“Fashion is not our commodity,”says Australian news presenter and Today journalist Sylvia Jeffreys, speaking from the TV studio after a morning behind the camera. “What we are wearing is not our commodity as journalists and I don’t get upset when someone says they don’t like what I wear.”
It’s a bold opinion from a woman who daily receives feedback and criticism on the clothes she wears while doing her job. It’s a clear double standard, so elegantly pointed out on Today when host Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit for an entire year without raising an eyebrow, showing that male journalists are not put under the same scrutiny as females.“I am not turning up to work every day looking for positive feedback on my clothes,” says Sylvia. “I am there to do a job and as long as I am doing a good job I am satisfied.”
While the Brisbane native has mastered the art of ignoring critics, pacifying the emotions her job stirs up has been a lot harder – and is something she reminds herself about daily as she reads the news. “There are some mornings doing the Today show where there is one awful story after another and you’ve got to just keep on moving,” she confesses.
This was incredibly tough during one of the first major stories to cross Sylvia’s desk – the devastating floods of 2010-11. Reporting from Ipswich, 40 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, she received praise for her sensitive coverage of the events as they unfolded.
“You meet a lot of people along the way in stories like that who really move you and inspire you to keep doing the job you’re doing. Being in Ipswich, I met a lot of really tough people who were going through a lot of seriously trying circumstances, but they were devoting their time to helping others when they could have been helping themselves. It’s really motivating doing a job like that and knowing that you are having a positive impact, hopefully, on the people that you are reporting on,” she says.
She adds that because of the floodwaters, she was trapped in Ipswich for some time. “A number of people I knew were dealing with flooding in their own homes [in other parts of the state] and I couldn’t be there to help them,” she says.
Born and raised in Brisbane, Sylvia originally contemplated becoming a PE teacher, but an aversion to maths and sciences and a talent for English saw her opt to study journalism. She soon landed a job in a newsroom in Brisbane, where she immediately “caught the news bug”. Sylvia says she loved the adrenaline of it all, but more pressingly felt the significance of providing viewers with information about the world around them.
“It feels like something that’s worthwhile and at the end of the day you’re going to get pretty bored with something if you don’t feel like it’s worthwhile,” she says. “You get to meet the weird and wonderful in my job and that’s the best part of it,” she says.
“Sometimes the people who you don’t think are going to be the truly interesting, inspiring and motivating ones are just that.”
With this outlook it’s no surprise that Sylvia, 29, has swiftly risen up the journalism ranks, snagging the coveted newsreader role on Channel Nine’s Today in 2014.
“The beauty of our job is you have to go along to every interview, whether it’s Joe who runs the kebab shop in Blacktown [Sydney] or Sir Richard Branson, knowing you can learn something from everyone you meet.”
But flying by helicopter to Sir Richard Branson’s Makepeace Island near Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to interview the business magnate in person was a career highlight. “He gave me a tour of the island and he was so energetic and enthusiastic and charismatic that it made me nervous… we went into one of the bedrooms and he pulls out the Kama Sutra and points out his favourite page and then we move into the bathroom and he jumps into the bath and he’s like, ‘Why don’t you come and sit in here’ and I’m like, ‘No thanks, I’m in a bit of a hurry, mate,’” she joked.
“We sat down and did the interview and even though I was the interviewer I felt like he was in control the whole time… He was very generous and kind and not at all arrogant or intimidating, but just quick and hard to keep up with. We jumped back into the chopper and I had to pinch myself.”
Sylvia says she happily engages with Instagram and Twitter, relishing in the immediate feedback from viewers. “It gives you a great idea of what people want and what they expect from the show and what gets them interested and engaged, so it’s a great gauge in that sense. “You go in to work and it’s dark outside and you’re sitting under these bright lights and wondering, hoping that someone is out there watching. So it is wonderful when you meet viewers out and about and they tell you that they love the show. It’s encouraging.”
Sylvia also regularly turns to her mother, Janine, a social worker who acts as her sounding board. “Mum is a wonderful counsellor. She has always offered wonderful guidance and she is always right,” she laughs.
Despite waking every day at 3.15am to arrive in make-up and be on set at 5.20am, Sylvia still finds the time to give back to the community. She’s currently an ambassador for three charities, including Youngcare, which helps keep young Australians with disabilities out of aged care facilities. “Seven thousand young Australians are living with disabilities in aged care facilities and that’s unacceptable. These are people who still have so much life to live and should still have hopes and dreams and goals and aspirations, and it’s very hard to maintain those hopes and dreams if you are a 21-year-old living in an aged care facility,” she says. “It’s such a small thing that I do by hosting events or tweeting support or attending things for them or even just visiting the hospital – if that helps in any way shape or form I am going to jump at the chance to do it.”