UQ journalism student Sarah Richards to help shape media landscape

Until she attended a careers information fair, final-year University of Queensland journalism student Sarah Richards thought teaching art was where her future lay.

“I brought home all these career books and went through them all and journalism just stood out for me,” Ms Richards said.

Her path changed and now she is passionate about changing the way people with disabilities are written about in the media – driven in part by her own experience as someone in a wheelchair.

“I’ve been interviewed by media outlets, and I just hated how they wrote about me,” she said.

“A lot of the time they said that I suffer from my disability, or I’m wheelchair bound.

“They label people with disabilities, and there’s so much more to us, but the stories never represented that.

“If I can pursue journalism, I can change it and actually write stories that have a bit more depth to them, rather than those ‘inspirational’ stories.”

Even before graduating from her Bachelor of Journalism and Communications degree, Ms Richards is making her mark on the media landscape.

The 21-year-old won this year’s Queensland Clarion award for “Most Outstanding Final Year Journalism Student” at a ceremony celebrating quality journalism in the state.

“It’s overwhelming, but a really exciting experience, and I feel really ready to get into the industry,” she said.

Ms Richards set her sights on studying at UQ after visiting the St Lucia campus.

“I had a really good experience at UQ,” she said.

“The majority of the classrooms are accessible and the way the lecturers have treated me as well – I really respect.”

While studying for her degree, Ms Richards has also been working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“It was obviously a bit overwhelming at first to work for the ABC, but I felt really well equipped and confident I’d learned how to write the stories and produce them,” she said.

Journalism lecturer, Dr Richard Murray says Ms Richards’ work has been “outstanding”.

“When I look across our cohort of graduating students, there are so many coming through who are going to have the capacity to shape journalism in the future, but none more so than Sarah,” he said.

“She knows what it’s like to struggle and has been able to use that to fortify and strengthen the work she does.”

Dr Murray said it was important people with disabilities, along with other minority groups, were encouraged and supported to enter the media industry.

“My colleagues and I at UQ are determined that those voices be heard, and the only way that can happen is to be part of it,” he said.

Dr Murray said the University had been very proactive in improving accessibility and making sure students with a disability were accommodated.

“If there’s one thing Sarah has shown over the last few years, it is that adversity can lead to such outstanding results and she will now begin to shape the narrative,” he said.

“So, what I would say to prospective students is – get involved.”

UQ is celebrating inclusion and student belonging as part of Teaching and Learning Week 2021.

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