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The Journey of a Defence Editor: A University of Canberra Alumni Story

Countless journalism undergraduates dream for years about working as a field journalist or editor for an established media publication after graduating. The road to success in this competitive industry is difficult, exhausting and tear-jerking; but hard work, diligence and determination are the key ingredients into turning this dream into reality.

Katherine Ziesing is the Managing Editor at Australian Defence Magazine for Yaffa Media in Canberra. Katherine graduated with a double degree in Journalism and Economics from the University of Canberra in 2005.

Not only is Katherine an alumni, but she was one of the first student contributors to the Now UC website. Katherine has helped redefine feminist stereotypes in the workplace and continues to be a beacon for women in both Defence and Journalism.

A UC journalist was given the opportunity to speak to Katherine about her job at Australian Defence Magazine and her journey to becoming an Editor.

Katherine Ziesing is Managing Editor at Australian Defence Magazine Photo Credit: Naomi Thomas

Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in Journalism after graduating?

“I didn’t go into a Journalism job straight after graduating. I moved to Brisbane to follow my then husband’s job when I had one unit left of my double degree. I was living in Brisbane and I had no network. I always thought that after I’d graduated, I’d end up in Sydney or Melbourne, so I built my network there. I’m suddenly in Brisbane with no network and I’m thinking what am I going to do. I worked as a Medical Receptionist, for a home loans company and as a promo girl for a while because I couldn’t find any journalism jobs. I eventually applied for a job on Seek. It was for Yaffa Publishing and they were looking for a Staff Writer for their aviation, national security and defence section. I met about 60% of the criteria and I applied because I needed to get out of my current job at the time, it was driving me insane. I had an interview with the publisher and started two weeks later. I spent the first six months reading everything because my knowledge in those three areas was mainly what I read in the newspaper. I didn’t have huge interest about it at first, but the more time I spent, the more I got into it. I found the defence area the most interesting, as I put more effort in there. I had a great team and it was a lot of fun. It’s always been an environment where there’s no stupid question, it’s a learning-centric environment, which I really like.”

Q: How did your Journalism degree build the stepping-stones to your career?

“I was able to write clearly and concisely. During my Journalism degree, at the end of first year, students had to decide to focus on either print or broadcast media. I chose the print media stream and it was fantastic. I learnt how to really research and talk to people. I remember thinking back then how all my lecturers and tutors said how, if you needed something, to rely on your network. I thought how the hell do you get a network? How do you know who to ring? Who do you talk to? How does that magically happen? There was no detail on that. It was just you go to talk to your network and that’s where you’d get your leads and stories from. Now I have a network, I have a whole bunch of people I can call for various stories, subject experts and head checks.”

Q: Do you prefer being a field Journalist or an Editor? 

“I prefer a mix of being both a Journalist and Editor. In my current role as Managing Editor, I’m managing, more than editing and editing more than I am writing. I became the Managing Editor 18 months ago, and before that, I was just an Editor. I commission stories, sub-stories, put them in the magazine, in newsletters and online. As the Managing Editor, I have profit loss responsibility for the group I manage, and for all the brands that come under ADM. I used to write anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 words per week, now I’m writing 3,000 or 4,000 words. I’m essentially making sure everyone else feels loved, wanted, on the same page and knowing what’s going on. My job involves administrivia, which is an admin that seems trivial but makes everything come together, so there are pros and cons. I love writing, I still enjoy it very much, but I now do less of it in my current role. It’s a bit sad, but the pay is higher because you’re in a management position, which is nice. I get the best of both worlds.”

Katherine’s Sheriff Plaque Photo Credit: Naomi Thomas
Australian Defence Magazine Photo Credit: Naomi Thomas

Q: What article pieces are written for Australian Defence Magazine?

“I write a lot of highly technical pieces. Because of the space I work in, I’m not an Engineer in any description at all, but I’m writing about ballistic missiles, satellites, avionics systems, planes, combat management systems in ships, joint operations, border securities, cyber security and I am not an expert in any of these things. I have a network of subject matter experts I can call on. I can send them a draft of my article to and ask, “does this make sense?” Its come with time and experience by learning and being able to tell the difference between a sales pitch and an education campaign about a particular technology or concept. I’m lucky I get to work in trade media. I have a monthly print magazine, two weekly newsletters, a website updated daily and social media channels as well. My main focus is on print magazine. I have more time, as I don’t have to fill column inches everyday in a national newspaper. I don’t have to write an SEO optimised click bait headline to get readers. Our readers are in the space so we are specialist trade media. We write, live and breathe this stuff.”

Q: How did you become the Managing Editor at Australian Defence Magazine?

“It was the right place at the right time. I was originally hired out of the Brisbane office when I first started. My publisher asked me if I wanted to be an Editor and I laughed. I honestly thought she was joking. I was barely 25 and I’d been with the company a little over a year. My predecessor’s knowledge was encyclopaedic and the team of writers at the time were subject matters experts in their own right. I was young, female, inexperienced and in complete shock. I was a stunned mullet, so my publisher told me to think about it. The Canberra Editor had left the company a year before and became the Chief of Staff for a Defence Minister. I realised if I took the job my husband and I would have to move back down to Canberra. I told my husband the offer I had been given and he said “you wanted to be a magazine Editor by the time you were 30, you can now hit that milestone by 25. Off course we’re going.” I moved back to Canberra and here we are today. I did a Masters Degree in Strategies and Policy at the University of New South Wales at ADFA and was part-time for two years. I didn’t want to be the dumbest person in the room. I didn’t have a background in Defence, or as an Engineer so I worked my ass off so I wasn’t that nice, blonde girl anymore. I wanted to get that respect, get my knowledge base up and it was a really good experience. I even made some excellent contacts for my network during that time.”

Q: What advice would you give about becoming an Editor? 

“Be an absolute tart and get out there. Put your name on everything you possibly can and write as much as you can on absolutely anything. If you have a special interest, follow it. If you’re not exactly sure what you want to do and how you want to do it, just write because you love writing. You can publish anything everyday on something like LinkedIn or Word Press. Just get your byline, details and credentials out there. Volunteer for random stuff and pitch your stuff to websites. As intimidatingly horrible as it sounds, make a cold call and pick up the phone, send that email, go and meet that person for coffee. The worst thing people can say is no and the best thing that’ll happen is they say yes. Be open to learning; get your random skills up and running. Learn how to make that podcast, how to cut a video and do production titles. Given the current media landscape, you have to be able to do everything just in case. You’ll probably discover a tendency for one kind of reporting over another, but don’t be locked into it. Be adventurous and say yes more than saying no to any opportunity.”

If you’re currently interested in a career or an internship in Defence or Mainstream Journalism, Australian Defence Magazine at Yaffa Media provides internships and career opportunities in; journalism, editing, communications, sales, business development, advertising production, scheduling, design, website/digital development, administration and marketing.

For more information check out Yaffa Media’s Career and Internship website today.

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