I was at the Ekka day races when I got the phone call.
“Hi Luke, it’s Tony Edmunds from the Maitland Mercury, just returning your call.”
“Hi Tony, I was just ringing to confirm my internship at the Maitland Mercury for next week.”
A brief shuffling of papers ensued in the terrible silence, pregnant with foreboding.
“Luke…uhhh…we…uhhh…don’t actually have you down for any internship next week. Who did you organise this with.”
I proceeded to explain that I’d organised it with Liz Tickner, the actual Editor, more than two months previous.
Tony, the Deputy Editor, finally assured me that I would be able to do the internship.
It was therefore, on the Monday when I walked into the Mercury’s office, I carried with me a feeling of apprehension in my stomach.
The feeling wasn’t entirely unfounded.
Arriving at 9am, I had to sit through an OH&S initiation, which is the most soul-crushing experience in my life yet.
Coming out of that, I had to wait another hour, until 11am, for the sports editor to show up, being assured she “would definitely have something for me to do.”
When the time came, Michelle the sports editor didn’t have much for me to do to begin with, but as they began to realise that JSchoolers aren’t run of the mill, the workload picked up comfortably.
Rebecca Berry, a Walkley Award-winning journalist for the paper, was off sick, and it fell to me to do her daily feature-article segment, entitled City Life.
The feature writing was probably the most enjoyable part of the internship, as I got to get out and perform fairly lengthy interviews with generally interesting characters in the area, and pretty much got to write how I chose.
I found the experience to be humbling in a sense, as people I had interviewed hours or days before would occasionally come into the office to talk to me about other concerns both for them personally and the community as a whole.
One thing I learned about Maitland is that the average Joe hates your guts when it comes to vox pop.
Wearing my biggest and best smile, I’d go out day to day to perform this dogsbody’s job, pretending I valued people’s opinions.
Apart from a lot of people not registering what the Mercury was even after I’d told them, I think my best strike rate was 1 in 6. I’d had better luck in Ipswich.
The Maitland Mercury still functions from its original building, where the newspaper was founded in 1843.
Although the building is old, the workplace did carry some vibrancy with it, helped along with some charismatic individuals, notably Cath, one of the photographers, and subeditor Mal, a monster of a man.
Everyone was really personable and friendly, even Alan Hardie, who I believe was slightly deaf and would yell into the phone. The phone calls were then interspersed with loud humming. You had no choice but to get used to it, and no-one else seemed to notice.
I finally got to go to Maitland Gaol, which I’d been wanting to do for over a decade, and interviewed one of the staff there.
Because the newspaper’s cars were often in short supply, my geographical knowledge of Maitland has increased tenfold.
One of the things that struck me was that, although Maitland City was growing at a rapid rate, the Mercury itself often seemed too understaffed to handle many potential stories.
This struck me as odd, because they had a huge advertorial staff.
All in all, I enjoyed my two weeks at the Maitland Mercury, and got to know my local community a lot better.