She’s spent the last 18 months interviewing and taking photos of the weird and wonderful inhabitants in eclectic Sydney suburb Newtown but journalist Jo Wallace says some of the yarns she hears still shock her.
Wallace launched Humans of Newtown blog, inspired by the famous New York site, in March 2014 and her book with the same name is available all good bookshops next week.
We’re sticky beaks here at B&T so we sat down with Wallace and gave her a taste of her own medicine…
You say that some people reveal their innermost secrets to you – are there any that have made your toes curl?
Oh yes! The story about the guy who went to jail still chills me to the bone! I’ve had to rewrite that story a few times for the book and for online and I still struggle with it. I also interviewed a young girl who shared her story of where she was in life and so much of it was a reflection of certain aspects of my life that I’d experienced when I was younger. It was highly confronting, took me by surprise and shook me but I had to get it together and stay focused to get the best interview with her and push my feelings and thoughts aside. That was a big learning curve for me, that you just never know what to expect!
What is it about Newtown that you love?
It’s unique. I have travelled quite a bit and I truly believe there aren’t many, if any, places like this in the world. Anything, and everything, goes! You can walk down the street in your pyjamas and no-one would bat an eyelid.
Can you ever see yourself moving?
Hard to say but I’m happy where I am for the moment. Everything’s fluid and communities change. Newtown has changed a lot over time and will continue to change.
What was it that inspired you to become a journalist?
I love a good yarn! I was always told when I was younger that I was a good storyteller. I’m also very inquisitive about people – what makes them tick and what complex creatures we all are. Everyone has a story and, ironically, I think in this busy world we tend to connect less with each other on a deeper level because of the amount of social media. Social media is great but I think it has its downsides, like missing out on chance meetings with people, like when you ask directions or just stop and chat to someone. The irony is, the project has brought more people in our community together through social media!
What is it that drives you still?
People! I love meeting new people and it’s great with work, life and all sorts of things, just having so many more connections. I’ve loved meeting so many more people in the area – far more than I ever have before and that’s a great thing. More important though, I love the stories of connections that others have made as a result of reading my blog.
What has been your biggest thrill workwise to date?
Hard to say! I work in comms for the NFP industry so I love when we complete a worthwhile project such as fundraising or government lobbying etc, knowing that what you do makes such a big difference to others. Creatively, I still always get a kick out of seeing my work published or broadcast on TV/radio. I love the end-to-end part of media. Coming up with ideas and finding the right people for a story, doing a great interview (and photography) and then seeing that all come together in a good story that people respond well to. It’s the age old art of storytelling. It never dies and I still always love it! Also, I have to say the book and some photography exhibitions I’ve done such as the recent one for The Aroma Festival at The Rocks, which was commissioned by Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. I also love the dynamic nature of the industry and absolutely the spontaneity of media!
What gets your goat?
Trolls! Seriously, get a life!
Do you work with many advertising or creative agencies?
I have a bit yes. Through my work I’ve always engaged with a lot of agencies over the years – either working for them or hiring them. I’ve worked with a few recently with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, as a direct result of the blog, and get great feedback on the project. The book is too new for comments yet but there certainly has been a lot of interest.
What was it that inspired you to start the book and blog?
The colourful and loving people that make up our wonderful community here. Every day I would see something a bit out there and felt that I always wanted to write/photograph a book about it. I kept procrastinating for about five years or so until I came across the hundreds of ‘Humans of’ pages around the globe and thought, of course, at least start online to get the content together and go from there. The founder of Humans of New York has, on several occasions, encouraged others to start up their own pages and so I decided it would be a great way to start getting my content together. I really didn’t think many people would be interested and I’d probably only have a handful of supportive friends that would follow my page but at least it would be a start. But it became even more than that. I hoped a few responses would help shape the content for a book that I would do one day but the comments and feedback, not so much to me but more so to others, that appeared on the blog became an integral part of the project – and we’ve included some of these in the book too as that is an important part of it. Communication is two-way and discussions take place so they needed to be in there. Plus some people came out with absolute crackers of comments! I’m now part of a global ‘Humans of’ group which has been another added bonus. To be approached to publish the book was a dream come true.
What has the feedback been like from your ‘subjects’?
Always really positive. They’re usually happy to be interviewed and enjoy the feedback from others. Especially for sensitive topics, I try to monitor comments. I’ll leave healthy discussion to take its course but will ban trolls and block any personally nasty and unnecessary or irrelevant comments.
What’s your biggest career achievement to date?
Through media contacts and comms being able to fundraise, in some instances millions of dollars, or through government lobbying being able to attract significant funding for important causes. And the book….!
What’s your ultimate goal, and what plans do you have in place to get there?
Well, the book was one and that’s happened so it’s hard to say. I’m in the middle of that at the moment so sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees! I think there is room for expansion for a project like this. I’d love to see it come to life more. Social media and the media landscape itself is changing so much and I think what Australians want from media is different too. We have so much around us in terms of media that I think people want something with a bit more depth. Everyone’s a journalist and/or a photographer now so I think we’re seeing a swing around to quality content. Not just from a content marketing perspective but true storytelling that not only connects people but achieves something worthwhile. I’ve studied TV journalism so would love to do this for TV/video mediums. Not just random interviews in the street but stories with a cause.
How do you think Australian creatives differ to the rest of the world?
I think we can be mavericks and we’re not afraid to take risks. We’ve got our own unique style and there are some great creatives/artists and new mediums out there, but I also think Australia misses the boat with some creative outlets as well, just because we don’t have the sheer volume to support it like in other countries such as Japan or the States. I also like that we can take bits of everything and slap on a fresh new approach to it as well. I think one area outside of the creative industry that we’ve really excelled at that is in the food industry. Twenty or more years ago, Australian cuisine was abysmal. We’ve come a long way in so many areas because I think we have this fresh approach and we’re not afraid. That’s something I really feel when I’ve been overseas and I come back to Australia.