From City Lights to Country Sights

4 September 2023

Congratulations to Bachelors of Communication/Journalism alum Julian Lehnert - who has recently won the QCPA's Young Journalist of the Year award

Julian Lehnert with the 2023 Young Journalist of the Year award at this years QCPA conference.

Burnett Today, operating out of Kingaroy, is one of Queensland’s leading regional newspapers under the Today News umbrella. We find UQ alum (class of 2019) Julian Lehnert sitting at a desk typing away about the controversial solar farm that has just landed in town before rushing off to begin work on reporting the annual BaconFest.

Julian has always loved storytelling and sees journalism as a way of doing it professionally.

“You get to merge your desire to tell stories with work and serve your community in a tangible way.”

He is originally from a small village in Southwest Germany. His home state had only one university that focused on business and tech with no creative subjects such as languages and humanities. Having previously done an exchange to Australia back in school which lead to making good friends, he decided to make the leap and hop on a plane to pursue his passion across the globe at the University of Queensland. He was welcomed by the sunlit sandstone, knowledgeable professors, and a variety of clubs.

The UQ Experience

“There are so many good people that really know what they’re talking about and were amazing help with getting me to the point I am now. You genuinely make strong connections with your tutors and classmates. One of my lecturers Dr. Richard Murray was great, and still comes up to the Kingaroy office, every once in a while, to catch up as he knows a lot of us grads that have come through.”

“The clubs are really good as well. I was in the Acoustic Society for playing instruments which felt very 70s, sitting around a circle playing your guitars. The UQ Journalism and Communication Society (UQJACS) I heard have also done some great things. There’s a lot of really good clubs, you’ll definitely find whatever you’re looking for.”

Julian took advantage of the multitude of courses and their variety, as well as opportunities provided during his degree which included the HASS Connect Mentoring Program, and the Media and Production Services (MaPS) camera workshops.

“What I really liked about UQ was the fact that we were trained in a range of different styles. You learned print, essay writing, critical analysis and even a little bit of graphic design. During the mentorship program, the mentors will help you a lot with fine-tuning your presentability and portfolio, and you make some good friends there as well.”

“The camera I learned to use through MaPS is the camera I still use today. All the experience we got throughout, and the sheer breadth of content and experience through our courses was really helpful.”

Dr. Richard Murray with students at UQ's Digital Learning Space, the hub for student journalists.


A Voice for the Bush

A few months ago in May 2023, Julian won the Queensland Country Press Association’s (QCPA) Young Journalist of the Year award. Four of his print stories from the last year were entered to compete against fifty other papers.

One of the stories included disabled parking spaces that were created due to Kingaroy CBD rework. His team received complaints from the town’s residents that none of them were up to code.

“So, I went out with a measuring tape measuring all the different spots. I compared it to the regulations and there were different things wrong with each and every single park.”

When he submitted the list to council, he did not receive an ideal response and thought,

“‘Okay fair enough, we’ll take the fight to you,’ and ran a big story on it. It was in-depth reporting of knowing what your community’s issues are and then reporting it in such a way to fight for them.”

Julian’s fight for his community does not just stop at hitting the pavement for safe parking. He has been following a story for the last year involving the controversial solar farm that popped up without community consultation.

“The neighbours are suffering with dust and other debris being blasted into their houses. We’re trying to hold the company accountable and for them to gain some social presence in the town.”

Julian’s willingness to hit the ground, put in that extra work and to fight for the community is commendable and is what helped push him towards his first-place finish.

“Winning the award against fifty other papers and bringing it home to the Burnett Today was a really nice indication that regional news is a legitimate contender, not just the big conglomerates with the most money. It’s us little guys here on the ground and in the community that can deliver good news, hold people accountable and fight the good fight.”

Julian interviews Dr. Michael Erhabor during a strike by youth service workers' union Together Queensland.


The Building Blocks to a Successful Career

Before Burnett Today, Julian’s career began when he was still studying at UQ. He started off in radio news on Fortitude Valley’s 4ZZZ writing the morning bulletins.

“It’s a big jumping off point for a lot of journalists. We’d go into the studio and look at the news for the day, turning it into snappy 2-3 sentences at the turn of the hour. You learn to present well and keep yourself short.”

Julian also worked at 4EB, a multi-language radio station before beginning the journey to print. He reminisces of radio as a great way for younger journalists to get involved and make connections.

“I went and covered the Woodford Folk Festival in 2019, an entire week on the campsite with a bunch of other journalists. We’d go out and do interviews with people and record live sets to bring back to the station. They’re friends you keep for the rest of your career.”

Julian interviews Andrew Simmons of an alt-country band at the Woodford Folk Festival in 2019.

The driving force behind his decision to rejoin the print world was to make sure that news does not disappear as it has done in a lot of areas.

“Over that first year of COVID, almost a hundred papers were shut down. Which led people to panic a bit because they didn’t know where they could get their news. Some weren’t able to get online or through a paywall. My director brought together a bunch of different people and investors to help start Today News.”

Today News has spread into multiple papers, including Burnett Today, to help fill the gap the pandemic created in regional Queensland. While many may be weary of moving away from the big city, Julian was excited to take on something new.

“I think a regional position is one of the best things to do with your career as a young journalist. You get to learn a varied skillset. I write about court, politics, colour stories like wildlife, and some big-hitting pieces like the solar farm. In the bigger papers, you get cornered into one position like cricket or politics. I get to be my own photographer, videographer, and journalist.”

Julian stands with his Burnett Today team celebrating the newspapers 3rd anniversary in early July this year.

Some of Julian’s favourite stories to write about include speaking to researchers about wildlife and new discoveries. He has looked at flying foxes, sugar gliders and even a fossil discovery where he was able to interview someone who was at the dig.

“These stories where I feel I am learning just as much as my readers are great. You get to hear from leaders in the field which create really fun interesting stories, I love writing those.”

Advice for Future Students

A high achieving student, in 2019 he earned the Dean’s Scholar of the Humanities and UQ Future Leader award. He leaves four bits of advice for future students and those just starting their journalism career.

“If it’s within your timeline ability, 100% do the internship courses. They’ll set you up with connections, experience and just a general way into journalism. You’ll also get a portfolio you can show off.”

“Make friends with your lecturers and tutors, ask questions and get involved.”

“Start work early. Hit it right out of the gate. I did the radio shows and a couple of odd jobs in magazines. Get your bylines out and your face in places to help build that portfolio.”

“Don’t be afraid of coming out to the regions as a journalist. It might be a little daunting being away from your friends in the Big Smoke but it’s a great way to cut your teeth and learn everything. Then you can say I know all of this now and pick a niche. You never know how much you like politics until you start writing about it.”

The School looks forward to watching Julian continue to grow and help support the community through hard-hitting stories and lending a voice to those in need.


Written by Lindsey Arnold

Learn more about studying at UQ

Bachelors of Communication/Journalism