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Young alumni stories: Beyond the ‘weird and the wonderful’

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From reporting on the latest political events in North Korea to uncovering the story behind Japan’s iconic train station music, journalism graduate Jake Sturmer is keeping Australia informed as the North Asia correspondent for the ABC.

Sturmer works from the ABC’s Tokyo bureau, located in the famous Shibuya district. The hustle and bustle of Tokyo is a world away from Sturmer’s student beginnings at Curtin FM radio, but it’s a change he’s worked hard to achieve.

“It has always been a goal of mine to become a correspondent and Japan seemed perfect. I love the contradictions – you’ve got the total chaos of the cities and then right next door the harmony of shrines. The tradition mixed with innovation constantly surprises me,” Sturmer says on his new job and surrounds.

“Right now, it’s cherry blossom season in Tokyo and the nearby Meguro River is famous for its spectacular cherry blossoms which line the water.

“A typical work day can involve anything from filming around Tokyo to getting a call to head to South Korea at a moment’s notice. It’s our responsibility to report news that breaks in this region, so we are on-call 24/7.”

Sturmer graduated from Curtin with a journalism degree in 2008 and started his career as a news presenter for 6PR radio. In 2009 he became a cadet journalist for the ABC in Perth, reporting and presenting for radio, television and online news. Four years later, Sturmer moved to Sydney as the ABC’s National Science and Technology reporter.

Ever the diligent journalist, he started learning Japanese well before the foreign correspondent role was advertised, but Sturmer credits Curtin’s journalism degree with equipping him with the essential qualities needed to progress in the field.

“The Curtin degree taught me the skills I need to find and break stories as well as interview people – the fundamentals required to be a good journalist,” he says.

Sturmer’s journalism has had significant reach and impact on the Australian public. In 2011 he won the WA Media award for best current affairs and in 2012 he was named the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year for his investigation into the systemic child abuse at the Katanning Hostel, which subsequently led to an independent state inquiry.

“In this job you do experience and encounter people going through some of the most difficult and tragic moments in their lives. It’s important to remember you’re dealing with people and not ‘just another story’,” he says.

His extensive journalism experience down under has prepared him well for the unique reporting challenges of North Asia, but Sturmer says there’s still plenty of things for him to learn during his time in Japan.

“The language barrier has certainly been a difficult one to work with – despite having an understanding of the language there are still so many nuances and subtle things that have taken me by surprise,” he says.

“There are a lot of formalities. Japan is a very polite country, so introducing yourself properly – especially in business situations – is very important.

“You certainly don’t shy away from any questions during an interview or do anything differently in that regard, but approaching people with the right level of respect and formality is crucial.”

Since moving to Japan in January, Sturmer has reported on an array of issues and events, including Shinzo Abe’s diplomatic meeting with Donald Trump, Tokyo’s ballistic missile evacuation drill and Japan’s ban on Australian barley.

He has also reported on the country’s more ‘weird and wonderful’ features, such as its archaic indoor smoking laws and the history behind its iconic train station jingles – many stations throughout Japan play their own unique music to announce the departure of trains. For example, the ‘hassha merodi’ (which translates to ‘melody for train departures’) for Tokyo’s Takadanobaba station is the theme song from Astro Boy.

“Probably the most surprising story has been the one of a wealthy Japanese man who fathered 13 surrogate children through Thai mothers,” Sturmer says.

“He recently won a court case in Thailand to be named their legal parent and sole guardian.”

Whether he’s reporting on train station jingles or a millionaire’s family planning, with all his stories and interviews, Sturmer says he tries to “leave the audience or reader knowing something they didn’t know before.”

“These days it’s incredibly difficult to compete for attention with an increasingly fragmented audience, so you need to deliver something that isn’t anywhere else,” he says.

“I’ve found it important to stay across and try to learn as many different skills as possible, so that whatever form this job takes, I’ll be able to do it.”

This story is part of Curtin’s Young Alumni Stories series where we celebrate the achievements of Curtin graduates 35 and under. Learn more about the Young Alumni Program.

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