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'First Time I've Been So Open': Narelda Jacobs Looks Back On Her 20-Year Career At Network 10

Narelda Jacobs is no stranger to 'firsts'.

She was the first Indigenous female anchor on Australian commercial news, and the first person to come out as gay in her ultra-Christian community.  But there's a bunch of other 'firsts' many viewers don't yet know about.

On Saturday, the journalist and presenter celebrated 20 years at Network 10, after relocating to Sydney to embark on her next career chapter.

Based in Perth for much of her career, first as reporter and then anchor of 10's 5pm News since 2008,  the veteran journalist shared what it's like to be a trailblazer -- as well as the "firsts" she wished had never happened, and the many more "firsts" she would never take back.

The First Time She Walked Into Network 10

In May 2000, Narelda landed her first job at Network 10 in Perth after a short stint as a regional reporter.

"Working in mainstream media wasn't something I thought I was capable of, but my university lecturers convinced me that I could make a career in mainstream television," she told 10 daily.

As an Indigenous woman who was newly divorced, LGBTQI+  and a single mum with a toddler, Narelda didn't think she ticked any boxes.

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It's been such a joy being in Sydney for the build up to the biggest event on the LGBTIQA+ calendar.

"It was a surprise to me not only to have gotten a job in a regional newsroom, let alone walking into metropolitan television," she said.

And she distinctly remembers how she was dressed on the first day of the job.

"It was a daggy cheap suit -- most of my wardrobe was from op shops -- it was all I had, but I didn't care, I was there."

The First Time News Took A Big Emotional Toll

"One of the biggest scenes I ever went to was the car crash that claimed Peter Brock's life," she said.

Australian motor racing legend Brock was killed in an motor racing accident in 2006.

Tributes to Peter Brock were placed at the site of his fatal crash in 2006 in Gidgegannup, Western Australia. Image: Getty Images.

"As a journo you cover a lot of deaths and a lot of crash scenes -- it was a scene like every other scene in one sense, but it was so significant it had drawn people out of their homes to come and lay flowers for him," she said.

Brock's death reminded Narelda that journalists aren't immune to grief and sadness, even if it is regular part of the job.

"It's a reminder that every one of those car crashes claims the life of someone who is loved, and it is easy to forget that," she said.

 The First Time She Regretted A Moment On Live TV

Like any journalist, Narelda is thrilled (and relieved) to have never featured on the ABC's self-appointed journalism judge program Media Watch. 

Narelda presenting in Perth. Image: Network 10

"Thankfully [I have] not [been on it], because as journos we watch it we all think 'oh please, please don't let this be the week'," she said.

But Narelda said that by no means has she had a blunder-free career.

"Oh gee there are so many," she said.

"I got caught out laughing at the wrong time -- that happened when there was an earthquake in China that claimed thousands of lives. I was kind of only being polite to laugh at someone's joke in the studio."

The news story was cut short to the surprise of Narelda and her studio colleagues.

"I came off really bad because it was my face on screen.  It's just a split-second decision that can came across as really insensitive," she said.

The First Time She Shared Her Opinion On Air

"It's not until you share your opinion or have a platform to be able to voice your opinions -- and that's what Studio10 has given me -- that you get backlash," she said.

She said for 19 years as a straight news reporter and presenter who never publicly shared her opinions, she felt largely free of criticism and personal attacks.

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"It did come as a real shock to read some comments on social media that had racist overtones and homophobic overtones, because I had been protected from those things for so long," she said.

Despite the shock and some pain, Narelda said the conversations need to happen and she feels privileged to be part of them.

"The conversations I was able to have on Studio10 about Australia Day and in the lead-up to Mardi Gras -- I mean there are no regrets," she said.

The First Time She Posted On Instagram

Narelda's deeper trajectory into public life continued in late 2019, both with the emergence of online trolls targeting her, and then her first public Instagram account, which she admits didn't come as second nature.

"It's so hard -- it takes me like 45 minutes to post something.  How do people do it quickly?" she laughed.

Modern audiences want greater and more constant access to personalities, and this meant Narelda got a crash-course in online life.

"I have always been so professional and never let anyone into my professional life," she said, but all that changed when "Sarah Harris took a photo of us and tried to tag me and realised I didn't have an account".

Her co-hosts rallied to get Narelda 1000 followers in one day, which she thought was "too ambitious" -- but now she enjoys sharing things she is passionate about on the platform.

"It's the first time I have been so open."

The First Time She Realised Her Daughter Doesn't Watch Any TV News

Interestingly, Narelda's daughter Jade is teaching her things about the media industry -- its changes and challenges.

The 25-year-old recently admitted to her mother that before she calls, she quickly catches up on news and current affairs so she doesn't seem 'out of the loop'.

Narelda and her daughter Jade. Image: Supplied

"I often will do a quick pop quiz to see if she has been paying attention or been consuming any news," Narelda said.

"Audiences have really changed. I don't think my daughter watches any evening news, which horrifies me, and any news she does get is mainly from Instagram stories and a little bit from her Facebook feed."

The First Time She Truly Understood What's Great About Her Job

All the great things about her job could likely fill a book (or endless TV broadcasts), but looking back, she said one thing stands out -- the great workplace she's always been a part of.

Narelda said sometimes she has "survivor's guilt" for being employed in television for 20 years, at a time when the entire news industry faces continual changes and restructures.

"It's a great network, and every wave of redundancies that we have -- after a few years, we start to see those people coming back. They love 10 so much they want to come back," she said.

Narelda with her Studio10 co-hosts. Image: Network 10

For her this was a sign of a great workplace, and the fact that many women at Network 10 are in leadership positions, instills hope in its future growth.

"I would love to see more people of the Islamic faith, more black people working in newsrooms -- so many more minorities would be great in newsrooms, to really tell stories from their perspective and to connect with our audience, which has changed so much," she said.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au