Lisa Wilkinson is undoubtedly one of the most recognised faces in Australia. After almost four decades in media, she is still one of the country’s most prominent working journalists. Not to mention a much-needed champion for ‘real news’.
She is always ready with a quick and well-informed reply, and is always up for a great debate. She is also vocal about having no tolerance for the ‘BS fake news’ that is rampant in today’s society. This steadfastness, among many other attributes, is what her a wonderful role model for young people.
Fighting for ‘real news’
“The public needs to pay attention to real journalism. And if you are a journalist, then look for the facts. Real journalism is about scraping away the top layer and finding what lies beneath,” she says. “It is what people are looking for, as there is so much rubbish out there. Never has there been a bigger need for great journalism than right now.”
Lisa Wilkinson thinks it’s a damn shame that Donald Trump made the term ‘fake news’ such a prominent saying. “Yet while there are journalists out there ready to compromise themselves, it’s going to thrive,” she says. “I mourn the affect that it’s having on so many young people today. And I pity the people who produce and peddle it. They need to take a good hard look at the culture they are creating. My attitude is to ignore it as much as you can and to put energy into the things that matter. Look at what is worth your time, energy and emotions. And you cannot rely on social media for worth and self-esteem. That is so self-destructive.”
Following her role models
This ethical approach to journalism was ingrained in Lisa Wilkinson from a very young age, and she had role models herself – people that she recognised as accomplished journalists worthy of her attention. In fact, she can pin down two overriding memories from her teens that reflect the woman she is today. “One memory is being the first kid on the block in Campbelltown to buy Dolly magazine,” she says. This set Lisa on the path to becoming the youngest editor of the magazine ever at just 21.
“And from a young age I was really into great journalists and social commentators such as Mike Willesee and Caroline Jones, A Current Affair reporter Sue Smith, Andrew Olle and Bill Peach from the ABC.
“I loved watching great journos like that on TV – I lapped up the daily news and current affairs. They were all really hitting their stride when I was at school. It just became a part of my DNA. After my HSC I scored a job at Dolly, and I remember thinking: ‘It doesn’t get any better than this!”
But it did get better – a lot better – for Lisa as the years have gone on. She has rocketed along a dizzyingly successful career path while also getting married to media personality Peter FitzSimons and raising their three kids. She was also appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016.
Juggling the two world’s of print and television
Lisa Wilkinson was still working in magazines (as International Editor-in-Chief of Cleo) when she had her first child. While on maternity leave with her second child, she was approached for a six-week gig on Australian talk show Beauty and the Beast.
“I figured I had a job to go back to, and what was the worst that could happen?” she says with a laugh. “I felt as though I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, and I really enjoyed it. I loved doing something new, thinking on my feet and staring down the barrel of a camera. At that stage I had no TV runs on the board so I was thrilled.”
For the next six years Lisa combined her role on Network Ten and Foxtel’s Beauty and the Beast and running her international magazine consultancy. By 2005 she was hosting Weekend Sunrise and had become a household name.
Then along came the TODAY breakfast show where she presented alongside Karl Stefanovic. 10 years later she has found her next calling as a co-host on The Project.
Joining ‘The Project’
“I love working on The Project as it gets to the essence of the important issues that have been around for the past 24 hours in an informative and entertaining way,” she says. “We want to put to air stories that truly matter, and we want people to be able to have a laugh as well. It’s the honesty of it that I love. And I am just so blessed with the opportunity to sit next to, and work with people like Hamish, Waleed, Carrie, Georgie, Pete and Tommy – they are wonderful human beings.”
On a recent airing of The Sunday Project, Hamish Macdonald met with Greg Jerry, a fourth-generation farmer whose business and family have been devastated by drought. It shocked viewers to learn that every morning many of his cattle have to be lifted to a standing position as they are too weak to lift themselves.
“Within 15 minutes of the show going to air, $120,000 had been raised for the family, as so many Australians were so moved by their plight,” Lisa says with pride and unconcealed sadness. “Aussies want to help whenever they can, and things like that really say something about who we are. Look at the recent tragic situation that unfolded in Sydney when a person went on a rampage. Instead of us responding with guns – God only knows what would happened if guns were allowed as they are in America – some brave people reacted with café chairs and milk crates. Those people stepped up selflessly. Both these situations sum up the Aussie spirit, and it makes me proud.”
Working travel into the mix
Lisa Wilkinson travels a lot for her work on The Project, and she reveals that she couldn’t be happier when she’s on the road. “Pete and I had our honeymoon in Noosa, and it was also the first place I ever went on a family holiday. I’ve been faithful to it ever since,” she says. “If I don’t get my Noosa fix, something is not right in world!“
Lisa is also incredibly passionate about the Red Centre. “The Northern Territory is incredible, and tends to be a bucket list destination for many. But a lot of people don’t get to their bucket lists, so I encourage people to get out there and do these things – sooner rather than later. “The moment when you see Uluru is just mind-blowing,” she says. “It looks like a higher being has placed it there. You look away for 30 seconds, and it’s changed! It really is the beautiful beating heart of this country.“
“Then there’s the Kimberley, the Great Ocean Road, country Victoria – Bendigo, Ballarat and Beechworth. When we were there recently, Pete and I both asked: ‘Who’s been keeping this place a secret?’
“That’s the beauty of Australia – there is just so much to see in this remarkable country.”
If you want to experience some of Lisa’s favourite destination for yourself, these stories will get you started:
Exploring Ballarat VIC: an historic getaway from Melbourne
A trip to Bendigo, Central Victoria