Big Apple in Emma’s eye

BIG WIN: Emma Cillekens (right) and fellow NYU student Alessandra Freitas accept the New York Emmy for their work on the Finding Sanctuary NYC project. Photo: supplied
BIG WIN: Emma Cillekens (right) and fellow NYU student Alessandra Freitas accept the New York Emmy for their work on the Finding Sanctuary NYC project. Photo: supplied

For eight years Emma Cillekens was a household name in Mount Isa first as a North West Star journalist then as an ABC radio presenter before making a brave move in 2016 to further her career and studies at New York University.

Recently her hard work paid off when her team won a New York Emmy for the short documentary series and interactive website project called Finding Sanctuary NYC. The project also won two Horizon Interactive Awards and a College Photographer of the Year Award and Emma was proud to take the stage to accept the award with colleagues.

“The NY Emmy is the highest accolade you can win in TV in New York,” Emma said.

“We were on stage with some journalism greats and despite being a group of students we won our category against TV veterans with multiple Emmys to their name.”

The award came on the back of a year-long investigation into maternal mortality Emma worked on with ProPublica which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won big journalism awards, the Peabody Awards, the George Polk Awards in Journalism and Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

EXPORT: Emma Cillekens (right) with Australian businesswoman Jennifer Nason at the American Australian Association last year. Photo: supplied.

EXPORT: Emma Cillekens (right) with Australian businesswoman Jennifer Nason at the American Australian Association last year. Photo: supplied.

With Emma still teaching ballet in her spare time, the last two years have been a whirlwind of activity. 

“The master's degree focused on how we address the digital disruption to the media landscape, by finding solutions at the intersection of journalism, technology and business,” Emma said.

“It's called Studio 20 and I had the chance to work on everything from 360 video and spatial audio, to projects with the Wall Street Journal, ProPublica and WNYC and I also worked on a short documentary series called Finding Sanctuary NYC which came to life on an interactive website.”

Emma has achieved another milestone, finishing her NYU master’s degree. 

“I just did my official "walk" and then graduation at Yankee Stadium,” she said.

“The stadium is iconic to New York and to do my commencement where so many NYU graduates have been before me, is incredible and humbling. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was our commencement speaker and spoke about fighting tribal mindset and listening to different perspectives. It was a poignant message in these polarised political times in the US.”

Emma admitted she had a love-hate relationship with the Big Apple, a city she first visited in 2012 with her 2010 Rodeo Charity Queen prize money.

“After 20 months living here my rose-coloured glasses are removed and I see the city for what is wrong and right,” she said. “I see huge disparity in wealth, homelessness, a broken healthcare system, capitalist greed, a sense of entitlement from some, anger, people walking around with blinders on and a lack of tolerance of different perspectives.”

But she loved the huge opportunities, a sense of collaboration in the workplace, people who are so accomplished willing to speak to you about what they are working on and of course the amazing sights.

“I love catching a glimpse of the Empire State Building on a daily basis and seeing every Broadway show my bank account will allow – I'd have to be up around 40 or 50 shows by now,” she said.

“If I could implant the incredible Mount Isa community, the great Australian Outback and the Queensland beaches here and have my family around me - I may never leave.”

She has no immediate plans to leave.

“I'm still working on the Maternal Mortality Project with ProPublica and I'm also freelancing on a few other projects which include audience engagement for WNYC and social media strategy for a few other clients including a podcast,” she said.

“I do miss my family, the ABC and of course the Mount Isa community. I loved my radio show on the ABC and I would love to work with them when I do come back - I'm just not sure when that will be!”

Emma Cillekens was the inaugural recipient of the American Australian Association David Nason Journalism  scholarship funded by Jennifer Nason and News Corp which helped pay for her studies.