Telum Talks To...Sarah Dingle, Business Reporter at ABC RN Breakfast
Tell us about your career so far, and what led you to where you are today.
I was very lucky in that I joined the BBC out of university with a cadetship in Canberra. After that, I sort of rocketed around different states and territories for the BBC for some time. I then won the Andrew Ollie scholarship with the ABC in 2010. Coincidentally, just after that finished, I had the bombshell moment when my mother told me that I was donor conceived, which kind of blew everything apart in my life.
When I sort of recovered from the initial shock of it all, I decided to start looking for answers. I thought, maybe I should take some steps to find out who my donor was, or what was done to make me, and that's how I'll move forward with my life. I pulled myself together and decided to "journalism" my way out of this problem, which led me to investigating and reporting on stories on the utility industry for the next few years. I eventually told my own story, the combination of which is Brand New Humans and the documentary, Inconceivable.
Your debut book, Brave New Humans came out in May 2021 and now the documentary "Inconceivable", based on the book, has aired on SBS. What prompted you to publish such a personal story?
Look, I won't pretend it wasn't excruciating, because it was definitely excruciating. There are several reasons why I’ve gone public with this story. One, it's too big to hide. I don't particularly want to hide something that big about myself any more.
But second, and much more importantly, I have the very strong sense that what has happened in donor conception in Australia and other places is very wrong. Nobody's talking about it and nobody recognises that. And it's only going to be made right if people come forward with their own stories of what is wrong. I ask people to do that every day in my line of work, so it would be hypocritical of me not to do that myself in this instance.
I really like the team I worked with to make this documentary, but it's still quite nerve-wracking putting yourself in their hands and letting them tell your story. And maybe that's very healthy for a journalist, to know what it feels like, because what we ask the members of the public to do all the time, is actually terrifying. So I think from that perspective, it has possibly been quite healthy.
What advice would you give other journalists who want to share their own stories in their reporting?
It depends on the nature of that story. I decided that it was worth doing because, using the litmus test, you look at it and go “if this happened to someone else, would I report on it?”, and “what if what happened to me, happened to someone else?”. I absolutely would report on it, because it's insane.
You discover that you are made by this machine, at a public hospital, that records of what was done to make you and many others were deliberately tampered with; nobody has been held responsible, the operation has disappeared into the private sector, the private sector itself was now worth more than half a billion dollars and counting, you know, that kind of stuff.
If someone came to me with that story, I'd be like, “absolutely, let's get it out there!” So I think that is what you need to apply when thinking about telling your own story. If it was someone else, would I consider it worthy of public attention?
What advice would you give to journalists hoping to get published?
First of all, I'm sorry that the industry is a hard one to break into, and is only getting more difficult. I used to get told by older journalists all the time when I was first getting into journalism, “don't get into this industry, it's dying," "do something else, blah, blah, blah,” and that was really not very helpful, because being a journalist was the only thing I wanted to do.
So instead of saying, “don't do this,” I'm going to say, "I'm really sorry it's difficult".
But if you have a good story, that will always win. If you have a good story, think about what platform it would be best suited to, and then pitch to that platform directly.
What's next from here?
I'd love to write another book. I don't have an idea as yet. If anyone wants to hire me and give me an idea, cool.
But in terms of donor conception stuff, I think I'll probably always be in that space. There's so much happening all around the world in terms of legislation, and advocacy that we don't realise. There are millions of donor conceived people all around us. You know, we don't even know how many there are in Australia, there are so many of us.
I think this is just the start of actually beginning to think about what we've done in making these people and creating laws to help them. As in laws that say “Yes, you may know your biological parents,” or, "Yes, you may know your family medical history," not from 30 years ago, but one which is updated on a regular basis.
The thinking around all this stuff is still very young in terms of authorities. I didn't know that at the time, but I think I've signed up for a very long argument.
How do PRs fit into your work?
I do find it very helpful when, for instance, someone in media relations will say, “Hey, there's this thing coming up”. Not necessarily an awareness week or whatever, but a particular motion at a company AGM, or some event in time that is in some way linked to the news cycle or is controversial.
I'm always interested in hearing about that stuff. Even if it doesn't get made into a story at the time, it's really good to know because it might form part of a future story. These are kinds of milestones of history, so I always find that very helpful.
Answers submitted by Sarah Dingle, Business Reporter at ABC RN Breakfast.