Lisa Wilkinson: media mogul and sublime find

Regular readers would gather by now that we love a feature on super successful lady things who are breaking the mould in the very finest of ways. Today’s subject, Lisa Wilkinson, fits that bill. I have to confess, until recently, I thought Lisa Wilkinson was just *wince* another attractive, smiley, tv host, without any other feathers in her cap. I am glad to admit I was supremely wrong! (Both about Lisa and to be thinking like that at all really… so very few of amongst us are one dimensional!)

The story so far… 

Lisa Wilkinson began her career in magazines, answering an ad to work at Dolly in her late teens. Within a couple of years, at the tender age of 21, Lisa became the youngest ever editor of the magazine. After four years, at twenty five (what were the rest of us doing at 25!?) she was moved to Cleo where she saw the magazine become the highest selling lifestyle magazine per capita IN THE WORLD. Not surprisingly, she went onto become International Editor-In-Chief. All this before she was thirty. Holy shiznits.

Lisa Wilkinson Dolly Editor in 1984

Lisa in 1984, editor of Dolly

Lisa broke into tv in the late 1990’s when she started appearing on Beauty and The Beast. She got a gig hosting The Morning Shift during the 2000 Olympics and in 2005 began hosting Weekend Sunrise. In May 2007 she landed the role we know her best for, host of Today with Karl Stefanovic.

Lisa and Karl

Lisa and Karl, hard at work

Lisa and Karl uluru

Lisa and Karl fighting flies at Uluru when they covered Kate and Will’s royal visit recently

Lunch with Karl and Lisa

Lisa and Karl sporting cricket-style moustaches

Lisa’s also a Mumma to three teenage kids and married to columnist and ex-Wallaby (you know, football), Peter Fitzsimmons.

An extraordinary career (already!) by anyone standards, it was therefore little surprise that last year Lisa was invited to give the prestigious Andrew Olle Media Lecture; an event established in 1996 by the presenters and staff of 702 ABC Sydney in memory of their college Andrew Olle who died of a brain tumour.

This is when I sat up and really started paying attention to what Lisa be saying. 

Lisa’s speech got a fair chunk of media attention as she named the realities for women working in media, the unfortunate truth of women being judged on their appearance and then laid down an incredible call to action. Not surprisingly, she did so in a super eloquent, humble and funny way. I took 43 minutes and watched Lisa’s speech and feel very bloody glad for the privilege. If you want to do the same here it is:

If you don’t get to watch it, know this: Lisa’s amazing. Not only is it a powerful and completely engaging speech focusing on issues that really matter, Lisa delivers it with barely a glance at her notes. A gifted communicator, it effortlessly demonstrates why Lisa has enjoyed so much success in the world of media.

Meanwhile, some highlights from the transcript.

On her promotion to editor of Dolly at 21:

Now, it’s actually really hard for me to look at these pictures . . . and not just because of that yellow novelty jumper. It’s hard because I am immediately reminded of the sheer terror I felt at being handed such a huge responsibility as the editorship of Dolly at such a ludicrously young age . . . I also have to wonder, if in today’s image-conscious, camera-ready, Facebook-fabulous world, if that raw, still far-from-formed young woman with fear in her eyes and just a pure passion for working in magazines – would get that same break, today?

Because today’s media landscape, particularly for women, is one now so focused on the glossy and the glamorous it often eclipses and undermines everything else.

And it is everywhere.

I kid you not – even in preparing for tonight’s lecture, the most common question I was asked was not “What are you going to say?”, but “What are you going to wear?”

And when you’re a woman doing breakfast TV, you quickly learn the sad truth, that what you wear can sometimes generate a bigger reaction than even any political interview you ever do.

Lisa, calling it how it is.

Lisa, callin’ it how it is.

On women being judged on their appearance, and supporting other women:

Speaking of dirty laundry, as a woman in the media, it has long saddened me that while we delight in covering public issues of overt sexism – possibly the hottest topic in media over the last twelve months – the media itself can be every bit as guilty of treating women entirely differently to men.

And in terms of our audience, the cliché is so often true – it is women who can turn out to be a woman’s harshest critic.

After sharing several emails she’d received, demonstrating her very point, she continues:

And at the risk of overdoing it, I can’t resist delving into the mailbag one last time and sharing this email that popped up in the Today Show inbox one recent morning when Georgie Gardner and I were co-hosting the show:

Hello Producer,

I am totally fed up with the combination of Lisa and Georgie – they’re shocking together and its like listening to a chorus of cats.

Please replace Karl when he’s on “assignment” with a male partner for Georgie or Lisa. In fact, Lisa’s interviews are very biased and I think she should just stay at home with her husband and that stupid red turban he wears on his head. No doubt that’s where she gets her Tony Abbott interview questions from.


You know what’s coming next . . . yep, I couldn’t help myself.

Dear Joanne,

Really sorry to hear you feel that way. What’s disappointing though is that you think a grown woman can’t come up with her own questions in an interview with the Opposition Leader, and that for some reason she needs to ask her husband to write them for her.

Then again, I note that you have sent this email from your husband’s email address, so maybe that is the way things are done in your house.


Well, Joanne did write back to me. And what you may be surprised to learn is that Joanne told me she’s a former executive at Unifem, the organization charged with the care, protection and promotion of women.

She then mentioned that she was now running a new business and would I mind terribly, given I was a member of the sisterhood, giving it a plug on the Today Show.

And I’ve been receiving press releases from her ever since.

I despaired: how could a woman whose job it once was to change the culture of discrimination of women, feel OK being so anti-women? Was it the semi-anonymous nature of flicking off an email to someone she’d never met that somehow, in her mind, made it OK? And why are women so often the targets of vitriol? And why in so many areas of Australian life, are the rules of engagement still so different for women?

I despair that so many young girls are growing up, held hostage via social media to the views others have of them, long before they even know who they are themselves.

And, as a former magazine editor, allow me to speak on something I feel most passionately of all: I TRULY despair, every time Fashion Week rolls around and another parade of tragically skinny young women make their way down the catwalk. Every year! The designers blame the agents, the agents insist the girls are healthy, while the fashion editors hand the models yet another size 6 garment to wear in photos shoots because, and I’m quoting fashion editors here: it’s the only size the designer samples come in! Meanwhile, former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements admits that she’s seen models eat tissues to suppress their appetites so they can stay skinny enough to fit the clothes they’re required to wear.

But I say no more excuses! No more pointing the finger at others as the cause of the problem. We need a simple rule, a compact: we the editors of the women’s magazines of Australia feel that our duty is to present healthy images to the young women of Australia, and this far outweighs any other consideration. Therefore, we will not display in our magazines, clothes that arrive in a size 6!

If not our generation, then whose? If not now, then when?

Because so many young Australian girls are struggling. And this barrage of impossible, unattainable images is a big part of why.

Before she wrapped up, ever-gracious Lisa went on to pay tribute to many of her incredible female colleagues who had the privilege of being in the room to hear her speech. She received a lengthy standing ovation, some members of the audience in tears. Smashed it, Lisa!

Lisa, you are brave, humble, funny and obviously smart as a whip – you’re a sublime find! Thanks for using this incredibly unique opportunity to call it as you see it. Few have the perspective and experience you’ve had, your words carry enormous weight, we can only hope your call to action is heard.

♥ AS

What do you think of Lisa’s speech? 

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