‘The Sisterhood Is Really Growing Now’: Leila McKinnon On News, Feminism And Knitting

TV news veteran Leila McKinnon was our first Domain trailblazer, speaking in Sydney last week. Here are her takeaways.

By Natalie Cornish


TV news veteran Leila McKinnon was our first Domain trailblazer, speaking in Sydney last week. Here are her takeaways.

By Natalie Cornish

Leila McKinnon is a true trailblazer. She started as a junior reporter in Rockhampton in Queensland, where she would “ask politicians questions and they would answer the cameraman, because [as a woman] they couldn’t look me in the eye”. Stints in Cairns, the Gold Coast and working for A Current Affair in Brisbane followed before she joined Nine’s newsroom in Sydney in 2002. Now, she’s one of the most recognisable faces on our screens – having interviewed royalty, Hollywood stars and Australia’s elite, and hit the road as a foreign correspondent to cover the biggest stories on the agenda.

In the first of our partnerships with Domain to highlight trailblazing women, Leila talked surviving toxic news room culture, the stories that have stayed with her and why wishes she was Beyoncé last week in Sydney. Here are our favourite takeaways.

On starting out:

“In the early days in Rockhampton, I was 20 years old and I really had no clue. I’d do the cattle round and the court round and interview politicians. I would ask the questions and they would answer the cameraman. Men could not look me in the eye in Rockhampton, it was really strange. It wasn’t what I was used to going to university in Brisbane.”

On getting her big break in Sydney:

“I was working for nine years in television before I came to Sydney. I went to Cannes, to the Gold Coast and I worked for A Current Affair in Brisbane, and then finally I came to work in Sydney. All the women that worked at Nine were tough, they had to be tough. In a way I think of myself as a transitional person between the women who are there now and the women who came before me. I feel like I came through that gap on my own. [The news reporter I replaced] was off for good because she was pregnant, so I got her job and now that’s inconceivable.”


“You’re not a good reporter unless you’re sensitive to how people are feeling.”


On gender diversity:

“That was 2001, now there’s more than 20 part-time mums working in the newsroom. [Nine’s UK correspondent] Amelia Adams had just come off her maternity leave when she got offered the London bureau, I can’t even explain how different that is. What’s amazing is now women are supporting women and helping each other. Back then it was the early days and because there were so few women, and there was only a space for a few women, they were bringing each other down. So things are great.”

On surviving toxic news room culture:

“I think I just operated as an honorary bloke. I am quote a blokey person. I just regarded myself as one of the men, and even though it was a blokey culture, I didn’t feel discriminated against. I mean yes I did, you couldn’t have a child or do things that you can now but day-to-day I was one of the guys. And by the way it was a brutal horrible culture to men. I saw men go into terrible addiction or break downs because it was a horrible culture in general.”

On the stories that have stayed with her:

“There’s stories that are difficult physically. I had to go to Guantanamo Bay and stay in the barracks and cover a terrorism trial and get the link out – all of that is hard. To go to Cyclone Yasi and not have any power or food. Emotionally, I think the Boxing Day tsunami was the hardest. Interviewing people who are looking for family members, so many people died. You do your job, but I would go home and cry all night because so many people were affected and you can’t imagine what they’re going through. You’re not a good reporter unless you’re sensitive to how people are feeling.”


“I think it’s a real honour to tell people’s stories.”


On the words she works by:

“My mentor at work was Peter Harvey. What I loved about him was he’d do the same stories all the time: Anzac Day parade or the Easter show. And I asked him how he did that year after year. He said the stories are always different and the people are always different, and so I think it’s a real honour to tell people’s stories. I’ve interviewed heaps of Hollywood stars and royalty, but it’s the ordinary people going through things and being so strong and humble.”

On interviewing Prince William and Prince Harry during the London 2012 Olympics:

“I was 27 weeks pregnant when I got the first live interview with the princes. They were in my ear the whole time with what I could ask and what I couldn’t, what I could call them. You call them ‘Your Highness’ the first time and then you call them ‘Sir’. I thought those kids are younger than me I’m not calling them sir! As soon as they walked in, we went to an ad break. We couldn’t tell anybody, but we said we had something special coming up. The princes were so tall and gorgeous and in the most beautiful suits. I introduced myself, and we sat down. I just called them Harry and William and they were very nice. Harry was very nervous because he could see himself back on the monitors, and William asked me about my pregnancy. It all went well. Although we got a few complaints that we didn’t show the advertised cycling time trial!”

On identifying as a feminist:

“I definitely call myself a feminist. I think that anybody that believes in equal pay and equal opportunities is a feminist. I define it in the Beyoncé sense of the word. I’ve interviewed her twice. I love her, I watched her concert documentary and I cried. So proud to be a woman.”


“I definitely call myself a feminist. I think that anybody that believes in equal pay and equal opportunities is a feminist.”


On TV news now:

“I think the morning shows need a bit of a reinvention, but I think the news is more lively and current and interesting than it’s ever been because it’s competing with Twitter and Instagram and the internet. I’m old enough to remember that on a Sunday, you wouldn’t know what had happened in the world until 6 o’clock when you watched the news. Now we know what’s happening every second of the day. I think it’s good, it’s edgy, it’s raw, it’s being crafted.”

On falling in love:

“I moved down to Sydney after nine years in TV thinking I’m not going to go out with anyone at work, whatever happens. And that didn’t happen. David [Gyngell, her husband and former CEO of Nine] was very charming. I like him a lot, we’ve been together for 17 years. I just wish he’d worked somewhere else because that really complicated things for me. People wrote all sorts of horrible stuff and it wasn’t easy to be on the receiving end of all of that.”

On her secret Instagram accounts:

“I’ve got two! One on about my knitting and I’m doing a DJ course, so the other one is all about that!”