was actually my mum who said: "Don't worry about this. You're going to be fine. Women can have it all these days."
I have four kids now and it's been hard, especially when I became a single mum. My sister helped me so much, but being able to have a successful career with longevity as well as raise a family is definitely the thing I'll always be most proud of.

Is there a moment in your career where you’ve looked back and thought, ‘I wish I’d done that differently’?

Honestly, no I don't think I have. I know people say everything happens for a reason, but I think it does.
I started anchoring weekend news when I was a newly-separated mum with three-and-a-half twins, an 11-year-old and a 20-year-old who was still at home. The weekend news which was going absolutely gangbusters and my career was exactly where I wanted, but it was such a crazy time managing that with the kids.
My contract was up around the time the twins were starting high school and I was so happy I could be around for that. It was a good time for me to stop so I could be there for them and help through the teen years.
Now you couldn't pay me enough to work weekends, so it really taught me to appreciate every opportunity, but also enjoying life outside of work.

Have you experienced instances of sexism throughout your career?

The TV industry has just changed exponentially since I've been a part of it. When I first started there was one other woman working with me. There were very few women on TV — it was definitely a boys' club.
We started infiltrating slowly and yeah, I had to deal with comments about looks and the like — it was nature of the beast. It came down to knowing how to handle them, but I definitely never experienced anything criminal like what we're seeing in the wake of #MeToo.
It's a completely different world now, we have so many more female reporters and it's a far more P.C environment. But what's changed the most is seeing women actually age on TV.
We used to have a used-by date. I did a profile feature with The Age about my television career and it was titled "The Art of Survival". I was forty. Forty! Now we have Sandra Sully, Tracey Grimshaw and Kerri-Anne Kennerley flourishing on our screens. Older women are valued instead of shelved in favour of someone younger.

What would you tell your 13-year-old self?

There will be moments when you stumble or when you fall, but don't be too hard on yourself — that's life's journey. Learn and draw from it.
I've been in television for a long time and when people ask how I've managed to survive, I tell them it's because I always try to be the best person I can be, and that's sage advice for a young teen. Have a good heart.
Don't get dragged into office politics and gossip about people. I've never gossiped about a colleague and that can be hard; TV, like many industries, thrives on gossip. But by refraining, you'll earn respect and survive longer.
I'm a great believer in being sincere. As an anchor it's even more important — your audience can see right through insincerity — but it's important on a personal level, always be honest with yourself and other people.