Interviewers, Interviewed

We turn the mic on ABC journalist Nas Campanella as she speaks about her career, and how she's navigated it with a disability.

While you may recognise Nas Campanella as the voice of Triple J news, her career in media extends well beyond radio. Nas speaks with Et Cetera about her path into journalism, and how being blind has rarely stopped her.

What do you like most about your job?

I love that no day is ever the same. Working in news means I’m constantly learning and that I’m well informed which enables me to participate in conversations about a variety of issues with a multitude of people. Best of all, I feel privileged to be in a position where I can inform and educate young listeners about what’s happening in the world around them.

When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in journalism?

I grew up listening to the radio. I loved the way people talked, the music they played, it’s how I learnt about the important issues of the day. I had so much fun as a kid recording myself pretending to host my own program. My volunteer work in community radio as a teenager really cemented that that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

You learn so much by being in a newsroom environment, seeing things unfold

Did you have much involvement with student or community media during uni?

At university I wrote for several student publications and would advise others to do the same. You can never have too much writing practice. Having others edit your work is always a good lesson in working out how to produce clear, concise and compelling copy. I also spent four years doing unpaid internships, where I did everything from making coffee to finally having articles published.

The biggest piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting out is the importance of work experience. You learn so much by being in a newsroom environment, seeing things unfold and with so many people wanting to be in journalism having experience of any kind under your belt will always set you apart from the rest.

A lot of your work has been in radio, where listeners wouldn’t realise you work with a disability. How do people react when they learn, after hearing and reading your work for years, that you’re blind?

People are generally very surprised to learn I have a disability. I think this has a lot to do with the level of ongoing stigma in the community about the capability of people with a disability to work more than anything else. I’m confident this prejudice is slowly changing though through my work with the ABC. I’m regularly contacted for advice, to speak at events or to mentor young people. Having people with disabilities in public high-profile jobs goes a long way to changing negative attitudes and I’m stoked to be even a small part of that shift. On the other hand, I’m happy that people are surprised to learn I’m blind because hopefully it simply means I’m doing my job as well as anyone else could. That’s what I expect of myself and what I think others can expect of me too.

It can be difficult to score a job in journalism. Do you think you found it tougher because of your disability? Do you have any advice for young people with disabilities looking to get into the field?

I definitely found it tough to find a job because of my disability. People weren’t sure what I was capable of, often putting me in the too hard basket. There are still so many negative perceptions around disability employment and although we’ve made significant progress in the last few years as a society we’ve still got a very long way to go. Being confident, doing a mock interview with someone you trust and knowing a bit about discrimination legislation helps. It’s also good to have a strong and positive group of friends, family and mentors around you to pick you up when the chips are down or to celebrate with you when you do score the job of your dreams.

People weren’t sure what I was capable of, often putting me in the too hard basket

Most people will know you as a newsreader from Triple J. Can you run through how you read the news?

I use screen reading software called Jaws. It’s this little robotic sounding voice that’s loaded on to the computer and it scans everything on the screen and reads it out aloud in my headphones. I use the software to search the internet, read documents, send and receive emails. When I’m in the studio I have Jaws reading the news stories into my headphones and I listen and repeat what I hear. I also have another three streams of audio coming into my ears at the same time though. There are the grabs I play during the bulletin, a clock telling me when to start and finish the bulletin and my own voice coming through the microphone.

I tried to find you on Twitter and Facebook to no avail. Why aren’t you on social media? Is it tough not having a public profile online when most in your industry are active on social media?

No, it’s not tough at all. There are a few reasons I’m not on many social media platforms. I still have a strong belief in the power of traditional journalism and don’t feel the need to really have a social media presence. I have a public profile now but there are parts of my world that I’d like to keep private and when you play your life out on Twitter or Facebook those lines can very quickly become blurred. I’m regularly contacted by members of the public either wanting advice or asking me to speak at an event and sometimes it’s difficult to manage all of those at once so it’s best to keep any requests coming through one central line. I’ve also noticed the focus shift in the last year or so across the media landscape with greater importance placed on how many followers someone has rather than on the quality of their work. I’ve found that hard to comprehend. I’ll never say never though, one day I might find a use for it.

How might student journalists make contributing to their publications and radio stations a more accessible experience?

I’m hearing content makers talk about accessibility far more frequently these days which is fantastic. There are some really simple things to keep in mind for people with disabilities. Caption or describe photos, headings are helpful on a web page, make sure spelling in closed captioning on tv is spelt correctly, any names of people and their job titles should be written into a tv script and subtitles should be voiced as much as possible. It’s a difficult balancing act to manage the visual appearance of a webpage with making it accessible for people with visual impairments, but keeping content clean and simple with not too many images is the best advice I can offer. So many news websites these days also contain videos that automatically play when you click on a story which is distracting for someone using screen reading software. It’s hard to listen to a video playing over the top of my program reading out a news story. It’s best to imbed an audio player feature into the story so the user can identify the video and play it at their leisure.

I’m a fan of being bolshy and making things happen

You’ve spent many years at Triple J, an important space for young Australians. How do you think young Australians can most effectively push their perspective and be heard on issues affecting them?

I think young people can have their opinions heard more easily than ever before. I’d encourage people to write blogs, take part in protests, write letters to politicians, create petitions, volunteer at local charities and find good strong mentors or groups where they can mentor others. Some people are lucky enough to have things just fall in their laps, but I’m a fan of being bolshy and making things happen. Seek out opportunities, if you can’t find a support group to help you solve a problem then create one, if you want a pay rise be prepared to work hard and earn it, if you want access to more training or opportunities push for them. Most of all, don’t be afraid to make new contacts, try something new, ask for help or put yourself out there. Confidence and enthusiasm really does get you places.

You recently went on a skills exchange project to further disability rights in Fiji. What was it like working in an environment where accessibility isn’t up to scratch?

I’ve travelled to many places around the world where accessibility is an issue. You become very resourceful. It might take me a bit longer to get somewhere because of difficult terrain or I might need a bit of help from guides but I always tend to manage. I always bring multiple canes with me in case others break. The real barrier is often not a physical one, it’s attitude. People always ask lots of questions, locals sometimes need reassurance that I can be independent and other times there’s just concern for my safety. There have been times where I’ve simply not been able to do certain activities because it’s not safe but that’s part of the challenge, knowing when to say no. What I love most about travelling to developing countries like Fiji is the change in perception after I’ve visited. I love educating communities about disability and feel a huge responsibility to empower people to challenge traditionally held beliefs about someone’s capabilities.

In Fiji, you also filed reports for television. Which do you prefer: writing, radio or TV?

Radio has always been my favourite medium. I love the immediacy and flexibility of it. I love the challenge of trying to make sense of a story in just a few lines and a grab. TV was fun though. For a long time I didn’t think TV would ever be something I’d be able to do but I’m so glad I was able to find the right cameraman to support me and make it possible.

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