In my second week at The Age, I felt a bit more confident and at home. Even though there was a “hot desking” system in which people were supposed to sit at different places each day, I went to the same spot each time and I didn’t see anyone else shift very far.
I was in the same desk pod as the Justice Team – two crime/police reporters and a legal affairs reporter, all in their 20s. The guy next to me was receiving bikie magagazines as part of his round, their covers filled with tattooed girls in bikinis. “You get sent some weird stuff in this job mate,” he told me.
I pitched a few ideas and got to work on others suggested by the state editor. Some went nowhere much, but a lot of the time you’re just turning over rocks, looking for interesting things it seems. I did a follow up on my underground toilet conversion story. An award-winning architect, who designed parts of Federation Square, had been enlisted to help one of Melbourne’s biggest hairdresser’s create a barbershop in one of the toilets. I worked on other stories about the Royal Melbourne Show’s most expensive showbags, motorised surfboards, and health research methodology.
I relished these stories, the chance to work on my intros, to try to write with a bit of flair. Going out with photographers on jobs, I saw how hard they worked to make a simple picture arresting, by changing lights, changing angles, waiting and testing. Again, I feel there’s such a strong analogy with written journalism, the patience and the experimentation it requires.
On the Thursday I went out for drinks with people from the office who were farewelling the justice editor, who had been poached by the ABC. I received good advice from the young journos and heard war stories from the old ones. Two senior writers told me about their days as “copy boy” and “copy girl”. One had worked seven days a week for a year. The other once went to a brothel to reclaim a sub-editor’s credit card for him.
I finished my fortnight feeling much more knowledgeable. There were the innumerable small things, such as not using a brand name in an intro. But there were larger lessons learnt and reinforced: always ask your source the obvious question people want to know, don’t be afraid to pitch an idea, get the details right.
I returned to Brisbane motivated once more, with a story in The Saturday Age and another one appearing online the next day.