Interview: Rebecca Wilson, TV Presenter and Australia's Hottest Sporting Gossip Columnist - 14th April 2003

Rebecca Wilson discusses sports, media and life, with the Editor and Director of Media Man Australia, Greg Tingle

What's your sports and media background?

I trained as a journalist at The Courier Mail in Brisbane after studying Bachelor of Arts with journalism major at Qld Uni (didn't finish degree because won the cadetship). After four years of general reporting, including some sport, went to Channel Ten Brisbane as Sports Reporter and became Sporter Presenter there as well. Stayed five years before covering the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and moving to Sydney's Channel Ten where became Senior Sports Reporter (mainly rugby league). Left there in 1992 to have first baby. Tom and then did a series of part-time jobs at Nine and Seven before joining ABC TV part-time as Sports Presenter and Producer. Had second baby, Will returned to the ABC before being approached to become Media Manager of the Super League. Did that for four years...became General Manager Olympics for News Limited and did a pilot for The Fat at the same time. The Fat was commissioned. Olympics finished and now Project Manager Rugby World Cup at News Limited. Also have weekly column in Sunday Telegraph which just started.

How and why did you break into journalism?

I never wanted to become anything but a journalist - my father is a journalist and my grandfather was a newsagent, so I guess we always had newspapers in our lives. I don't remember a time when newspapers weren't there. No option but journalism for me, so applied for cadetship at Courier Mail and was one of seven applicants who got the job (out of around 400 applicants).

What are your prime aims and objectives?

I think to be happy and to raise happy children have to be my primary objectives. I think that motivates everything I do. There is no point earning buckets of money and having a high profile if you don't have a capacity for happiness and loving. I am very spiritual in that I believe you get back what you put into your life and your relationships. I guess that's why I get up in the morning - to try to be successful in all of that. I work just as hard at my private life as I do in my public life.

How has the sports reporting and publishing business changed over years, and how do you see the relationship between online and offline media?

Sports reporting has changed like all reporting has - it is no longer seen as something you have to chase but something which should find you. To clarify that, I mean that journalists now are not taught that leaving the office and talking to contacts are really important. They are handed press releases or just get on the phone. I am an old-fashioned news gatherer. I like being out and about. I believe contacts are everything and nurturing them is very important. I also believe in attending live sport. What is the point of covering a match from the TV? You get so much more from being out and about.

The relationship between on-line and off-lie is one that I don't thing the media in general has really nailed yet. We all talk about it, but don't quite know how it will fit in to our futures or the futures of newspapers and television. My view is that we will always want a newspaper to tell us the news if we are mobile, time poor people (which most of us are) and that we will always want to watch television for that as well. On-line gives us so much information without really interpreting it - I want someone to edit my information for me, even though that can lead to media bias at times. Generally, newspapers and TV news perform a really important service - they explain in a succinct and insightful way what is important and why. Online doesn't do that yet because of the bulk of info they can churn out.

How has the media helped you, and hindered you?

The media is my life so I guess it's like everything - it is a help and a hindrance. Personally, the media has always saved me when I have thought there were times when I was down and out. I have always thought "return to your skill set and you will be fine", and that has worked for me. From a more general perspective, I guess the media is the centre point of my existence - it is my life, it is where I glean my info from and it is the focal point of modern culture. Of course it can be a hindrance - it is intrusive and influential in a way that is not always right.

What are some of the challenges you have taken on as Australia's hottest sporting gossip columnist, and how did the Sunday Telegraph gig come about?

The main challenge of a column like this is balancing the need for information with invading people's privacy. I made a pact that I would not lose any friends from writing this column. That just isn't worth it. However, I am determined to ensure the column is primarily entertaining and a great read. I am not interested in it being a literary masterpiece - I want people to say I read it and I loved it. So far, I think I have achieved that end. The hardest part is the ground you have to cover every week - it isn't enough just to contact the old diehards and hope they can give me enough to fill over 20 items. It doesn't happen like that and it shouldn't. I reckon I make over 150 calls to get the column up, and it is a hungry beast.

It came about because the guy who did it before, Phil Rothfield, became the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Tele. I used to help him out with the column, so the Sunday Editor, Jeni Cooper, thought it would be a nice fit. Certainly having a ready-made profile on The Fat didn't hurt!

How did the sport on "The FAT" come about?

The Fat came about because a couple of very clever people - Damian Davis, the Producer and Tony Squires, the host, wanted to do a sports panel show. Thank God they thought of me as the girl. Damian and I had worked together at the ABC on the early 90's. He just wanted me to be myself - a great brief - and the rest is history.

Why do you think Melbourne generally gets more live crowds that Sydney?

Melbourne is a sports-mad place. It is also culturally very different from Sydney. Going to the footy or live sport is a big outing in Melbourne. In Sydney, sport has to compete with the harbour, outdoor activities like the beach, the massive distance you have to travel to get anywhere in horrendous traffic and a general feeling that staying at home is less of a dogfight than going to the footy. If you are born and bred in Melbourne, you used to go the footy and STAND UP for four hours! Now at least you get a seat - luxury...

What's the most interesting story you have ever reported on?

God, there are so many and you tend to remember the more recent ones. I think being part of Super League (from the other side), was the most interesting time of my career. I thought I was taking on a sports media role. I was actually taking on a highly political job which was a
Classic example of sport and politics mixing. Everyday was interesting. Everything that came up was a challenge. I have to say I have never learnt so much in one job as I learnt there from really bright and interesting people. I think it made me a better journalist and a better person.

What responsibilities do you think professional athletes have to the community and as role models?

They have huge responsibilities, like it or not. They are the classic Australian role models and they really have to behave accordingly. I am really hard on this and don't give much leeway because I have two sons who believe sports men and women are the stars of the world. They are sad and bewildered when they are badly behaved. They are highly paid as well, most of the time. The Wayne Carey affair really proved to me how important good behaviour is at that level. When it is on prime time TV, and you are telling your sons what he did, it gives you a big jolt.

Do you think there is too much pressure on Australian athletes in regard to what they do of the field?

No. We are a sporting nation and rely heavily on our sporting performances for national pride. Like it or not, and debate it all you like, that is a fact. We expect our sportsmen to do their best - and I believe they mostly do. The pressure can be enormous but that comes with the territory. That is not to say winning is everything - I mean is there a better example of a great athlete than Raelene Boyle who never won a gold medal. This woman is a national treasure and she was a perennial silver medallist. It is the way she conducted herself which we love so much. Adam Gilchrist walking was another example. I thought that was fantastic and fair-minded and everything that is great about Aussie sport (though my Fat colleagues disagree!).

How do you think the credibility of sport has suffered in the past few years and what do you think the solution is?

It hasn't. Sport is still up there as our number one past time, badly behaved athletes or not.

What other journalists do you respect the most?

I love my father (naturally), Bruce Wilson, who is European correspondent for News Limited. He is a great newspaperman who can write absolutely anything from rugby to war. He writes beautifully as well. I also love Jennifer Byrne because she is a clear thinking TV journo with a newspaper background. Her writing style is lovely. And I think I would have to say Col Allan, the current Editor of the New York Post, who used to be Editor-In-Chief here. He can be a bastard, but my god he has a great sense of a good story.

What gives you the edge?

I think any journo will tell you that hard work gives you the edge. Being your own hardest marker helps as well. I am very tough on myself and always trying hard to be better than I was yesterday. I am a great info getter!

Have you ever received a death threat? (don't answer if not comfortable)

Yes, heaps. Goes with the territory. Sometimes they are really sinister, though. Super League was the worst for that - threats were constant.

What's the wisest piece of advise you have ever been given?

There are a couple...My beautiful grandfather taught me to always be the best that I can be - you are the benchmark and you compete against yourself to become a better person. My mother taught me the importance of love and never losing sight of what really matters which is how you give and receive love...and my 11-year-old taught me to never, ever give up.

What words of advice would you give an athlete looking to secure sponsorship?

Be a boy! Girls have real trouble getting sponsors.

What's the best and worst example of sportsmanship you have seen or covered?

Gilchrist for walking was best. The worst? Shane Warne trying to fib his way out of trouble was one of the worst.

Sam Newman and Eddie McGuire....good guys, clowns or both?

Sam a clown. Eddie a clown but a clever and likeable one.

What are the best and worst characteristics of:

1. Wayne Carey?...Great player. Rest is bad and you know what they are!
2. Shane Warne?...great bowler. Rest is bad and ditto Carey.
3. Anthony Mundine?...great athlete, likeable in spite of himself but sadly misled and badly managed.

Do you think the media has been fair to Dawn Fraser over of the years? Why or why not?

Yes I think so. Probably more than fair. Dawn is an enigmatic person who has rarely stayed out of the news for long, but that was her fault, not the media's. She is a difficult person to know and to really take a liking to because she can be so difficult. The media has never denied her the status she deserves as one of our living national heroes.

What would you like to make public knowledge about Scott Volkers?

The whole story if we haven't already heard it.

What are the greatest success stories and areas for improvement in the Australian Sports Commission?

Swimming great success. Room for improvement is understanding that, even thought the swimming model worked brilliantly, the ASC continues to deny sport the funding it deserves.

Who is Australia's best news piece of sporting talent, and why?

That's hard....maybe Jana Pittman. She just might become an Olympic champion. Or maybe Liesl Jones - she has got the mongrel in her and I like that.

How do you manage the balance between sports reporting and having a social life, or do you find there is a certain cross-over?

My entire social life is spent watching sport with the kids, with The Fat crew or watching sport at the pub. I am such an exciting socialite!

How much fan mail and "hate" mail do you get, and do you get to read it all?

Lots of fan mail and share of hate mail but not too bad. Like either because shows people watching/reading.

What is the biggest complement you have ever received?

Within the context of work, I think that a majority of men love me because I am a woman who knows about sport. I work really hard at knowing it. And women are not threatened by me. Rather, they are impressed that I take the time to know my business. Personally, the best compliment is from my kids who tell me all the time they love their mum!

What role do you see traditional media playing in covering in sport, and what are they doing right and wrong?

Traditional media cover sport brilliantly - on pay and free to air TV and in newspapers. I mean I couldn't improve that much really because everyone is always rising to new challenges and conquering them. The technology in both newspapers and TV is amazing now.

Who is the most controversial figure in Australian sport, and why?

Shane Warne...for very well-documented reasons.

How do you draw the line between what is sport and what is a pastime? Eg darts, golf, chess etc

My definition of sport is when there are no engines involved. When you involve machines, you take away the power of the sportsman to compete on equal footing.

Do you think women should be barred from any sport?


Should surfing be included as a sport in the modern Olympic Games, and why?

No. Too many flunky sports are in the Olympics now. I don't even think triathlon should be there because so few people compete in it. I mean, we are a great surfing nation, but only about four or five other nations are as well. I think the Games should look at cutting sports, not adding them.

What is the most prestigious sports journalism award in Australia?

The Australian sports star of the year.

What sports do you enjoying playing or covering the most, and what bores you to tears?

Love watching any footy, cricket, racing, tennis, swimming. Like playing boxing, running, swimming. Hate watching most golf, motor sport and netball (sorry, loved playing it and just can't watch it too much).

What is your star sign, and are you true to the characteristics?

Capricorn day away from Sagittarius. Yes, I am determined, solid, outgoing and a homebody. The Sag side loves parties and socialising, so tick all of those boxes too.

What's your view on gambling in sport? Got any hot tips?

Love gambling in sport and any official who says they don't is a mug. Of course people are bet on pro sport. I reckon Lonhro will win the Doncaster (so do about a million Aussies!).

What is the funniest sporting moment you have ever had and / or covered?

Funny is something in the moment that passes quickly. The Fat is full of funny moments relating to sport and naturally I can't think of one right now.

What are the greatest sports moments of all time?

Winning the America's Cup is NOT one of my great moments. Damian Oliver winning the Melbourne Cup, Australia winning Bledisloe last year, Queensland winning any Origin match, Steve Waugh's century in Sydney, Cathy Freeman winning gold, Raelene beating cancer.

What other information would you like our readers to be aware of?

Isn't this enough!!!!

What are your future goals?

To be happy and to raise two good kids.


For more of Rebecca, tune into The Fat on ABC TV