Claire Miller Profile
By Carol Nader, Age journalist
Since joining The Age in 1985 as a junior reporter, Miller has had an assortment of experiences and has witnessed events that would move even the most cynical of people to tears. She has covered the refugee crisis in Nauru and the Kyoto climate change treaty in Germany. In 1996, she did a four-month fellowship with the World Press Institute in the United States during the presidential election campaign.
“I should warn you – I’m not very interesting,” remarks Claire Miller, when approached for an interview for this profile. It’s a rather modest self-appraisal when one considers the quite extraordinary career of the award-winning Age journalist, which spans almost two decades and includes stints in Canberra and overseas.
Miller says it was a job at McDonald’s that helped her make her first foray into journalism as a cadet on the Diamond Valley News. Back then, Leader Newspapers editor-in-chief Jack Gavegan took a chance on the teenage school leaver because he thought that anyone who could stomach working at the fast food chain must have a rather admirable work ethic.
It’s a sentiment that The Age hierarchy seems to agree with. Since joining The Age in 1985 as a junior reporter, Miller has had an assortment of experiences and has witnessed events that would move even the most cynical of people to tears.
She has covered the refugee crisis in Nauru and the Kyoto climate change treaty in Germany. In 1996, she did a four-month fellowship with the World Press Institute in the United States during the presidential election campaign, in which she experienced America at its best and worst – like the no-holds-barred night out on the beat with a policeman in Philadelphia’s “badlands”.
And she was at the scene during street riots in Chile in 1998, when the decision was made in London to keep General Pinochet there to face extradition proceedings (being on holiday at the time didn’t stop her from whipping out the old notebook and pen for an on-the-spot report for The Age and ABC radio).
Her other roles have included stints as a news editor and sub editor, reporting on rural affairs, federal and state politics, a six-month investigation into City Link, and, most recently, the environment. The latter round, which she covered for three years, was her most rewarding so far.
“Personally and professionally my time working here has been fantastic, but I’ve actually had a lot more satisfaction out of some of the environmental stories that I’ve written and issues that I’ve covered,” she says. “The Snowy River issue was a wonderful one to cover because I was covering it from the time when it wasn’t on the political agenda, and none of the politicians wanted to talk about it.
“You had this really dedicated group of people in the community out there in East Gippsland who had this dream of getting their mighty river back and no one was listening. They were just battling away. It was satisfying then to finally do the story on previously what was thought to be impossible. An agreement between two state Labor governments and a federal conservative government, has been reached, and it’s going to happen.”
The full force of Miller’s interest in environmental issues didn’t really hit her until she took on the round, and began talking to people who had dedicated their lives to trying to improve matters. Miller says these people are driven by a passion for what they do.
“There are people who vehemently believe that we are on the edge of the apocalypse, and there are also those who vehemently believe completely the opposite, that there is absolutely nothing to worry about, and my job was to track between those opposing sides,” she says. “You have to be objective when you have those sorts of passions that you’re dealing with because they’re stories about facts and figures, not just emotions.”
Miller herself is an intense and passionate person, and her devotion to her work is palpable as she tries to articulate her love for the craft of journalism. “You get these little windows into other people’s lives and other people’s experiences, and it’s wonderful,” she says.
In her current role as senior writer, Miller intends to explore a broader range of issues in greater depth, such as the corporate role in implementing sustainable development, and company liability for failing to disclose social and environmental as well as financial risks. She is also keen to do more international reporting.
She says journalists are in a privileged position. “It never ceases to amaze me that when you ring someone up and ask them questions, they tell you things in good faith,” she says. “People entrust you with information and they let you into their lives and often tell you very intimate things that mean a lot to them. I think that’s such a privilege that they do that. I think it’s a huge responsibility to try to appreciate what they’re giving you and not to abuse it.”
It’s this approach to journalism that has earned Miller a number of awards. In 2000 and 2001, she was the recipient of the United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award for general reporting on the environment. She has also won the John Douglas Pringle Award from the British high commission and National Press Club. Travel features about Chile and Manila earned her an International Commonwealth Media Award in 1999.
Miller’s involvement in journalism goes beyond reporting. She has been active in the International Women’s Media Foundation and International Federation of Journalism, where she has met many journalists working in the developing world under perilous conditions.
“These are people who just believe so much in free press, exposing corruption and wrongdoings in very violent and dangerous countries and their families get threatened, and they get put in jail,” she says. “There was an Ethiopian journalist I was with who had just been let out of jail after eight years. They nearly killed him. He still had the marks from being tortured by the government but regardless the journalists keep persisting because they have this passion to tell people what is going on.”
Amid coping with the demands of her career, Miller has somehow found the time to have two children, and says it’s largely due to her husband’s flexibility and willingness to be a “house husband” for seven years that she has progressed this far. She says the long hours are a down side to journalism. “It’s not very family friendly, and you need a very understanding and flexible partner who’s willing to put up with the phone calls at 6pm saying, “Sorry, I’m not going to be home until 10pm”,” she says.
Miller adamantly insists she is not a crusader. “People think journalists change the world,” she says. “No, we don’t – we just get to piggyback on the hard work of all these other people that are out there day in, day out doing the hard yakka.”