Skin in the Game: The pleasure and pain of telling true stories

Sonya Voumard

Skin in the Game: The pleasure and pain of telling true stories
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Skin in the Game: The pleasure and pain of telling true stories

Sonya Voumard

The daughter of a European refugee mother and a journalist father, Voumard recounts with aplomb her passionate but questioning relationship with journalism and the nature of the interview. There’s a disastrous 1980 university encounter with Helen Garner which forms the seed for her fascination with the dynamics of the interview and culminates in her connecting again with Garner more than three decades later to work out what went so wrong. There are the insights of a career played out against the changing nature of journalism including the author’s time as a Canberra correspondent. And there are revealing and tender portraits of Kings Cross, of growing up in suburban Melbourne, her father’s love of journalism, and a family journey to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre where her mother’s Australian life began.

Throughout it all Voumard is a sharpshooter, never afraid to hold a mirror up to her own life and practices as a journalist, to dig deep into the ethics of journalism and the use of power, and to sensitively explore the intertwined nature of life and work and personal relationships. The writing is at turns sharp, funny, direct, strong, and affectionate.


Sonya Voumard’s father was a ‘member of Melbourne journalism’s gregarious tribe’. At ten years old, when she was fascinated and spooked by stories of child abductions, her father laid out three newspapers on the kitchen table and they ‘talked headlines, layout and background paragraphs’. Aged thirteen, she was the subject of a scandalous profile about Melbourne teenagers written by ‘Jenny’ (Jennifer) Byrne. And when she finished high school, her godfather, the then director of news at Channel Seven, helped her get a cadetship.

This intriguing, eclectic book is both personal history and investigation into the endangered world of newspaper journalism. Her early immersion in the tribe, and her years as a cadet, press gallery journalist, Queensland correspondent and freelance feature writer stand out as discrete narrative strands that come together to explore the changing art and practice of journalism.

In the book’s most intriguing section, Voumard revisits a (never published) interview she did with Helen Garner for a university assignment: she follows up with Garner decades later, and persuades her to work with her on a collaborative, Paris Review style interview for Meanjin. By taking us inside the process of working with Garner, Voumard generously offers the reader layer upon layer of insight. The section on being interviewed by ‘Jenny’ is similarly fascinating, as Voumard the journalist belatedly turns the perspective back onto the now-renowned interviewer, whose immediate intimacy seduced Voumard’s teenage self into giving more than she meant to (as journalists do). Other particularly pertinent threads in the current climate are Voumard’s accounts of the blatant sexual harassment that was once endured as part of the job, and her sketch of the rampantly bed-hopping Canberra press gallery/political scene.

Skin in the Game would be a great read for any aspiring journalist, and has much to offer any reader interested in how stories are made.

Jo Case is the shop manager at Readings Doncaster.

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