Saturday, January 31, 2009

What is wrong with my plans?

Well, I don't particularly know what is wrong with my plans as of yet but I can not think of a title to adorn this post.

You see, this post is about outlining my plans for the next six months as far as my career in the big, scary world of 'journalism' goes. Now, why the hell would you care about my plans three google bots and people accidentally here when you typed in 'midget porn' into your search engine?

Chances are that you don't care. Fair enough, I'm just taking this opportunity to think aloud...through my fingers for some reason.

Okay, so here's the plan. At the moment I do not have my license or a car. Now, transportation happens to be one of those things you can't do without in journalism (unless you're a yuppie reporter in a dense metropolis). So what I need now is a part-time job doing anything at all. This involves waiting tables, making coffee, digging ditches and working sales.

This would be the 'stable-income' part of the plan. I need this stable income if I am to support my plans of being a freelancer during this period.

My reasoning behind this is that it allows me to work in a professional environment, without having the kudos and cred to do so. You see, I'm just a recently graduated journalism student, and whereas I can get a job with my portfolio I'm just holding back a little before entering the workforce proper.

When I enter the machine of the daily, weekly or monthly publication (as is my plan) I don't particularly want to go through a learning curve while I'm trying to find my feet in the newsroom. No doubt I will still go through this curve when I enter the newsroom, but it won't be nearly as steep having done part of my traineeship out there in the real world of freelancing where your words are taken at their merits.

Once I have acquired enough money through my part-time job and freelance work, with my portfolio bulging at the scenes I will head out and work at a regional paper.

Now, so many of the journo students I've met down the years baulk at the idea of going out to whoop-whoop and working at a paper out there. Myself, I'd rather be out there than in the concrete jungle and here's why.

My reasoning is simple. Even you won't have the prestige of working at a masthead, you'll actually be doing a lot more work at the regional paper than you would at the masthead. You'll be doing a lot more work in terms of actually designing the layout (or 'dummy') of the paper and be tacking down stories which aren't handed to you on a plate.

If you want to find a story in a regional town, you've really got to fish for it. You've got to draw upon all of your resources and skill in order to track down the scoop because in a small town the slightest thing may make the news but the truth is well-hidden.

After all, in the city everybody has their eyes and ears on everybody else.

Anyhow, that's my plan, If you can spot any glaring inconsistencies in logic (as I'm prone to do), please drop me a line and tell me all about it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is wrong with getting too close to your sources?

This is something they won't teach you in your university course, so pay attention.

Say you've gotten some great stuff from a source for a story, and they want a copy of the article. No biggies there, just send the article they're quoted in to them, it's polite to do so after all. Then they start to come back to you about stories they've heard about and which they could go on the record about. So here you are, with a great source for stories into the future, right? Well, you may just want to tread lightly on this one.

You've got to weigh up the material against the fact that you'd be quoting them on a number of stories if you took their leads. Now, if you were to come across a writer who used exactly the same sources for stories, you'd think they were pretty damned dodgy. Even though your intentions are good and what your source is saying may indeed be the truth, nobody will believe because they think you have been manipulated by your source.

That can happen on a number of occasion, especially to younger journalists when PR-savvy people start to get their hooks into you. I've seen it happen time and time again (even quite recently) to young journos, that because someone's given them the time of day they think they can be a trusted source. PR savvy people know what they're doing, and their aims aren't always so altruistic.

I've written about being Shanghaied into stories, now imagine a PR person having your number on speed dial for any little story that breaks. Sure, you have some great material for stories but you're ethically in the wrong for allowing one particular voice into your head time and time again. Even the most implausible opinions are given weight through repetition, and that's called propaganda.

Once you've given into propaganda, you've betrayed the central tenant of journalism. Now, I realise it may not be as quite dramatic out there in the real world, but it's something that every single young journo should get into their heads quite early. It's all about striking a balance. Funny word that...balance.

It's what every single journo on the planet should strive for; the truth being the balance between extreme opinion.

Anyhow, some non-journalism stuff now.

Lately, I've found myself getting into Sigur Ros quite a bit. It started with a reference in Questionable Content about the band, and then I started to check them out. As soon as I heard Gobblegigook I was in love.

Don't get me wrong, some tracks aren't my cup of tea, but awesome tracks like Hoppipolla, Staralfur and Gong (holy crap! That's the song from Dreamfall!) keep me coming back for some laid-back and yet inspirational Scandinavian beats.

Check them out, 'till next time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What is wrong with the language centre?

Okay, here it is.

So me and my merry band of student journos were taken last week to a language centre for a guided tour. The language centre's main aim is to preserve and promote the use of the different dialects amongst aboriginal people.

We're given the guided tour of a new building they're moving into, and I put it in the back of my mind that the fight against fading languages may just be a good story down the track.

So, today I decide that it's down the track and I wander on over to the centre. I ask if it's okay to interview someone about the good fight and I'm taken through to the manager of the centre only for her to say that they didn't wish to cooperate at this time.

Wah? Jah? Bah?

Apparently they're into giving journos guided tours but not into spreading the word. Go figure. So today I'm pretty much left without a story to write and am fuming like a Dickensian chimney.

Oh well, what are you going to do?

Anyhow, it's two days out from the end of my sojourn to Port Hedland and overall I would deem it to be a beneficial experience. I reccomend going out to a remote area for a bit of work experience for any up-and-coming journo.

So rarely do you get the opportunity to work in that sort of environment, and at the end of the day you manage to get a few bylines for your portfolio. Speaking of bylines...

That SMS story I wrote about a month and a half ago finally made it onto the pages of The West Australian. Of course there's been a whole song and dance in my own family about wee Jimmy getting his first byline in a masthead but now that I have one in there, I can't say I'm all that fussed by it.

It's odd, as a green journo I should be proud as punch to get my name in a masthead (with a full page no less) but I'm not jumping up and down.

Perhaps subconciously I see it not as the end goal of student journalism but as the first steps on the path of professional journalism. Despite the enormity of the occasion, I'm not overwhelmed by it and I'm certainly not stopping people in the street and yelling "I'M IN THE WEST" in an attempt to start a broad musical number.

More on this introspection as it comes to light.

'Till next time

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is wrong with writing about good causes?

You see, the thing about writing about a good cause is that while it makes you feel good and it sure as hell beats writing about rape and torture, the organisations you come into contact with will usually try to Shanghai you into a story.

Not familiar with the art of the Shanghai? Let me explain.

To be Shanghai'd into anything refers to the pushy merchants of Shanghai generally notleaving you alone until they make a sale. This principle applies to charity organisations, which upon hearing that you're writing a story about them will try to get you to write about six more on them.

I'm not saying all organisations will do this, but it's one of the most frustrating things you can run into as a journo when you just want to write a simple 500word story on a worthy cause but they want you to write a 3000 word opus. They just seemto think that we can command column inches from our editors at will for some reason, or that we are in fact the best writers in the world and will get their stories published on the front page of The Australian.

So, how to deal with being Shangai'd?

The way I have dealt with pushy organisations keen to gain more exposure is to play along for a certain extent. Be quite enthusiastic about their idea (after all, it is a worthy cause) and show an interest. This will demonstrate that you're not just another bastard journo trying to exploit their organisation (although you may actually be). Then what you do is explain that you're unsure that you have space in the paper in which to fit their stories.

Now you've shown legitimite concern, and given a reason why their stories won't fly this particular week. Then what you want to do is say something along the lines of "I'll keep it in mind for future stories".

This will show that their organisation is on the forefront of the media's thinking, and they'll be reasonably happy with you for all the help that you've given them. So at the end of the day, you get a story, they get exposure and nobody will end up in tears.

'Till next time

Monday, January 12, 2009

What is wrong with characters?

It's not so much the characters that are in the wrong, but the city-folk who show a complete and utter lack of it. Call it the heat and humidity, but up here in Port Hedland and the surrounding areas I've met more "characters" than I have in a long while.

I'm met a kiwi nurse who's a budding real estate mogul, a couple of miners who thought nothing of taking a couple of city kids out fishing, a drunken (country drunk, not city drunk) journalist and an earnest roadside motel owner trying to bring up the standards of hospitality in the hottest town in name but a few.

You just don't meet those sorts in the hustle and bustle of the city, where spare time is spent on blackberries rather than down at the local draining more than a few.

Some of you will point to your fair share of characters in the city, and I fully understand that there are characters in the city worthy of James Joyce style rambling odysseys, but there genuinely seems to be a higher concentration of them up here. It's almost as if there's a direct correlation between humidity and zaniness, between isolation and genuine character.

Anyhow, onto the story for the week.

One I'm working on right now involves the lack of mental health professionals in the Pilbara region. Apparently it's a story that's been bandied about quite a bit up here but in a region with not much news you're bound to repeat more than a few stories. All you can do is give it a fresh lick of paint and hope the mumbo jumbo flies.

Anyhow, the student nursing group I'm up here with turned me onto the story and gave me a fair few contacts to go on. Well, let's just say the frustrations of a holiday-period started to bite as I found nearly everybody was away on holiday.

I managed to get through to a few people though, and managed to get some good quotes about the lack of infrastructure and ridiculous (like, 1500 a week ridiculous) rents making it hard to attract people to the region.

I also managed to get a good quote from a women's wellness centre talking about the effects of a lack of professionals in the Pilbara, so I managed to write an article that not only aired grievances about things but also examined the effects of those grievances.

I also got in touch with the health department's PR section.

For those of you trying to do student journalism in Perth, you'll know that the Health Department PR section is a Ferris wheel without the fun. That is to say, you'll be taken around in circles so quickly it'll make your head spin.

Luckily, I managed to get in touch with a PR rep who said she'd pass my questions onto the relevant people soon so now I'm waiting for their response s I can give them a right of reply as it were.

Normally, if a source doesn't get back to you within deadline you can but a little tag down the bottom of your story saying "The Health Department failed to get back in touch with us before deadline" which is journalist shorthand for "they were fucking bastards and wouldn't give us the time of day".

I'm going to leave it until Wednesday for my deadline, as I'm due to pitch my article on Friday afternoon at the latest but I'm going to try and knock out my articles for the week by Wednesday evening so I can get working on some radio stuff we're doing up here.

'Till next time

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What is wrong with the turtles?!

Aparrently the dogs have been causing a ruckus among the sandy dunes of Cemetery Beach in Port Hedland, and been digging around the nests of the turtle hatchlings. How in the Sammy Davis Jnr. did I find this out? I'll tell you.

It was early in the morning and our little trio of work experience journos went on a expedition to watch the turtles early morning, mindful that a story could develop about "tourists not paying enough respect to the turtles" and what have you.

Instead we found that before we arrived, the town ranger had been called to remove the stray dog which were causing the ruckus. Well, there's our story right there. So with trusty voice recorder in hand I go and do some digging of my own, and talked to a volunteer about what happened.

I got a nice quite from her before I noticed the ranger walking the sandy beaches along with the tour group which had come out to see the hatchiling turtles. So I tag along with him as he's walking the beach, introduce myself briefly and he gave me some great stuff about what may be causing the dogs to get off the leash of their owners.

Although I've been informed that the ranger services may need to okay the quotes first, the ranger really gave me some dynamite stuff.

So, I've got the story, I've got the quotes but now I need a picture to go with it.

So of course, seeing how Jesus himself has been personally providing for me my entire life (Which would run counter to my assertion that I am Jesus, but I digress), the volunteer starts to pile up all the dead turtles in a pile.

Luckily, it's not too graphic so I have the perfect pic to go with the story.

Now I have the story, the quotes and the pic and I can go back and start to compile my story. It comes out at about 350 words which may be a little on the long side, but after some mucking about with the lead I'm pretty happy with what I've got out of the story.

Normally I'd share the article with you but for ethical and possibly legal reasons I can't do that (see: the ranger quotes) just now, but as soon as it's been given the OK I'll be happy to share it with you all.

'Till next time

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is wrong with taking a psychodelic trip?

I arrived on Sunday afternoon to the heat and red earth of Port Hedland, and began my oddessy into the land of mines and humidity. After confusion reigned supreme regarding my accommodation, I'm settled into a sharehouse with a couple of journo students and a couple of nursing students.

Luckily, my room has been outfitted with an airconditioner with an engine which would have Boeing engineers in awe and I found my new surrounds frosty in stark contrast with the heat outside. The thing which has surprised me was not only the heat but the humidity which locals say is the real killer punch.

In regards to actual work though, during the past two days we've been given a couple of asignments for radio(radio? bah!) and are about to embark on a print journey oddessy. We'll be writing for a number of local rags while we're here about all sorts of things, but taking a special look at indigenous health issues which are affetcing the North West.

Hopefully, we'll have enough work to keep us busy while avoiding going insane from the pressure of those bastions of insanity, deadlines. I'm taking bets now as to how long it takes for me to completely crack under the pressure and go on a drug-fuelled trip into the desert, Hunter S Thompson-style.

Speaking of the Gonzo-man, the thing I think I'll miss about the relative glitz and glamour of Perth is going down to the Luna on my days off and taking in a film or two. The new Thompson doco is dueout soon, which should be fun and hopefully isn't just some pandering schmaltz about what a rebel he was but rather an examintaion of the style he helped found.

For those of you unfamiliar with Thompson, he basically wrote a number of influential articles for Rolling Stone, the most memorable of which took place during the riots in Chicago. Instead of balance and objective journalism which removes all reference ofthe author from the copy, Gonzo journalism is about presenting a very perosnal, first-person account of the event being covered.

The supposed upshot of it is that instead of the aloof, detached style which gives readers very little insight into the 'situation on the ground' as it were, Gonzo makes the reader feel as if they are there by presenting a first person narrative.

Of course this runs counter to the 'objective journalism' philosophy and is full of writer ambiguities and fallacies. But proponents of the Gonzo style say that while objective journalism is the flavour du jour, it runs counter-productive to the inherent point of journalism.

As Thompson summised 'It may be not strictly objective to call a guy a bum or a crook, but objectivism misses the point of journalism altogether'.

The argument which is key to those which support Gonzois that those who defend objectivism use the veil of aloofness to not say exactly what is needed to be said. If a guy's a bum, say it. Objectivism in its worst state will try to avoid making any judgements about a person for fear of reprisal and loss of the journalistic power which publications hold but the actual truth gets thrown out with the bath water.

Of course both approaches have their pluses and minuses, and at the end of the day it is up to the journos of the future to determine which approach is more valid for the times in which we live. What is essential, for this to happen is to discuss each approach, debate the points instead of just milling along turning around copy without a single thought as to your approach from a philisophical viewpoint.