Thursday, 26 June 2014

Coming home and newsroom adventures

It seems that I’ve done it again: missed Typewriter Day. It must be the mark of a distracted Typospherian when they’re unable to keep on top of the important day two years in a row. And nor have I kept track of this blog, it falling once again into disuse – which, by now, seems to be its natural state.

Since my last update, from Germany, I’ve returned home, experienced a modern newspaper’s newsroom, drudged through however many weeks of school and generally felt like nothing short of meaningless homework has been achieved. And, after “burning the candle at both ends”, as my father puts it, I’m in bed with a cold, bitterly annoyed that I have to have a day off.

“But,” I protested to Father, “how else does one produce the amount of light required of us?”

Anyway, never mind that now.



A suitcase with two typewriters isn’t one that I would like to be carrying for a very long distance. Weighing exactly 30 kilograms, my typewriter-laden suitcase coming home from Germany was just on the limit. My coat pockets were then stuffed with goods, trying to keep the weight down on my carry-on piece.

“Should I declare the typewriter?” I asked

“It’s just metal, isn’t it?”

“Well, it does have a wooden case…”

“Yep, declare it.”

When I explained what the wood was to the lady in charge she simply laughed in my face and waved me through, obviously unaware that I was carrying two instruments of an on-going, international revolution.



After sleeping for two days, I returned to Sydney, the scene of my work experience, hurriedly planned  and assisted by a good deal of luck from Germany. I was to be spending a week with The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s most prestigious newspaper, mainly under the guidance of Kate McClymont, Australia’s premier investigative journalist.

I spent the first day at an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry hearing, with Herald journalists McClymont and Michaela Whitbourn, listening as the amazing claims of corruption were levelled at people connected to the Liberal Party of New South Wales(which leans centre-right).

Then, the next day, I spent some time with Julie Lewis, Co-Editor of the Letters Page; ringing up letter writers to check their quotes and request changes, cross-referencing quotes and ensuring it was all correct, watching as exchanges between the lawyer went back and forth regarding whether it was OK to imply that a prominent developer was “corrupt”, and ringing a former politician to ask whether we could label him as such.

The first half of Wednesday was spent with Paul Bibby, one of the Herald’s court reporters, a highly generous man who answered many of my questions. In court, we sat listening to a murder sentencing hearing at the Press desks which had been scratched with the names of court reporters since the 1910s. It was fantastic. On Thursday I was also out with Bibby, this time at another court for a different case. Bibby is very much the modern journalist – the type who sure, can take shorthand, but an also walk and write copy on his iPhone at the same time. It was very impressive to watch him work.

And then on Wednesday afternoon I was sent out on the crappy job: vox popping. My task: talk to some wealthy Chinese tourists, because some stats have come out that day suggesting they’re spending more money here. After walking around Darling Harbour and trying to prove I really was with the Herald with only a visitor’s pass, trying to talk to anyone who might have been from overseas on holiday, I had to head back, deadline approaching, having not tracked down a big-spending Chinese tourist. Perhaps feeling sorry for me,  a kind-hearted editor added with Jasper Lindell to the bottom of the story. Despite having no words of my own print, seeing my name there the next day was a very nice, warm feeling.

On Thursday afternoon I was once again at ICAC, with more sensational evidence flowing. McClymont met me out the front, after she’d just done a piece-to-camera for the web edition, telling me, “It’s been very exciting. The police minister has resigned…” It was obvious that counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC (a short, balding man of his own description, with a sense of humour and a record of a few swear words when he thought no one could hear), was having a ball.

That afternoon, former New South Wales state Labor (a centre-left leaning party) politician Jodi McKay gave evidence and was told that an allegedly corrupt developer had colluded with her own political party to undermine her re-election. She gave a press conference outside afterwards – the first one I’d ever been to in person. Rushing back to Pyrmont, the very nice suburb of Sydney just out of the CBD where the Herald office is located, I was assigned to transcribe the press conference. For my efforts, I got my name in print once again. McClymont said that I’d probably had the record number of by-lines for a work experience kid: two.

A newsroom is a place where it is never suggested that, Oh, tomorrow’s paper doesn’t really matter. It’s alive with conviction, abuzz with swear words, and an office where people work through the sunset into the night. But it had a feeling of half-emptiness…

The week after they left Fairfax Media, the owner of the Herald and a string of other Australian newspapers (including Robert Messenger’s former employer, The Canberra Times), announced newsroom cutbacks. I felt horrified – how they could take anyone out of that newsroom on Darling Island Road was beyond me; there’d be no one left.

(The journalists, not liking the sound of cutbacks, went on strike the week after I was there for 24 hours. The cutbacks, in a somewhat diminished form, are, as far as I’m aware, still going ahead.)

But I still haven’t been put off journalism.


  1. Id say thats a very interesting few days at the job. Congrats!

  2. If you could learn to walk and write copy on a typewriter at the same time, now THAT would be impressive! Welcome back.

  3. Busy, busy. It sounds like you are getting some good journalist grounding on those mean streets. Take it in, you'll be referring back to the experience in decades to come, even the vox pop.

  4. Glad to hear from your experience, and congratulations to a job well done.