Telum Talks To: Heidi Han from Cultural Perspectives

Telum Talks To: Heidi Han from Cultural Perspectives

By Cindy Paskalina Kweesar

Telum Media spoke to Heidi Han, Communications Consultant at Cultural Perspectives and former Mandarin Editor at The Australian, about her career, diversity and representation in the media and communications industry, and challenges in the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) space.

Tell us about your career in journalism, and what inspired the pivot to communications.
I embarked on my journey in journalism, fuelled by a childhood dream that persisted even after I came to Australia as an international student majoring in Accounting. My articles on the experiences of international students caught the attention of a Sydney-based Chinese community media outlet, leading to a five-year journey as a community media journalist. Over the next seven years, I evolved into a Chinese Online Content Producer at SBS, joined The Australian as a Bilingual Reporter, and eventually became a Mandarin Editor, managing the first Chinese-language website for an Australian commercial media outlet.

The closure of the website last year marked a turning point in my career. Having worked across community, public, and commercial media, I transitioned into my current role with Cultural Perspectives, a research, marketing, and engagement agency specialising in multicultural communications. Here, I leverage my skills and experience to connect clients with CALD audiences and continue my enthusiasm for meaningful engagement.

In what ways does your cultural background influence your approach to reporting in journalism and storytelling in communications?
My cultural background, as a migrant fluent in the most widely spoken non-English language in Australia, has profoundly shaped my journalism approach and communication strategies. Navigating between cultures enriches my perspectives, enabling more effective communication with interviewees and diverse voices, particularly in contexts involving trade, politics, international education, and crucial events like the pandemic and elections - where communication is pivotal. These capabilities empower me to access deeper insights and connect with people in a way that resonates with them, all while collaborating with editors and fellow journalists to ensure our reporting maintains both quality and relevance.

In communications and PR, my CALD background infuses authenticity, empathy, creativity, and effectiveness into my work. It not only elevates our message delivery, but also offers much-needed support to in-language media, influencers, stakeholders, and targeted audiences. Ultimately, this approach helps to cultivate enduring and productive relationships in the long run.

What challenges do journalists and communication professionals face when working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia?
Professionals in journalism and PR / communications face both obvious and nuanced challenges when engaging with culturally diverse communities in Australia. Language and cultural barriers pose obstacles to effective communication, both domestically and internationally. The lack of diverse voices and channels can perpetuate stereotypes, hinder authentic storytelling, and jeopardise long-term audience growth in today's competitive digital media landscape. It's not uncommon for community members to harbour hesitation or distrust towards the media, a complex issue that demands dedicated time and effort to address.

Another significant challenge involves securing acknowledgement of Australia's current and future identity as a migrant and active trade nation. This underscores the need for ongoing commitment and comprehensive strategies to address gaps in cultural diversity and communication approaches. I strongly believe that media / communication professionals with CALD backgrounds play a vital role in bridging these gaps.

How do you perceive the current representation of minority and multicultural voices in the Australian media?
The ongoing discussions on media representation, particularly the ABC's commitment to a more diversified reporting team, mark positive progress. However, providing the resources and support needed for CALD media professionals to generate a bigger impact and grow their careers remains challenging. The comparatively smaller scale of this sector also adds extra hurdles for CALD journalists to change jobs. Transitioning to PR / communications isn't that straightforward. I have seen many CALD journalists leave the communications sector or continue to bear staggering careers.

Having said that, I would like to applaud my current company's commitment to valuing CALD talents' transferable skills from past experiences and providing opportunities for people from diverse paths. This dedication enhances our communication and engagement with stakeholders, adding an important voice to our industry.

Another suggestion for improving representation is expanding our interpretation of representation. Especially embracing non-native speakers, international graduates and experienced migrant professionals. Australia's global aspirations demand talents with international perspectives, strong adaptability, and capabilities and access to overseas audiences to navigate challenges and manage relations effectively.

What advice do you have for CALD journalists and communications professionals who wish to thrive in the industry?
Embrace your cultural identity as a substantial advantage. Recognise the blessings of being different and being able to communicate across cultures. Broaden your skills, lean on your community and network for support, and never shy away from new opportunities. Working in such an intriguing sector has brought me immense joy, so I encourage you to maximise the experiences for yourself and for the multicultural voices you hold dear.

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