Yolunda Corduff, Journalist, by Greg Tingle 25th April
did you get your start?
was reading one of the women's magazines I bought
regularly and started to think about all the topics
I wanted to know more about that were never covered
in these magazines. I began to wonder why some topics
didn't get coverage and whether I could market these
ideas to the magazines I liked. At the time, I was
studying journalism so I decided to take a punt and
contact my favourite magazine. I was put through to
the editor and I pitched a story idea to her. She
liked it, commissioned it and I wrote and sold my
first story. I followed that up with a few more story
ideas and, although some were rejected, I found that
most of my proposed articles were commissioned. I
knew then that I could make a career for myself as
a freelance journalist.
Why did you choose journalism, or did journalism choose
Back in the late-80s and early-90s, I was working
in the HIV/AIDS Prevention Field doing health promotion.
In that role, I was frequently required to give interviews
to the press, often about difficult to discuss issues,
like the specifics of safer sex and reasons why we
needed to support marginalized groups in our society,
like gay men, sex workers, etc. As any seasoned PR
person will tell you, when you talk to the press,
you will often be misquoted, find the spirit of what
you've said has been changed and sometimes you'll
even been completely misrepresented. I found these
kinds of misunderstandings were commonplace and, of
course, very frustrating. After one such event, I
thought to myself that I'd be better off in the press,
than being a spokesperson, because I was sure I could
do a better job than the people I'd been dealing with.
I felt that I could interview people, write stories
and be more accurate because I knew what it was like
to be on the other side of the microphone. I knew
how it felt to be misrepresented and I cared about
the people and subjects I'd write about. A few years
later, I gave up my career in the HIV/AIDS field and
retrained to be a journalist.
What do you like most about
your chosen profession?
Being able to explore topics that interest me and
finding out the story behind the headlines. Newspapers
tend to only scratch the surface of most stories because
that's the nature of the beast -- they provide news
stories, in quick grabs, within a very short timeframe.
There's certainly a place for news, be it TV, radio
or print, however, to really understand an issue,
sometimes you need more time, more research and the
ability to write featured articles. That's what I
like most about my job, that I get to do that extra
research, go the extra mile, to find out and share
information that's lost if it were not for the investigative
Greatest professional and personal
I don't really think in terms of 'greatest achievements'.
For me, the story I'm working on right now is the
one I'm most interested in. Certainly, I've had stories
that were more popular, headlining features, some
in bigger selling publications than others, and I
could use these kinds of standards to assess my level
of achievement. However, to me these are outside factors.
Once I've written a story, who ever reads it and where
it goes from there isn't something I can control.
If it's a big hit, that's usually because the timing
of the story's release makes it very topical, rather
than it being a big hit because it was SO much better
than other stories I've written. Sometimes the story
I'm proudest of doesn't even make it to print, not
because it isn't great but for some other reason,
like being held over for a bigger, more topical news
story. Consequently, I think it's a mistake to use
commercial success to value your own worth as a journalist.
It's a factor but not necessarily a sign of your level
of achievement. As far as personal achievements go,
I think living your life the best way that you can
every day is my best personal achievement. It's about
how you feel inside, who you are and how true to yourself
you can remain -- those are the things that are important
to me and those are my greatest achievements.
From a media perspective, what
are the main differences between the United States
The biggest difference is the size of the market.
Making it in the US is making it big simply because
it's such a big market. However, when I've worked
for US publications or websites, I find that the editors
are much more controlling than their counterparts
in Australia. US editors tell you what they want,
how long the article should be, what angle to take,
what to say, etc. In the end, I often wonder why they
don't just write it all themselves, if they're going
to control so much of the creative process. Australian
editors are much more laid back. They still give you
a word length for the article and a few pointers but,
for the most part, the way you write the story and
approach the topic is very much up to you. I prefer
that level of freedom but I prefer the level of pay
you get when writing for US publications (yes, they
do pay better). Of course, there are many other differences
between our media and the US media, but mostly they
differ in style, commercialism and what sells best
in each marketplace.
What are the advantages and
disadvantages of living and working in the Blue Mountains?
I love the Blue Mountains, with the views that go
for miles, the nature, the village communities and
the slower-paced lifestyle. I live here because I
love to live here and that's the main advantage. The
main disadvantage is that you're two hours from Sydney,
so commuting is problematic, and sometimes you have
to commute to meet certain engagements and/or to work.
I've found, as a freelancer, it doesn't really make
much difference where I live, as I'm the one contacting
editors, proposing articles and doing all the leg
work to stay 'employed'. However, I'm very aware that
if I lived in the heart of Sydney, I could work directly
for specific publications and that has certain advantages
too. In the end, though, I don't want to work for
any one publication or media outlet enough to relocate,
at least not while I'm able to make a good living
in the Blue Mountains.
Do you get onto much local news
up in the mountains?
There's a local paper and I sometimes do articles
for them. I've also sold work to the newspapers in
Penrith, however, I'm not a 'news' journalist, I'm
more of a feature writer so I don't really push working
for the local news services much.
Tell me about your ups and downs
in the business?
The 'ups' are that I've been able to earn a living,
consistently, while retaining my independence and
being self-employed as a freelance journalist. Probably
the biggest down in this business, generally, is dealing
with work being rejected. However that doesn't bother
me as much as selling articles that are later censored
or never published. I have certainly had that happen
on several occasions and it's always a big down. Some
people don't think of it as much of a drawback because
I'm still getting paid but it really leaves a bad
taste in my mouth to write a really great piece, sell
it and have it never be published. Some articles don't
see the light of day because they are specifically
censored, due to Australia's very strict (and increasing)
censorship laws and practises, particularly since
the removal of the proviso that certain information
could be published for 'educational' purposes that
might otherwise be censored. This one change has had
a huge impact on a number of my articles because I
often write 'cutting edge' material (which you really
have to do to make it as a freelancer). But it's not
just the censorship laws that control what gets published
and what doesn't. NSW has the strictest libel and
defamation laws in Australia (and possibly the world)
where truth is no legal defence for libel. That's
literally unheard of in most other Western countries
and it means that anyone with a public reputation,
such as politicians, entertainers and the wealthy,
can sue publications for articles that are truthful
but expose negative issues about the individual. It's
also the reason why so much of the media focuses on
small business people who are doing the wrong thing,
like the mechanic who overcharges, rather than what
big business does. One wonders whether huge corporate
collapses, like HIH and the like, would occur at all
if the press were able to do its job of providing
unbiased news coverage without fear of being sued.
What have been the most emotional
draining stories you have worked on?
Probably the most emotional draining stories are those
that involve interviewing people with sad tales to
tell. Two in particular spring to mind. One where
I interviewed two women who were HIV-positive and
sharing their stories to warn other young women of
the very real dangers of unsafe sex. Having worked
in the HIV/AIDS field, it was a story that was very
close to my heart and I really felt for their situations.
Another very hard story was one where I interviewed
the mother of a drug user. She was very candid about
the heartbreak she felt and it's hard to talk to people
about things like that and not share their pain
What inspires you?
Joy and happiness inspires me and I can often find
both in the world that surrounds me. All you have
to do is look and be open to it.
What do you like to write about,
and what is your best piece?
I like to write about issues that other people aren't
covering, that I think the community should be aware
of. For example, I've done a number of stories on
how media violence affects developing minds, an issue
most parents really need to know more about because
when children are exposed to violence, it literally
shapes their brains. Some really disturbing studies
have come out showing that violence causes parts of
the brain to become over stimulated and over-developed,
at the expense of higher learning and the ability
to control emotional responses. In fact, there are
so many disturbing studies on how media violence affects
all of us, you would think this issue would be front
page news every week! Instead, because there are so
many vested interests involved, it's a hard topic
to even sell articles on, let alone get really good
coverage. After all, this is a subject most TV programmers
(and owners) don't want to discuss because violence
has also been shown to increase ratings and, in a
commercial media, ratings are everything. I even sold
an article on this subject to
Women's Weekly, which the editor was very keen
on but was later pulled from their schedule and has
never been published. It was probably one of my best
pieces but I doubt anyone will ever read it.
You write about subjects others
When and why did you decide to write
"outside the square"?
I basically started writing 'outside the square' because
that's what makes you most successful as a freelancer.
If you ring the papers and magazines with everyday
story ideas, they rarely commission these because
their in-house staff tends to write those kinds of
stories. As a freelancer, the story ideas you propose
have to really stand out to get the editors' attention
so I look for stories the 'average' journalist might
not think about.
What type of film scripts have you worked on?
I've worked on plays mostly, done a few commercials
and worked on some TV series proposals. I've also
written a script for a movie/documentary that almost
got up but in the end didn't. I find the film/TV industry
to be a bit of a closed shop and hard to break into.
It's also harder if you're not based in Sydney because
this kind of work tends to go to local newcomers,
rather than those living 100 km from the CBD. Having
said that, I'm keen to do more script work but not
keen enough to move to Sydney.
How has the internet helped
The internet is a very useful tool when you're a freelancer
because it gives you access to so many publications
and information. I mostly use it to research my stories,
though it's only good for preliminary research as
you still have to do a certain amount of leg work
and other research to really develop a story. In the
end, nothing beats personal quotes and information
from informed sources.
What is the best piece of advice
you have been offered?
The best advice I've ever had is 'not to give up'!
Whether you're a writer, an actor, a computer programmer,
what ever occupation or dream you have, it's important
to be tenacious, to keep working at it and not to
give up. The minute you give up on something, anything,
you lose. Perseverance may take a long time to work,
in some cases, but giving up ensures you won't make
it. That's not to say one should continue to bang
their head against a brick wall - you may need to
change your approach, think outside the square, even
modify your goals. But only losers give up and giving
up makes you a loser (which probably sounds much harsher
than how I mean it to sound).
The biggest misconception about
Well, I'm not sure if this is a misconception about
me or my website but it's the one thing that comes
to mind. I have a detailed website, which includes
a list of my published works and sample articles.
I set it up originally so I could refer people who
weren't familiar with my work to the website if they
wanted to know more about me. It's easier than faxing
through sample articles or resumes every time I'm
approaching someone new. This has been very helpful
when talking to editors and people I'm seeking interviews
from, especially since I write for many different
magazines, none of which employ me as a regular staff
member. However, I get many requests and e-mails from
other freelancers who all seem to think that my website
brings in business. The assumption seems to be that
editors spend their time surfing the net, seeking
good freelancers then get in touch to offer them work.
That is not the case at all! While I do refer people
to my site and very, very occasionally get offered
work because someone has seen the site, it's exceedingly
rare that editors contact me through the site with
assignments. In fact, the few times that I've been
contacted by an overseas editor seeking an Australian
journalist, they've usually got my name from someone
else (like an Aussie editor), not from surfing the
As for misconceptions about me the person, I guess
I just don't talk to people enough about their impressions
of me to know what the misconceptions are. Probably
the only one I can even think of is people, who don't
know me, thinking I'm famous and hanging out with
the 'stars' on my off time, which by the way isn't
true. While I have met stars and people sometimes
treat me like I'm a bit of a celebrity, the reality
is I'm just an ordinary person making a living from
home, without the glitter and glam that many people
associate with the media. At least that's my take
For more information visit Yolanda