Ideas, Progress & the Future
2022 Researcher of the Year, Kerry McCallum
Professor Kerry McCallum is inspired by the opportunity to create change, no matter how small.
Channelling that inspiration into researching the role of media in public opinion and policymaking has led her to working on projects that make an impact on our community and society, including Indigenous affairs, reporting of child sexual abuse, digital news habits and more.
Kerry’s family were always involved in politics at a local level, which, combined with her passion for social justice and Indigenous affairs, inspired her future in public opinion and policymaking, in both industry and research.
She completed her undergraduate studies in communication and public relations at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE, which became the University of Canberra in 1990), then worked for local and federal politicians – which included a number of election campaigns in the 1990s.
Kerry stepped away from the political game in the late-1990s to raise her children … and that’s when she met Hazel McKellar.
A Kooma woman from southwest Queensland, Hazel had a collection of incredible stories she wanted documented. Together they wrote Woman From No Where (2000), with Hazel reciting stories of musters in the bush with her Kunja husband Bert, the Cunnamulla riot in 1970, and years of social and political action – which earned her the title of Woman of the Year in 1981 – and Kerry transcribing them for the book.
“It's a very important book for Hazel’s family because it tells the story of their experience of living in the Yumba, an Indigenous camp next to Cunnamulla’s rubbish dump,” Kerry says.
“It was an incredible privilege to write down her story … and now it feels like we’re part of their family.”
Kerry returned to UC to undertake her masters degree – “Somehow end[ing] up in the research stream” – which set the trajectory for the next stage of her career. Supported and mentored by the late Emeritus Professor Richard Warwick Blood (1947-2022), she completed her PhD on public opinion and Indigenous issues.
“My masters ignited my passion for research. I just loved it, I had to read every paper,” Kerry says.
“I was always very interested in public opinion because of my political background, so I ended up looking at how people talk about issues – local talk – in the beginning of my research career and I continue to research parts of this space,” Kerry says.
After completing her PhD, Kerry became a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer, further developing her research skills and area of expertise.
“Linking media, Indigenous affairs and policy set my career.”
She describes the connection as “Thinking about what government was doing, the big policy decisions being made, and working back from there – including the role of Australia’s history and the politics of race, but also focusing on the role of media in the development of policy.”
Professor Blood and Professor Emeritus Peter Putnis were building a strong team to form a research cluster focusing on news and media – in 2013, this would become the News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC), now a leading Australian research centre for the study of the changing media landscape.
Kerry has been part of the N&MRC team since its inception and has led the Centre as Director since 2019, after a stint as UC’s inaugural Director of Graduate Research. She says that while it was established under Warwick and Peter’s strategic vision, the N&MRC has continued to flourish because of its talented team, which includes Professor Sora Park, Dr Kate Holland, Associate Professor Caroline Fisher and Dr David Nolan.
Now comprising over 50 members – including 10 core members, 26 HDR candidates, and approximately 20 associate members – the N&MRC has produced the Digital News Report, its flagship research output, since 2015 for Australia, as part of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study across 46 countries. The N&MRC is currently working on 20 projects, with Kerry part of 11, including Breaking silences: Media and the Child Abuse Royal Commission and Amplifying Indigenous News: A digital intervention.
Kerry’s research leadership, mentorship, and impact were recognised in 2022, winning the Faculty-nominated Research Excellence Award in November and Vice-Chancellor’s Researcher of the Year in December.
She describes research as a marathon, not a sprint, and believes teamwork is essential to delivering impact and inspiring change.
“Research is not suited to everyone and not a game for the faint-hearted – it’s competitive. Perseverance and understanding the rules of the game, and the system you’re working in, are important.
“Great researchers are enabled by great structures and the people around them, and have a passion and agenda for change. They believe in themselves enough that they want to change the world around them,” she says.
With over 20 years’ experience in research, her mentorship and expertise are highly valued by her peers and UC’s HDR candidates. What continues to inspire her work?
“The opportunity to make change – even if it’s only a tiny, incremental change, inspires me. It’s a real privilege to have the freedom and creativity in my work to identify challenges and problems and do research that helps to resolve or change them,” Kerry says.
Words by Kailey Tonini, photos by Tyler Cherry.