Heading to Kalgoorlie to report on a fatal car accident, Channel Nine news reporter Rebecca Johns had no idea she was about to break the biggest story of her career.
“Camerawoman Jessica [Miocevich] and I started the day doing live crosses,” Johns recalls. “It was all totally normal. And then at the click of a finger, everything flipped.”
The death of Indigenous teenager Elijah Doughty the previous day had triggered intense emotions among locals. A riot was breaking out.
“We were smack bang in the middle with local people versus police,” remembers Johns. “There were bottles, bricks, anything that could be thrown, tossed around us. It was terrifying to say the least.”
Surrounded by angry locals, Johns relied on her training and experience to stay calm and focused. They continued to record as violent scenes erupted around them.
The iconic coverage went global.
Johns and Miocevich were recognised for their outstanding reporting at the recent WA Media Awards, winning the award for Best News Story or Feature – Television/Audio-Visual for their coverage of the riot.
“It was a standout moment in my career,” says Johns. “We knew what we had captured was very special.”
But it was the announcement that Johns and Miocevich were the joint recipients of the night’s most prestigious prize that left Johns stunned. The two won the coveted title of West Australian Journalist of the Year 2017.
“We had absolutely no idea the Journalist of the Year award was being presented that night, let alone that we were in the running for it!” laughs Johns.
“I was completely gobsmacked. And so, so proud, especially of our Channel Nine family. There was a big team of people who played a role in telling that story and putting it to air.”
Jessica Miocevich and Rebecca Johns with their awards.
Alongside the Kalgoorlie riot, Johns has worked on several other major news stories including the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the devastating Yarloop bushfire.
“I’ve always had a passion for television and telling stories,” smiles Johns.
Johns honed her reporting skills as a journalism student at Curtin where she specialised in broadcast journalism.
“I was given the opportunity to work at Curtin FM five days a week, which is one of the most important roles I’ve held as a journalist. It meant that I got to advance my career and studies at the same time.
“My instructor Russell Bishop has since become my mentor. He really helped me hone my vocal skills, my on-air presence and learn how to read and present news. It was excellent grounding for going into television.”
Since graduating from Curtin, Johns has worked for WIN, GWN7 News and Channel Ten. In 2014, Johns joined the Channel Nine team as a news reporter.
Johns is frank about the ups and downs of her career.
“Journalism is very demanding. You have to be very strong willed and passionate about the career because it can be really brutal. The hours are long, the pay is not great and there’s no such thing as work-life balance.”
“But it’s been a crazy ride. I wouldn’t change a thing.”