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Ruby of the Month: Tracey Spicer

04 April 2013

The lobby of the Sydney Four Seasons Hotel is alive with a late lunch crowd at its new The Woods restaurant where the chef’s specialty, grilling over flavoured timbers, has diners buzzing.

Tracey Spicer, TV news anchor, radio presenter, media and presentation trainer, speaker, writer, advocate for and convert to social media, especially its short form news abilities (Twitter, for example), is meeting to talk about her successful reinvention.

For the moment she is in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom where she’s speaking at a Mater Hospital lunch for St Patrick’s Day, raising funds for a state-of-the-art, life-saving support machine for premmie babies. (Her first child was premature and she knows how touch and go it can be in that situation.)

Out of the hotel’s Grand Ballroom a woman in a dazzling emerald green satin sheath appears, her upper body and head hidden behind a huge arrangement of long stemmed white lilies and magnolia leaved branches.

It’s Tracey. She apologises for being late, explaining that the ‘thank yous’ ran a little over time and orders a decaf latte. The flowers sit beside her like a sort of benign chaperone, and she gets straight into the ‘rights of women returning from maternity leave’.

“Where do I start?” she says. “I better keep this concise because it is a very, very long story,” she continues with a dry laugh, remembering her eventual sacking via an email by her bosses at Ten three weeks after the birth of her second child while she was on maternity leave.

“I was discriminated against because I’d had children. Life was made very difficult for me from the moment I was pregnant with my first child; there had been ongoing talk about being too long in the tooth and maybe I should think about behind the scenes – I was 37 – and comments like ‘why wasn’t I standing aside now I had children to let some of the younger people through’. I thought, I can either take this or I can stand up and fight, and because I am Bolshie I chose to fight.

“I’d seen a lot of women of my vintage who’d had careers of 10, 15, 20 years who’d never reached the ranks of management because once they were pregnant or had kids they were put on the softer stories or sacked or put on part time against their wills. I wanted to make the point that you can come back from maternity leave and have a strong and robust career.”

Following her legal action, Tracey worked out her contract and four days after leaving Ten – worried no one would take her on because she had dared to speak out against a major TV channel – she was offered work at Sky News where her new boss said to her: ‘you can pick the shifts you want that work around your babies’.

She says she’s never looked back and even though she believes attitudes are changing as more women reach the ranks of management and some men begin to see the light, she also knows through her own ongoing experience that discrimination, sexism and inequality persist.

As recently as October last year, following her Dear Mr. Misogyny speech given at a Women of Letters lunch, which was then uploaded online and went viral, Tracey received hundreds of posts and Tweets and emails from readers complaining to her about similar experiences to the ones she listed and wrote about in the speech.

The support from women and also men, who had stories to tell about their granddaughters, wives and daughters, confirmed that even if the status quo might be changing it’s often not fast enough.

She also heard privately from young women working in her old commercial TV stomping ground that much of what she had experienced still existed. It was disheartening to say the least.

“I love the digitization of the media. It’s the best thing to happen to media in decades for many reasons,” explains Tracey, enthusiastically gesturing; her face, body language, hands and movement very much a part of her visual method of communication.

“The fragmentation of mass media, the 24 hour news cycle and the rise of social media are all great for diversity. We’ve had decades of middle aged white males running and producing our news, and now, we have diversity of age, ethnicity, views, gender and background and that is tremendously liberating. The cherry on top is we also get globalization, the ability to connect and be part of world news in real time.

“I know traditional media is experiencing job loss and change, but I really believe that for every job lost on one side others are created in other areas. If you have the written and verbal communication skills, if you can research a story, have the networks and more importantly the knowledge of how to use those networks then the new world of media is waiting.”

News is about currency and the growth of digitized news, short form news, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, provides us with a quick, constant flow. Such currency is important but what of analyses and investigative reporting – those more resource hungry but equally important parts of the information and knowledge cycle?

“There are tremendous long form sites coming out and I also see print media remaining for the provision of analyses,” says Tracey, who also believes we will see “increasing divergence of these long and short news forms leading to the growth of great and worthy examples of each” for the consumer to follow.

“I am not a Spin Doctor. I don’t do crises communications,” explains Tracey of her media and presentation business in which she works predominantly with NGOs and charities that complement her interests and beliefs in sustainability, health and children.

Media training and presentation, two quite different skills in Tracey’s books, remain important and much sought after commodities in the marketplace… perhaps even more so now the new world order – the 24-hour news cycle, the fragmentation of mass media and ubiquity of social media – make us all “possible news fodder”.

It’s no longer just the CEOs and CFOs who need a strategy. Companies and their employees are a measure of reputation and need support and security in a world that’s constantly ‘on’ and connected.

“In today’s communications world,” Tracey starts, “it is responsible and sustainable business practice to provide a cogent message for your employees about the company and the brand and their place in that so they are aware and on top of what is expected of them.

“I haven’t given training in the social media space until quite recently. I was approached by One Small Planet and Republic Consulting to put together a social media training module for corporates. I’ll be gathering in other experts and seeking their guidance around uses and misuses and combatting those,” Tracey explains.

“My use of it is getting more proficient. I have 11,000 followers on Twitter and I’ve made my own mistakes. I once Tweeted something very ill considered and ended up receiving death threats for it. In the end, you have to use common sense and whether you are an individual or a company, it’s about providing and having boundaries and learning what can be done inside those boundaries. A simple robust social media policy built around the company’s message provides everyone with the support and security they need, as well as a level of transparent and appropriate involvement.”

Twitter and Instagram: @spicertracey