Caroline Jones’s twinkling eyes and soft voice belied the grief and loss that underpinned what she called “a gift,” making her an attentive listener who had a deep connection with those going through hardship. It was a gift she generously shared with the Australian public for over 50 years as a journalist, presenter, storyteller and mentor.
Jones, who died last week at the age of 84 after a fall at her Sydney home, paved the way for women in the media. Her own pioneering work in the industry encouraged others to follow with confidence, and her role as a staunch advocate for young female regional journalists nurtured careers and lifelong friendships. “There is a special place in heaven for women who help other women” was her motto and the roadmap along which she lived her life.
Jones became the first female reporter for ABC TV’s current affairs program This Day Tonight in 1968, working in a male-dominated newsroom alongside stalwarts like Mike Carlton and Bill Peach. She won a Logie award for a tough series about slum landlords and their tenants in Sydney, but learned a difficult lesson in the process.
“I imagined that” [my reporting] would change things for the better… Some tenants were evicted [as a result]† I thought it was a big failure on our part and a hard lesson,” Jones said in a 2013 interview.
Jones’ mother committed suicide in 1969, an event that deeply moved the young journalist. It sent her on a lifelong quest to find meaning in the world, revealing her life purpose.
“My newly awakened compassion, born of suffering, was only embryonic, but it was a gift because it allowed me to listen to people and, at times, it allowed me to be close to someone else in trouble.” she wrote in her memoirs. An authentic life.
In 1972, Jones became the story when it was announced that she would be the first woman to host Four Corners. Unprepared for the furore that ensued, she had herself photographed wearing a mini skirt and lipstick. The photo appeared on the front page of a Melbourne newspaper under the headline “Brains Now, Beauty Next”. Ironically, that front page now recalls the barriers Jones helped dismantle.
Jones most enjoyed her work with Women in Media. She joined the organization as a co-patron in 2017 and the Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist’s Award was launched a year later. The annual award aims to give women regional and national journalists the opportunity to experience Canberra’s media and political landscape first-hand in a supportive mentoring environment. Jones dedicated himself to supporting the young journalists and caring for them as if they were family. A pregnant Queenslander who went to Canberra over the winter received a package of thermal underwear in the mail, another was given money to help with babysitting.
Jones was born in Sydneyon January 1, 1938, the only child of Nancy and Brian James. After her father left home to serve in World War II, Jones and her mother moved to the rural New South Wales town of Murrurundi to live with a grandmother and aunt until he returned. Jones’ grandfather, Ashley Pountney, had been editor of some of the first newspapers in northwestern NSW and Jones always felt like she had “ink in her blood”, but it wasn’t until she was in her mid-20s that she got a job. at the ABC. in Canberra.
Jones worked as a host of Radio National’s Search for Meaning and interviewed several people across the country. The program led to Australian Story, which she hosted until her retirement in 2016, though she continued to tweet about it with viewers Monday night. Jones wrote a series of books based on the radio show and explored the emotions surrounding her father’s death in her latest book, Through a Glass Darkly.
Jones became a beloved and respected mentor and friend to many young women journalists in regional and rural communities. Recipients of the award in her name have expressed nothing but admiration for the way she raised and supported them, and often their children.
Elly Bradfield, a Queensland regional reporter and recipient of the 2020 award, said: “One of the saddest things Caroline ever said to me was that in her day you had no choice; you had either a family or a career, but you couldn’t have both.
“I’ve always felt like I want to stay in the regions, but there aren’t many incentives to do that. Caroline’s support has helped me realize the importance of what we do. She was almost a cheerleader from the sidelines and had a real soft spot for regional journalists. She picked us up and always made time for us.”
Others also benefited from Jones’ generosity. She taught primary school children to read in western Sydney and was personally involved with Mahboba’s Promise, a charity that helps Afghan women and children. In 1988 Jones was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her contribution to radio and television journalism.
Jones married and divorced in her early twenties and had no children, but her legacy is indelibly imprinted on a generation of young women in the media.
Part of the Women in Media award is the opportunity to ask the first question at the National Press Club, and a highlight for the winners was seeing Jones beam from the front row and proudly watch the question being asked . When 2022 winner Brooke Littlewood of Western Australia was announced in the Press Club this week, a bunch of flowers were placed on Jones’ empty chair.