Six of Queensland’s most promising young horsemen and women have been taken out of their comfort zone for the last four weeks.
The sextet were the latest intake of industry participants to undergo media training thanks to the continued sponsorship of lifetime harness racing enthusiasts and supporters, Kevin and Kay Seymour.
Chloe Butler, Alex Cain, Zac Chappenden, Matthew Elkins, Jonah Hutchinson, and Taleah McMullen spent three Mondays in August at the Channel 7 studios at Mount Coot-Tha, and then the course wound up last Tuesday (August 25) at Albion Park.
Tutor, Jillian Whiting, said the media training was about improving confidence in on-camera live and recorded interviews.
“We want these young stars to be fantastic ambassadors for harness racing. We definitely took them out of their comfort zone in the early sessions, putting them under lights in a Channel 7 studio.
“Then it was wonderful to see how confident they all were performing on camera and answering questions in the final session on location at Albion Park,” Whiting said.
“We are really proud of everyone, and how they embraced the experience. They all made great improvements – though some love being on camera more than others,” she added.
Over the four workshops Whiting said she spoke to the students about the language they used, how they spoke, and how much energy you needed to give to be an engaging communicator.
“They are also important life skills that will benefit them down the track. For us, coming into their world at Albion Park was amazing. We loved seeing them in action doing what they love. Such great young people and it was a joy to work with them,” Whiting said.
Training was also scheduled for the studios in Sydney, but Covid19 restrictions put a stop to that.
The Seymours sponsored the ‘Young Guns’ initially, which launched Brittany Graham’s career in broadcasting, and the current half dozen are the second intake.
Seymour said he was proud to be sponsoring the six students again. He remembers vividly the first crop of youngsters that went through his course.
In fact, in 2017, Brittany Graham, a business management and marketing graduate, was offered casual work by Sky Racing. She’s now one of the best harness racing journalists in Australia.
“Brittany has gone on to carve herself a very nice career as a broadcaster. She is also a quality horseman, but now she has another career to fall back on.
“She is undoubtedly the success story of the Sky courses so far. She is very articulate and does a fantastic job for Sky Racing,” Seymour said.
Graham, who attended the recent course, elaborated on how she became one of Australia’s best racing presenters.
“I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the Sky Academy back in 2017, thanks to Mr Seymour’s generosity.
“At that time, it wasn’t a career path that I had considered, and if it wasn’t for the gentle nudge that Kevin gave me to give it a go, I certainly wouldn’t be in the fortunate position that I am in now,” Graham said.
Graham attended the course and was rapt with the development of the students.
“I just went along to have a chat with the juniors. It was great to visit the Channel 7 studios once more and catch up with Jillian Whiting and Suzanne Stark who were actually my first ever media trainers.
“Much like this year’s attendees, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to attend the course by the Seymours. I guess you could say it was the start of a new chapter in my career,” Graham said.
Seymour termed her a ‘natural’ in front of the camera.
“Brittany flew through her training and Sky liked what they saw. She’s certainly one of our best presenters now because she’s a talented horsewoman as well. “She has grown up with horses and she knows the subject very well. Kay and I are very proud of what she has achieved,” Seymour said.
“Hopefully there will be another Brittany come out of this course,” he added. He said the six participants were taught how to deal with the media, as well as journalism and broadcast presentation.
“I think the girls enjoy having a day away from the barn and getting to put the make-up on. I want them to be good, professional ambassadors for our sport. Brittany has been a great role model,” Seymour said.
“I have taken past participants to New Zealand and Kay and I are doing as much as we can to support the youngsters in our sport. We have also given away horses to help kick start their careers,” Seymour said. A story on those ‘give-way’ horses follows.
Here’s what the six had to say about their experience:
Chloe Butler: “I think it was a good experience for us junior drivers as it will help us with our interviews, I enjoyed it and learnt a lot. We had a great group, so it made every minute worth it.”
Alex Cain: “The course was a wonderful experience. The people were friendly, professional and very supportive, and we gained great new skills which will help us for a lifetime. I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. I’ve always been interested in the media. I have media certificates from school and have worked at 98.9 FM for two to three years previously.
“I actually applied to do media studies at University, but then I had to care for a foal born in December and since then horses have been my life. I learnt a lot and can’t thank the Seymours enough,” the former Trinity College student said.
Zac Chappenden: “The course was really good for us. It was good to learn how talk properly in front of cameras. I really enjoyed it, but I’m pretty set on a driving career, but it definitely did open up for something in the future if I did have to.”
Matt Elkins: “It was a great opportunity and an eye-opening experience that was only made possible because of the Seymours. I really enjoyed it and believe I have walked away learning a lot.”
Jonah Hutchinson: “It was a great experience and helped me a lot with being more confident in front of the camera. From the first day where I could barely talk in front of the camera to the last day where I was confident, and the words just flowed out instead of messing up every second sentence.”
Taleah McMullan: “We had three Monday’s at the Chanel 7 studios working with Jillian Whiting and Suzanne Stark. They taught us to be more confident on camera and how to present ourselves in a way that portrays how we want to be seen in the media.
“The overall experience was fantastic. We all learnt so much and definitely left feeling more confident talking to others in day to day life and on camera as well. Jillian and Suzanne were both wonderful and got the best out of us.
“They also came out to Albion Park last Tuesday and filmed all of us on camera showcasing everything we’ve learnt. We were very lucky to be able to have worked with them and thankful for Kevin and Kay’s generosity in allowing us to have this opportunity.
“We are all so appreciative of what Kevin and Kay have done for us. This was such an awesome opportunity for us all. I have been around horses since the day I was born, and I now have another skill to call on.”
The main theme from the six media trainees was “thank-you”. They all expressed extreme gratitude towards Mr and Mrs Seymour, and the course tutors, especially Whiting.
So, who is Jillian Whiting?
The 49-year-old mother of two was born in Mackay, and moved with her family to Brisbane. The shift enabled her brother Chris to attend University and so she could attend high school in Brisbane.
After graduating from the University of Queensland, Whiting took up a position as a research assistant in 1991 with Seven Brisbane where she later became a reporter and weekend news presenter for Seven News.
Whiting joined Nine Brisbane in 1996 as a reporter and soon became presenter of the weekend editions of Nine News Queensland.
She became co-presenter of the weekday news with Bruce Paige in 2001; together, they took the bulletin on top of the ratings in Queensland and were presenting at the time when the September 11 attacks took place.
Whiting later returned to presenting on weekends following the birth of her first child.
In 2006 she became presenter of the Gold Coast edition of Nine Gold Coast News after production moved to Brisbane, and soon after assumed role as presenter of Extra, Nine's local tabloid current affairs program.
In December 2008, Whiting resigned from the Nine Network in Brisbane.
In January 2009, Whiting returned to the Seven Brisbane where she became a presenter for Queensland Weekender and a fill-in presenter for Seven News Brisbane.
During recent years Whiting has been a presenter with Brisbane radio station 4BC and a columnist for The Courier-Mail. Whiting is currently involved in media consulting work which has included establishing her own media consulting business.