Bad flight, worse landing, off the tarmac and down the loneliest highway on the coast. Family waiting in the home with open arms in class-two mansion.
And then, after two days getting pampered, off to the Express Advocate for a week’s internship. Arrival in the front hall and greeted warmly. PA blares in the newsroom that Jim Aspinall is here to see Liz O’Hara, and out she comes.
I’m given a tour. The enormous newsroom has two cubicles for the news editor and deputy, other journalists have grouped tables. I’m introduced briefly to Editor Geoff Hawthorne with a handshake and put to work immediately. I’m promptly given a desk and computer. Expected to stay from 9 til 4. I sit while Liz takes my documents and leaves, running over them for insurance so I can leave the office on assignments.
About half the chairs at the desks are empty. I assume the journalists are out gathering information or doing interviews. I suddenly see this green, four-legged reptile slithering past my foot. The nice young journalist next to me says ‘Don’t worry, we always get the lizards in here. Just can’t get rid of them.’
At first, I sit and think. No opportunity to present any story ideas yet and no clue how they would take such a thing. Probably best to just sit and keep quiet for now, so I don’t look like the over-enthusisatic, babbling, know-it-all rookie in the newsroom. But at the same time, can’t decide if I look like a lazy fool simply sitting and wool-gathering.
Desk: several issues of EA stacked in front of me next to the keyboard, some so old they’ve turned yellow. Old keyboard and industrial screen in front of me. I don’t know the codes to unlock it. Can hardly see to my right. Nothing interesting there anyway, except the young journalist sitting at the opposite desk, who I overhear is called Emma. Behind me, another sits next along, a woman named Leah. Just about as young as me. I ask her how to unlock the thing and get started. She can’t remember the guest’s code and asks the sports reporter sitting opposite her, Steven.
Steven unlocks it for me cheerfully. I thank him, and just then another journalist, whom I later learn is called Kate, walks over and says she has something for me. She doesn’t have enough time to do it herself and asks me to do an entertainment article on an upcoming gig downtown. At first, I’m flummoxed, but then glad for something to do. I thank her and get started.
As I sit quietly, watch and listen, I learn that almost all of these journalists are working on pre-event articles from media releases and emails from correspondents in the local communities. Not only that, but they’re also simply ringing up their interviewees rather than meeting them face-to-face, and stock up appointments to keep photographers busy collecting pictures for their stories.
Leah explains to me patiently that EA, because it covers a sleepy, suburban area, doesn’t often print hard news and instead reports events before they happen to help alert the local community. Only one designated journalist covers the Gosford council and they hardly ever cover court at all.
What they say makes sense, and I’m not about to argue with these more experienced journalists. My position is already precarious enough. I’ve already asked too many questions. Any more and they’ll come to the conclusion I’m totally green (which I am).
Instead, I sit quietly and open the shared document software they use. I read over the email Kate gave me. The subject is a Central Coast teacher who hobbies on music throwing a gig on a New Age cafe downtown next Saturday. After about five minutes, head pounding, I look up the cafe online, scribble some questions on my notepad, and pick up the phone. I hate using phones. It always seems harder to talk with dignity to someone I can’t see. However, I’m pleasantly surprised. The cafe manager, though seven months pregnant and on her way to Cranberry to take part in the homemother-delivery rally, gives me as much info as she can and the musician’s mobile (which I can’t use because he’s at work teaching). I get started. I type what I can for an article, slowly puzzling my way through the unfamiliar journalism processor. I try to call him again. “Optus wishes to advise that…” Snap! I shut my phone closed before my headache gets worse.
Photos too. Can’t get them. Nowhere online or from the guy. Obviously, he just hit the gig circuit. In the end, I call the manager’s sister and ask her to send me what photos they have, which they do (blurry and small).
I leave, feeling exhausted, at 3:30. Left early because they advised me there wasn’t anything I could do now because deadline time had just passed for this week’s Gosford edition. Mum collects me as their office is out of bus and train route. “How was it?” she asks.
“Good and bad,” I reply. “Bad as in not what I expected, but good as in I’m not going to die of stress running round town either.”
It certainly was revealing compared to my vision of a busy journalist waystation. I thought it must be so easy to make a paper that 20,000 read every week because that was it.
Second day. Head still pounding but not as bad. Get one or two media releases from Denice across the room. She wants me to chop them down into sutiable small articles. I’m slowly understanding my internship tasks will be taking article tasks of all kind from co-workers that they don’t have time for. Leah also gives me a couple of school tasks, asking me to write an article in response to emails and a press release. I obey without question, taking all tasks in an effort to help out. Surprisingly, the Central Coasters, when I say I’m from Express Advocate, seem eager to tell all they can, be they school principals, small business owners, or musicians.
I curse as I realise that even though I narrowly hit my shorthand goal before leaving Brisbane, I still write nowhere near fast enough to keep up. Leah laughs, tossing her head, and tells me she needed a 120-mark in shorthand to keep up with interviewees. I groan as I realise Julie had never exaggerated in just how lenient 60-mark was.
Two solid articles and two modified press releases done at the end of day two, and Editor agreed to a short interview for my internship on Thursday afternoon. Lucky I didn’t forget.
Third day. Family dogs woke me up nibbling my toes. Not enough sleep due to nightmares (emotion-related, not work-related). I haul my carcass out and head to EA again. This time, I stretch and ask Kate. Before long, I find myself with another task. This time another entertainment bio with a teen metal band gigging next week. Battle of the Bands runner-up. I look them up online, promptly laugh myself silly at the sight of the band boys half-naked in the woods with leaves in strategic locations ( the drummer girl fully clothed and posing scared out of her wits), and ring up the bass player. He tells me all he can, and I arrange photos. Smiles from Kate as I get it done in under three hours.
I thought what would Reija do, after being handed a media release from Ella Blanche Australia. I shrug and clip it down to an article. Leah gives me the email on the NSW schools knockout footy competition. I ring up the coast champions’ principal, and he calls the coach. Results and record online and the amiable coach agrees to a dispatched photographer. I try not to think of him hauling the poor boys out of class to dress up in footy clothes and smile for the camera. Still got more to do tomorrow, but it’s after 4 and the office closes soon, on the other hand, I already have tasks for tomorrow in that case. No rush for publication since I’m not doing Wyong edition.
Best day I’ve had yet. Express Advocate isn’t the reporter of past events, it’s the informer of coming ones.
Ever wonder how someone could get so cream-crackered sitting behind a desk?