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Why my late mentor the incredible Anne Dunn is still on my resume

/ Nov 19, 2012 6:46AM / Print / ()

One of my dearest mentors passed away this year, but I can't bring myself to take her written reference off my resume. Dr Anne Dunn taught me to believe in radio, and her career was proof that a woman's intellect can take her anywhere. She was a legend in ABC, BBC and SBS radio and television. She was a professor at the University of Sydney, where I studied to be a journalist.

If I conduct myself professionally with a sliver of her integrity and wisdom, I'm a seriously happy journalist.

This is not so much a belated obituary, as a tribute to a woman whose advice I sorely miss. I've been investigating the gender bias on talkback radio for Women's Agenda, and I wish I could interview her. She'd be the perfect person to chat this through with, and I don't quite know how to match her logic when it comes to feminism and media ethics.

I've accidentally started writing Anne an email several times since her death, only to remember all over again that she's not there to receive it. I've drafted questions I'd like to ask her, and imagined her answers. Do I speak out about the lack of female presenters on radio? What do I do when my own set of ethics feels compromised? What would you do, Anne, to balance to male-to-female ratio in radio? What did it mean to you, to succeed in a male-dominated medium? Did you feel marginalised? Would you use the word misogyny? Am I heading in the right direction?

When I was editing the Sydney University newspaper Honi Soit – a publication Anne dutifully picked up each week in solidarity with her protégées – I was threatened with legal action by a prominent media tyrant. My first instinct was to run to Anne, to check my article against her moral compass. "You know, Kate, the word 'allegedly' here and there wouldn't go astray. Just as a safeguard. But you have my full support and confidence, and don't let it worry you. You come to me if this goes any further, and we'll work it out," she said. Truly, it was that gentle faith she had in me that gave me the strength to stand by my convictions.

I used to joke that I'd download Anne's lectures and play them at bedtime, because her voice was so soothing. Of course, there was never any need to download the lectures because I never missed one. Not many students ever did. The elegance and passion she brought to her teaching was unparalleled. It was a privilege to hear her explain radio to us, and a joy to see such a powerful woman share her knowledge to prep the next generation of journalists. The industry would be a better place if we had more Anne Dunns.

Anne was one of the only ABC lifers to leave broadcasting for a career in academia. Her research on the digital transformation of the ABC was invaluable to an industry (still) going through a jarring metamorphosis. In 2004, she completed her PhD on policy and audience construction in ABC Radio news. She was a unanimously respected academic in her field, holding such positions as the president of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association, and of the Journalism Education Association Australasia. She lectured at The University of Sydney, Charles Sturt University, the University of Western Sydney, and the Aarhus University in Denmark. She served as associate dean and later pro-dean of the arts faculty at Sydney University, and chair of the Media Communications department.

So you can see why her take on women's place in radio would be so helpful now. No one else has Anne's intimate, comprehensive knowledge of the radio industry in Australia. She was a rarity, not only in her kindness, but in her artillery of talents. Few broadcasters choose to become academics, and few academics care so much about the ethical constitution of their students. In fact, I barely felt like her student – she was a friend, a mentor, and an infinite source of wisdom.

In her capacity as an educator and manager, she was an incomparably kind leader. She had a way of calming fiery stakeholders in any discussion, maintaining the integrity of faculties, and uniting staff and students.

She was noble, dignified and generous. She proved that you can achieve great success, and keep your politeness, gentleness and charm. We could all do well to be a little bit more like Anne Dunn.

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