All posts tagged Media

  • Freelance journalism presentation at Walkley MediaPass student industry day, September 2011

    I was invited by the Walkley Foundation to speak at the Brisbane leg of their annual MediaPass student industry days, which are held at capital cities across Australia. The brief was thus:

    Freelance Panel: what does it take to make it as freelancer? Come along and find out from a range of thriving freelance journalists, featuring:

    Before around 50 journalism students, we each gave a 10 minute presentation and then fielded questions from the audience for the remaining half-hour. I chose to spend my allocated time by giving a brief overview of my path so far, and then speaking about things I’ve learned in the past two years as a freelancer.

    My presentation is embedded below. Click here to watch on YouTube. It was filmed by Matt Shea and edited by Henry Stone. I’ve also included it in text form underneath.

    Andrew McMillen: Things I’ve learned about freelance journalism, September 2011

    The best way to be a freelance journalist is to wake up every day and be a freelance journalist. This means you’ll spend your day researching story ideas, pitching stories to editors, requesting interviews with people you wish to speak to, transcribing interviews, shaping stories until they’re as good as they can be, and then filing them to your editor. I’ve just summed up the entire job in a sentence. That’s what freelance journalism involves. You’ll think of an interesting thing to write about, pitch this interesting thing to an editor, get permission from the editor to write about this interesting thing in exchange for money, and then go out and do just that. Over and over.

    In a way, it’s not glamorous at all, but it depends how you look at it. I choose to look at freelance journalism as: getting paid to learn things, and sharing that knowledge with readers. In many cases I know very little about a particular topic when I pitch a story, but through curiosity and initiative in approaching an editor to write about it, I get paid to familiarise myself with an industry, or a culture, or an issue that affects a lot of people. I’m not saying that I become an expert on something after researching it for only a week or two, but I’ll generally know more about it than the average person. And then when the average person reads my story, they too become informed. It’s a beautiful cycle, and it’s a wonderful way to make a living, as long as you have an interest in learning things. If not, freelance journalism probably isn’t for you. But you should still try it anyway, because you never know.

    Ideas. You need to have absolute faith and conviction in your ideas, because ideas are your lifeblood as a freelance journalist. Without them, you fail. Without them, you’re nothing to nobody. But to have an idea is not enough: you need to conceptualise an idea in a full enough manner that an editor will read your idea and be willing to part with a few hundred or thousand dollars from their budget in order for you to bring that idea to fruition. When I started freelance journalism, my ideas were terrible. I look back on them now and I’m embarrassed by how lame and elementary they seem in comparison to what I’m pitching now. Like anything though, freelance journalism is a learning experience, and you get better over time. But at the heart of this game is the quality of your ideas, which you need to hone and sharpen and polish on a daily basis if you have any hope of getting anywhere.

    Curiosity. Curiosity is currency. As I mentioned earlier, I see this job as being paid to learn, and to teach. Curiosity is key, though, because 95% of my ideas come from reading or watching something and wondering, “why is that?” Or, “how does that work?” Or “why did that person or company make that decision?”. Generally, the question is “why”. The “why” should be a question that you ask yourself constantly. Not out loud, because you’ll probably sound like a lunatic, but as you move through the world, be curious. Story ideas should come easily if you keep listening to the “Why” in the back of your head.

    Mentors. This might be the most important thing I’m going to say today. You need to find a mentor. You need to find someone knowledgeable, who believes in you, who you can report to on a weekly basis and whose input you greatly value. I’m not saying it’s impossible to succeed without one, but I’d guess that it would be much harder. I’ve had a mentor for two years and I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much as I have without their help. I don’t quite know how to explain it, or even how it works, but being accountable to someone other than yourself is a massive productivity boost. You need someone who’ll give you a kick up the arse if you have a slack week, or gently pick you up if you’re feeling deflated for whatever reason. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer or a journalist. As long as they understand the freelance lifestyle and have a background in anything creative, they should be a good fit. But you won’t know if they’re a good fit until you try a mentor relationship. So start thinking about mentors, if you’re serious about pursuing freelance journalism.

    Always look up. Always keep moving forward. Try to have a couple of projects on the go at any one time. Even if you’ve got a few commissions in hand, always be researching new ideas and thinking of new angles that could work for particular publications. The image I like to think of is Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree, only you’re swinging from idea to idea, and from publication to publication. While you’re a freelancer, you shouldn’t settle, even if you find one or two consistent, well-paying gigs. Always be looking up, for your next opportunity, your next big break. Try not to stand still for too long.

    Set goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Not every day will bring you closer to your goals. You’ll have days where the thought of pitching and writing stories makes you want to crack your skull open against the wall. This is fine, as long as most days aren’t like that. Try to maintain a generally productive mindset, but pay attention to your mental state. Don’t force yourself to work if your mind is screaming out against the concept. If you do take a break, whether for an hour or a day, try not to feel guilty about it.

    Self-motivation. It goes without saying that you have to be self-motivated to have any kind of success in this game. Most of the time, you’ll probably be working alone. If you’ve never worked this way before, it can be a shock to the system. It was for me. It took me over a year to find a rhythm where I could sit at my desk all day and work alone without craving some kind of distraction or human interaction. But I found it, eventually, and it’s a nice place to be. Even if I do mess it up occasionally.

    Self-talk. In a similar vein to the last point, self-talk is hugely important in this line of work. You are directly responsible for your income. You can’t just show up at your desk and get paid. You have to research, think, send emails, and maintain relationships with people who might know you only as words on a screen. It is a pretty ludicrous situation to be in, if you really sit down and think about it. So try not to think about it. But you need to believe that you can do this, if you want to have anything resembling a career in freelance journalism. You need to believe in yourself, most days of the week. There isn’t a whole lot of room for self-doubt in this game. I think the best way to avoid self-doubt is to always be busy, so that you don’t have time to doubt yourself.

    A to-do list to keep track of your daily tasks is a must. Being a freelancer means you’ll be doing lots of follow-ups with people; chasing invoices, chasing interviews, chasing stories you’ve pitched and never heard back from the editor on. These things are tiny and easy to forget, which is why you need to keep track of them. I use a to-do list called teuxdeux.com, spelt the French way. It’s very simple but clean, and lets you see five days ahead at a time. It also has an iPhone app which allows me to refer to it and cross things off when I’m out of office. There are probably many other sites and apps with the same functions but this one works very well for me.

    Set up a blog. This is simple and non-negotiable. Set up a blog to act as your portfolio of published work. It doesn’t have to be flashy, it just has to show your work and be regularly updated. If you can, register yourname.com and set up the blog there. Doing this was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a freelance journalist.

    Set boundaries. Since you’re not constricted by a traditional workplace or business hours, it’s quite easy to find yourself working from the moment you wake up, until the moment you go to sleep. I’ve been there. It’s not healthy; it’s how you become burnt-out. It’s important to set boundaries around your workplace as a freelancer, and in this case, your workplace is wherever your PC is. For around nine months I’ve kept Saturday as a ‘PC free day’, where I don’t turn the computer on or do any work-related tasks. I also keep Sunday as a day for catching up on RSS feeds, updating my blog, replying to emails; pretty non-intensive tasks. And Monday to Friday is for work. Structuring your workweek is important. You need to respect boundaries, both for yourself and for those closest to you.

    Finally: enjoy yourself. Freelance journalism can be a huge amount of fun if you approach it with the right attitude. It’s a great alternative to the traditional path of cadetships and applying for reporter jobs, and you can start doing it today. With persistence, self-belief and talent, there’s no reason why you can’t make a living from freelance journalism. I highly recommend it.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. http://andrewmcmillen.com/

    Note: this presentation also appeared as a guest post on the excellent blog The Renegade Writer, which is edited by Linda Formichelli. If you’re a freelance writer, I highly recommend subscribing to Linda’s blog.

  • Junior ‘issues’ story: ‘Music Photography: First Three Songs, No Flash – And No Copyright’, July 2011

    A feature story for the ‘issues’ section of monthly street press Junior, July 2011. It’s an updated version of a feature that originally appeared on TheVine.com.au.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Music photography: First three songs, no flash – and no copyright

    Earlier this year, Iron Maiden – the most recent headliners of the national Soundwave Festival – brought more than just a custom-built stage, hundreds of guitar solos and an enormous British flag. As Junior photographer Cameron Edney discovered on the day, they were also the only Soundwave performing artist to present a customised photography contract.

    “It was pretty tight,” Edney says. “Their contract stated that they wanted shooters [photographers] to send the best shots via mail to London for approval. Once the band’s management had looked over the shots put forward, they would contact us to let us know what shots we could use. They also wanted a minimum of 30 days to do this.”

    Such rights-grabbing statements are nothing new in the live entertainment business, where artists’ images and ‘trade secrets’ have always been fiercely protected. Eddie Van Halen was known to turn his back to the audience when performing innovative electric guitar solos before Van Halen were signed, so as to prevent both his newly-discovered techniques from being viewed by rival guitarists – as well as being captured by keen-eyed music photographers.

    Recent Australian tours by popular rock acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Muse have demanded that photographers shoot only from the sound desk. Muse, too, issued a contract which states that photographers “hereby assign full title guarantee the entire worldwide right, title and interest in and to the Photographs, including the copyright therein”.

    Which means that if Muse – or, more likely, their management and/or lawyers – happen to be browsing your live photo portfolio and they’re particularly taken by a picture of bassist Christopher Wolstenholme in his fetching red suit, they can request the high resolution image file (or negative), and you have no power to negotiate because you’re bound by a contract.

    Why, then, in an age where the vast majority of gig-goers carry web-ready media devices in their pockets, are bands still so insistent on attempting to shield themselves from the close scrutiny of cameras? Recent news reports even suggest that Apple is developing software capable of disabling the iPhone camera whenever a punter tries to film a gig, via clever infrared sensors installed at venues. Though live footage and still images may fall under different arms of copyright law, one wonders: are such heavy-handed measures really necessary?

    British-born, Australia-based Tony Mott has been photographing musicians across the world for over 30 years. He’s been the Big Day Out’s official photographer since the festival’s 1992 inception; his work has appeared on the cover of just about every music and news-related publication imaginable. When it comes to photo contracts, though, his approach is blunt: “I don’t read them, and I never do.”

    Mott says he’s never had any legal trouble as a result of signing contracts in this effectively sight-unseen manner. “Not one single person has come back to me and told me that I’ve been doing the wrong thing. I sell [photos] to music magazines. That’s it. That’s all anyone’s doing with them. I mean, if you started making posters and merchandise [with your photos of the artist], I think you would get into trouble.”

    According to Matt Palmer, a Brisbane-based photographer, “You get treated like a bit of a bastard with these contracts. The reality is, you’re there as a fan, and as a photographer, you’re trying to take the best photos you can of a band. So it’s a bit weak to be presented with these contracts when you’re actually trying to help them out.”

    Sydney-based photographer Daniel Boud notes that two bands that don’t treat photographers like bastards, however, are also two of the biggest in the world: AC/DC and U2. Both acts toured Australia last year.

    “It says a lot that, for two of the bands whose fans are so rabid that you might actually be able to sell the photos for commercial gain, neither act even bothers with having photos contracts,” says Boud. “They’re also two artists that, when you shoot them, their tour managers and publicists are incredibly nice and welcoming to photographers. They thanked us for coming. Whereas a lot of the time, concert promoters make you feel like you’re a pain in the arse to them.”

    It’s a tough line to tread, between respecting the rights of the artist and satisfying both professional photographers and the average punter holding their iPhone aloft. Though their hardware varies, they both want to capture the moment for posterity.

    Junior’s Cameron Edney admits that such contracts “can be a joke; the demands can be laughable, but for the most part, it’s expected. It’s part of the job, and if you get into this side of the business and want to shoot live music, you have to be prepared to sign release forms. If you don’t, you may lose out on shooting bands you really want to cover. Just like any job, music photography has its own disadvantages.”

    Andrew McMillen (andrewmcmillen.com/) is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist and Junior writer. This piece originally appeared on TheVine.com.au; we asked him to update it for Junior. This is his second story for our ‘issues’ series; his first was on ticket scalping. Read the whole series at junioronline.com.au

  • NYWM 2011: A conversation about journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young, May 2011

    Embedded below is footage of my second live Q+A event as Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011: a conversation about journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young.

    The 80 minute conversation took place on May 20, 2011 before around 20 young writers – mostly high school students – at the Bundaberg East State School library. I’ve included some background information about the event below. Scroll down to watch the conversation via the embedded Vimeo clip, or read the transcript underneath. All photos taken by Paul McMillen. Visit Facebook to see the full set of photos.

    From left to right: Janette Young, Christina Ongley, and Andrew McMillen.

    May 20: Talking journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young

    Under 25 and interested in a career in journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – two of Bundaberg’s most experienced journalists will discuss how they’ve built their lives and careers around writing and publishing words. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    Christina Ongley is the editor of the Bundaberg NewsMail and the Isis Town and Country. Her career in journalism began in Bundaberg in 1998, when she worked in the NewsMail’s newsroom for four years. During that time, her roles included reporter, feature writer, sub-editor, chief of staff and news editor. For the following six years, Christina lived and worked in the UK for a three-edition daily paper in Essex named The Echo, where she was soon promoted to news editor. Prior to her reappointment at the NewsMail, she was the media and communications executive for Surf Lifesaving Queensland.

    Janette Young is an editor and journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, starting in the newsroom of her local newspaper in the UK at the age of 18. At 26, she became the first woman editor in her newspaper group and from there moved on to work on The Times in London and at the Press Association in Fleet Street during the Gulf War. Since moving to Australia in 1991, Janette has worked within News Limited, West Australian Newspapers and APN News & Media. She was Assistant Editor with The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and subsequently with The Sunday Times in Perth, and in 2009 was a finalist in the Queensland Media Awards for Best Business / Property Report. During her career, Janette has been Launch Editor of a number of magazines and newspapers, and has lectured and tutored Bachelor of Communications students in Print Media, Media Law and Ethics and Online Journalism. For more on Janette, visit her website.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011 – will facilitate the session. A graduate of Bundaberg State High School in 2005, he’s now a Brisbane-based freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. For more on Andrew, visit his website.

    Embedded footage below. Please note that the vision does drop out a few times throughout the video due to camera file size restrictions. The audio remains consistent throughout, however.

    Q+A transcript as follows. Andrew + audience questions and comments are bolded; Christina and Janette’s comments as labelled.

    Andrew: Thank you all for coming. This is the second event I’m running in Queensland for National Young Writer’s Month. I’m the Queensland ambassador for that event. And here we have two women who have spent most of their adult lives in journalism. So I wanted to invite you all to come and talk about that, and what that involves.

    I’m a freelance journalist myself, and National Young Writers Month’ is about… the funny thing is that it starts next month. I have to explain to everyone who I meet. So these events are to inspire people to set goals for themselves, register on the website, join the community, start talking about writing, and start meeting those goals during the month of June.

    I’ve got some postcards here if you’d like to grab them at the end, which tell you more about it. But today we’re talking about journalism. Most of you in the room are high schoolers, obviously. I wonder if any of you know right now that you want to be a journalist once you graduate?

    [no-one raises their hands]

    Christina: No work experience candidates?

    Andrew: No one? That’s interesting, because I wondered if you two knew that you wanted to be journalists when you were in high school.

    Christina: Partly, actually. When I was about seven or eight years old I used to make up my own sort of mock newspapers and show them to my parents and get them to give me marks [for] them. And I was the editor of my school paper as well. But I’ve always had a really strong background in sports, so when I went to uni I actually was going down the human movements and physio sort of path and then it took me about six months to figure out that that wasn’t what I wanted to do after all. So quick smart, went straight back to journalism. So I sort of floated with it for a long time and then decided it was something I wanted to do.

    Janette:   Well, actually from a very early age I was very determined to become a journalist. I went to a girls’ school and in my day they used to try to push you towards secretarial work. And they set me up for work experience which I cancelled and contacted my local newspaper and at the age of 15, basically started working in newspapers. They used to pay me expenses, which, for me, was huge amounts of money. And I started getting published even when I was 15. I used to work in the local paper on my school holidays, which was great because when I left school I was one of the lucky ones who got taken on direct entry, because I’d already been published and I was obviously passionate about newspapers.

    I never particular had a desire to work in radio or TV. It was always about print media, because I love writing. And I qualified at the age of 22, so they put me through university, which was great because I didn’t go broke while I was studying. And I learnt so much on the job. It was so good to have the direct entry because it meant that I could put the theory into practice and it was just wonderful.

    Christina: That’s something that was really rare these days now, as well.

    Janette:   Very rare, and it’s really unfortunate that they don’t do that because my son’s studying journalism and I taught journalism at Edith Cowan University [in Western Australia] for a couple of years in my spare time because I believe that people don’t get taught enough by people who actually know what they’re talking about. And the practical experience of working in newspapers cannot be replaced by any amount of theory. And I’ve seen young people come through who might not necessarily have excelled at school sometimes, but they make fantastic journalists because they’re hungry.

    [Audience]:  I started journalism at university, but got so disenchanted by the theory that I decided to become a schoolteacher instead.

    Christina: I think it’s a real shame the way that journalism degrees are going now. When I studied about 15 years ago, at the time the body of lecturers were people who had really impressive journalism CVs and it wasn’t just about crafting a story. They could tell you about really tough interviews they had to do, or tough situations they had to confront and how they dealt with them. That was really inspiring. Some of these were people who’d been there in the Bjelke-Petersen era and had some really amazing stories to tell. Just as I was leaving, because I’ve still got a couple of good friends who were lecturers back then, there’s been this real shift towards academia in the lecturing body. I think, for me personally, it sort of sucks all the life out of it because you learn, as you say, all the theory. But it’s very hard to get inspired by people who have spent their life in research and not actually at newspapers or at other broadcast media outlets.

    [Audience]: One lecturer who my friend and I counted the number of times he would say the word ‘commonsensical’. He said it like 47 times in two hours and then I was like, “Well, maybe this isn’t for me.”

    Christina: I guarantee that word would never make it into a newspaper.

    Janette:   Absolutely not, and never in a headline. Anyway, but it is true and it is a shame. My son, I have had to encourage him to continue to be focused but at the end of the day it is worth it. It is an exciting job and the potential for an individual to make their mark and make a difference in the world is huge. And even now, even though strictly speaking I’m not working in newspapers, I still mentor a lot of young journalists. When I left university for some years after that, I continued to mentor young journalists.

    It’s about having a passion. It is a trade if you like, it’s a practical skill. I call myself a wordsmith, and that doesn’t leave you. It’s a great trade to have. I can take you around the world; can take you to all sorts of places that other people can’t get to, and you can meet loads and loads of people that you would never otherwise come across. So if that’s what you like doing, great. If you don’t like talking to people all the time, then don’t do it.

    Christina [pictured right]: I think that’s probably one thing that… this is National Young Writers’ Month coming up, and I think it’s great when people have a real passion for writing and I interview a lot of young people for jobs. I’ll say “what is it that you love about journalism, and why do you want to be a journalist?” A lot of them say, “I really love to write”. And that’s really important, because you can’t teach someone to write well. You can sort of hone their skills and get them to a reasonable standard, but if they’re not a born writer, you can’t teach them to be.

    But the thing I think that’s almost more important to me is: do they like people? Because everything we do is about people. It’s telling peoples’ stories; it’s telling stories that affect people. Readership and people are generally at the core of what we do. So I’ve interviewed a number of young people for cadetships of various kinds. And I’ve looked at some of their submitted work. They write well, but they’re so timid. And I think, “can they pick up a phone and ask someone a tough question? Can they stand up for themselves sometimes when they get a bit of criticism, as we inevitably do at a newspaper? Do they really enjoy having a rapport with people?”

    And if they don’t think they can do that, then I’d much rather have someone who has those personal skills and maybe isn’t such a great writer, as someone who’s a fantastic writer but can’t actually talk to people. That love of people and telling peoples’ stories is just as important, to me, as being able to write well. In this field anyway.

    Janette:   Absolutely.

    [Audience]: Andrew, perhaps now it might be a great time to introduce our panel?

    Andrew: Good idea! Next to me, we have Christina Ongley. Christina Ongley is the editor of the News Mail. And to her right is Janette Young, who has worked throughout journalism and media for over 30 years, I believe.

    Janette:   Afraid so. [laughs]

    Christina: Like it or not.

    Andrew: And my name’s Andrew McMillen. I am a freelance journalist based in Brisbane. To go back to that question I was asking these two earlier; I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist pretty much until I was a journalist. I went to Bundy High, as these four did as well [gestures to audience]. And I knew that I loved reading and writing. I was pretty good at English. I got a few English awards, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist.

    I went to UQ in Brisbane and studied Communication, which is about half journalism, half media studies. And that degree wasn’t very enjoyable. It was, as we were discussing earlier, quite dry and quite academic in its approach. So that didn’t inspire me at all, but during that time I moved to Brisbane. The second year I was there, I started writing for street press, which is the local free newspapers that are put out in record stores and music venues across Brisbane. Music was my passion. I wanted to write about music, and writing about music for them meant that I got free tickets to go to shows that I otherwise would have paid for, so it was a nice little money-saver. Money [from writing] at that time was negligible. It wasn’t on my agenda at all. It was just free tickets and definitely a hobby for me, not a career.

    I did that for a couple of years, getting paid very little. Then I worked for a web design company which was fun for about a year and then I stopped doing that. I was at a crossroads in my life and I thought, “what do I want to do next?” I’d had a couple of years experience in journalism for those music publications and I knew that I really enjoyed, that so I wanted to see how far I could take that. So in the last two years, I’ve been pushing that music freelance journalism angle, and I’ve been published in Rolling Stone, and triple j mag, and The Weekend Australian and a couple of others.

    But since then I’ve realised that music journalism is not what I want to do. I want to do feature-length stories for magazines and newspapers, so that’s where I’m heading now.

    Christina: It’s a tough area to break into.

    Andrew: It is, but with those couple of years of doing [journalism] – first as a hobby, and then secondly as just trying to find my way in terms of what I wanted to do – I couldn’t make that decision [to pursue featuring writing] without having those experiences beforehand.

    Christina: Is anyone planning on studying any sort of communications or media-type degree? [one student puts his hand up] What are you going to be studying?

    [Audience]: Film and television at QUT, hopefully.

    Christina: What’s your greatest interest? Is it the screenplay-writing angle?

    [Audience]: I love all of it. Every aspect of media that I’ve explored so far. I really wanted to head down today because I think journalism is such a big branch of media, radio, and film, and television. It’s pretty imperative to know all about it. That’s where I’m coming from.

    Christina: Great.

    Andrew: I should point out that, if you have any questions for any of us at any point, just raise your hand and we’ll get to it. I’ve got stuff prepared, but this is about you. It’s about what you want to get out of it, so if it’s not going where you want it to, just raise your hand and ask a question. The answer was for these two: Janet knew she wanted to be a journalist. Christina was a bit iffy, and I didn’t want to be a journalist.

    Christina: And we all ended up in the same place!

    Andrew: Were you setting goals in that point in your lives, in your late teens; your early 20s, in terms of where you wanted to be?

    Christina: I went to a private girls’ school on the Gold Coast, and I probably can’t say I was a particularly rebellious teenager. I wanted to do well but what I did really rebel against was the intense pressure that was on us at school to decide the rest of our life at the age of about 13 or 14. At the end of year eight, they sat us down and said, “you’ve got to choose these ten subjects for years nine and 10, and then those will pare down to five or six subjects at year 11 and 12, and then those will go onto probably decide what you study at uni, and that’s going to be the rest of your life.” So, figure that out at 13 or 14. I thought, “what?!”

    So I studied the subjects that I enjoyed and I wasn’t too fussed… it didn’t bother me that I started a course at uni that I then changed my mind away from and switched courses. I mean, I was setting goals. I guess they just changed along the way and I wasn’t too bothered if they changed. I just thought that [in] my late teens, early 20s, surely there was going to be a little bit of wiggle room in there to maybe not get everything right and make some decisions later on if I needed to.

    Janette [pictured left]: I think the reality is that in today’s world it’s accepted that most people will have two or three careers. Just because you happen to start doing something at 20 doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be doing it 40. And I left News Limited after 20 years. I hit the 20 year mark and went, “okay, what do I really want to do now?” Because I could stay there quite happily for the next 20 years after that.

    And I had a very successful career and I was not only the first female editor but the youngest editor of my group when I was 26. In the U.K. I worked on the Times in London. I worked on Fleet Street. I worked on Press Association during the Gulf War, which was very exciting. I worked with News Limited over here. I was launch editor of magazines. Great fun.

    But sometimes you get to a point where you think, “well, what else can I do?” And the great thing about a journalism degree… I think journalism, law, and engineering are the three degrees that are so practical and so useful in the world, because you can take them anywhere and they’re basically like a tool kit. Journalism teaches you so much, teaches you about people and how to talk to people, how to write, how to manage yourself, how to present; how to do so many things that are important today.

    I think that, personally, I was very goal-driven and I still am very goal-driven. Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own path to travel. Although I work in PR work – mostly with not-for-profits, although I work a lot with large corporate as well – I [also] work in behavioural communications. And I love pushing peoples’ buttons and making them behave in a different way. It gives me a real sense of pleasure.

    I work up to the highest level and that’s because I used to, as a journalist, talk right up to the prime minister. I’m not scared of anybody, because I know what they do, who they are, how they operate. And so for me, working in the communications world – which is really what I do, though it’s just the corporate and the not-for-profit areas – I find it very comfortable, because I’ve been there as a journalist for so many years. And I know a lot of people. You meet all sorts of people, and people remember you. And you just have the best time, and sometimes the best parties as well, which is great. I was in the budget lockup for three years in a row and that’s a really exciting thing, because you’re there at the cutting edge of what is happening right now.

    I think that’s the thrill of being a journalist. You’re actually ahead of the news, and I get a real buzz out of that. I still keep myself pretty involved in what’s happening out there. I like to make a difference. I like to lobby. At the moment I’m lobbying a couple of ministers over getting some funding for Salvation Army because they’ve said ‘no’ and I’ve said, “well, not good enough”.

    So you can do that sort of thing. And I think that if you treat journalism as something [where] every day you rock up to work and you give it your best, you’re going to do really well with it. If you’re looking at a soft option, don’t bother, because you won’t last very long.

    Christina: It is one of those things where every day is very different. It’s not like you work on a project for a week or two, and carry it over from day to day with you. You might have some stories that might need a few days’ work or some things that require ongoing investigation, but generally every day is a fresh day. Every day is different, which is one of the great things about it, really. If you’ve had a bad day, you can leave it behind and move onto the next one.

    One of those things to draw on – that both Janette and Andrew have said – is I think sometimes we forget, too, that journalism can be a really great privilege. We’re allowed into a lot of settings that the general public sometimes isn’t. We’re given access to people and places, whether it’s getting free concert tickets or getting to have a chat with a minister or the prime minister or whatever it is; we do get these privileges as part of our job.

    I think because of that, we need to respect the responsibility that we have then to deliver those messages to people and not take advantage of the position that we get given. There’s a lot of criticism, and this is something that probably Janette will be very familiar with.

    You’ve got the press gallery, who are the core of people who are in Canberra covering Parliament all the time. They’re the regular parliamentary reporters that each of those larger newspapers send down to Canberra; there’s often a bit of criticism because they’re there all the time, mingling with MPs and press secretaries and the people who make Parliament tick, that there’s a bit too much closeness. Sometimes they will say “is the press corps getting a bit too close to the politicians?”, and these are things that can be easy to forget when you don’t think enough about the privileges you get in this part of the job we have.

    Janette:   It is true, actually. One of the things I used to teach was media, law, and ethics. Very interesting; what I used to do was teach the students the law first, and then the ethics, because often what is ethical might not be legal, and what is legal might not be ethical. Just because you’re allowed to do it – coming back to that point – doesn’t mean that you should.

    The impact of newspapers and all media on peoples’ lives can be huge. So you have to treat people with integrity. I think if you do that… and as I say, I’ve been in the business for 30-odd years, and I dealt with a lot of very difficult stories and I was a fixture at The Courier-Mail for quite a while there. We were doing some real head-kicking stuff over prostitution and drug use and all that stuff.

    If you treat people with integrity and remember to be a bit kind, because not everyone is used to dealing with media, and just remember that what you write or what you put to air or whatever can have a big impact on peoples’ lives, so it’s a big responsibility to be a journalist. You have a back bench behind you. You have people like Christina standing there, basically being a safety net for you. At the end of the day – and this is the great thing about it; you’re out there representing your organisation, but representing your newspaper or TV station. You have to behave with a high level of personal integrity.

    There’s a really important message that I like to get out to the general public, that yes, there are some people out there who abuse the system [as journalists]. There are people out there who unfortunately don’t check their facts and who stop asking the questions. I always say to young journos, “you don’t stop asking questions until you get the answer you actually believe”. If you can keep your feet on the ground, and actually get to the heart of whatever the issue is, then you’ve got a great story.

    It’s done with integrity and kindness. I’ve done a lot of what we call ‘death knocks’, where you go to someone’s house when someone’s died. It’s a terrible thing to have to do to somebody. But the fact of the matter is that if you do it kindly and if you do it with humanity, they actually… I’ve had people ring me up thanking me for the story that I’ve written about their family member, which is a great feeling because what you’ve done is encapsulated someone’s very valuable life, and paid tribute to them. Because everyone’s valuable to people around them.

    If you take that sort of approach rather than a ‘knock ‘em down and take no prisoners’ approach, you can actually do a real community service through your paper. The News Mail does an excellent job in that, in that it tackles things very respectfully and really thinks about the people and community before it charges in and starts publishing things willy-nilly.

    Christina: Thank you.

    Janette:   It’s true. There you go; it’s the only praise you’re going to get. [laughs]

    Andrew: How do people react when you tell them you’re a journalist?

    Christina: There are a whole range of reactions. Some people say, “that must be really interesting”. Others will tell you that the News Mail spelt their name wrongly 20 years ago, and they’ve never forgiven the paper ever since. Or people say “I better watch what I say”, and I say. “well, if I’m not at work, I’m not at work…”

    I think people have varying respect for journalists depending on what their experiences have been with journalism, journalists, or newspapers. We can do a lot of good for community groups and I think you’ll find that most people we work with generally have a really positive outlook about the work that we do and the good that we can do.

    But unfortunately the other side of it is that we have to do some hard stories. We have to report on people being in court. We have to report on people when their businesses go bust, and perhaps they haven’t been completely honest with all the people that they owe money to. And these are things that can affect peoples’ reputation, so the work we do isn’t cut -and-dry. And the impact, as Janette said, that we can have on people and in communities such as ours can be vast, that we generally tend to guard what their idea of journalists is, I suppose.

    Janette:   I agree with you, actually. I think to a large extent the respect that you get treated with is down to you. How you behave as an individual is really important. So when you go out there, say you behave with integrity, you conduct yourself professionally… and this sounds slightly terrible, but you don’t get too involved, because you’re not there to pass judgement. You’re there to actually report.

    Reporting changes from era to era. Social issues change constantly. Newspapers are simply a reflection of the society in which we live. If we don’t like what’s in the newspapers, we’re actually complaining about our own society. We don’t write about anything that’s not there. We actually write about what’s there. It’s an interesting thing. I am a big collector of old newspapers, and I’m talking really old; 1800s. My oldest one is 1783 and a copy of the Times. In that paper they talk about slavery, they talk about all sorts of things, but not once do they talk about green issues. Not once do they talk about all the things that really matter to us today.

    Christina: Female equality… [laughs]

    Janette:   Female equality doesn’t even rate a mention. It’s very interesting and all media generally – I can only talk about newspapers because that’s really what I spent most of my life in, although I do work a lot with TV and radio. I go on radio quite a lot now, but to me print media is there, and it’s in law, unfortunately, for us what can be shown on TV – and they can just about get away with it – can’t be put into newspapers, because people keep newspapers, and every newspaper gets read by at least three people.

    So you really have to be very responsible in that way but basically, yes, I think that people need to reflect on their own society behaviours before they start criticising newspapers too much, because all we’re doing is reporting what’s going on.

    Christina: In fact we had a letter to the editor in today’s paper where this man started his letter not exactly criticising our newspaper but saying, “look at all the rubbish that’s in newspapers these days”. But he ended up by finishing saying, “I guess if they’re writing what people want to read, this is actually what’s going on in the wider world, and what a terrible state we’re in”. I think you’re right, that was really —

    Janette:   So it was really a ‘I hate the world’ letter. That’s an unfortunate situation for him, but hopefully he’ll get over it. [laughs]

    Christina: That’s right, and [hopefully] he keeps on buying the paper. But I guess that’s another thing to think too. We really are chroniclers of history, if you like. When we look back at old papers and think that they’re fascinating, I’m sure those people didn’t think back then that they would be writing something that in a hundred years’ time or whatever we would look back on as a study of society. But of course we do. There’s almost no better reflection of what’s going on in the world at the time, so what we do now, people will be looking at in 10, 20, 30, 50 years’ time and using that to judge what Bundaberg, or what Queensland, Australia was like in that era.

    Andrew: Which comes back to the responsibility that you were talking about.

    Christina: Absolutely. Down to the slightest thing; if you get a fact wrong then that fact, unless properly corrected, remains wrong for years. As Janette says, when it’s there in black and white print and it’s not something that just flashes up on a screen and goes away and can be forgotten about, it really is very, very final and very long-lasting.

    Andrew: I think of journalism as helping people to make sense of the world around them. That’s how I view it; how I define it. I wonder if you have different definitions of what journalists are.

    Janette:   I think it depends on your audience, actually. I’m a big fan of the Financial Review. I love it because it just tells me what’s going on. It leaves me to make my call. But a lot of newspapers, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that. The Courier Mail’s the perfect [example], every single story they have — don’t get me wrong because I love The Courier. I’ve worked there for years and a lot of friends work there. But every single story they have a comment [next to the story] and I go, “Oh, for goodness sake’s, don’t tell me what to think. That’s okay, that’s me. I know a lot of people do like it.

    Christina: I think it’s generally our job too, especially any sort of politically related or anything to do with government or policy can be really dry, and really complicated and you think “people aren’t going to want to read about that, not the way they’re presenting it”. So it’s our job to take those boring or complex issues and try to break them down into something more simple for people.

    Janette:   You contextualise it, so basically – like the budget. What the News Mail produced was designed to target its own community. “What’s important to us right here, forget everybody else out there, what’s important to our community?” That’s the job of a journalist. You actually dissect the information. There’s reams and reams of it that comes out of the budget and then you say, “this is important to you; this is what you should be aware of. This could actually make a difference to your lifestyle or it could make a difference to your hip pocket,” or whatever. In that way, it does make sense of the world around us. I think it also – if a newspaper gets it right, they put the right stories on the right pages, and that’s why people buy it.

    [Audience]: Do you believe it’s possible to be completely objective?

    Janette:   I do.

    Christina: I used to have a lecturer who said, “you don’t always have to be objective, but you do have to be fair”. I think it can be difficult. I do think it’s possible to be but I think it can sometimes be difficult to be. I think probably more so in smaller communities because your access to contacts, or pool to contacts is so much smaller. You’re very aware of the impacts that stories will have on people that you might know very well. It is a lot more challenging, I think, to confront those in smaller communities.

    It’s easier in bigger places or with bigger papers to burn a few bridges, because you can build some other ones. You burn bridges here [in Bundaberg], you’ve got to mend them if you want to keep on going. Those things are certainly challenges.

    Basically, unless we sort of set out to have a bit of fun with a story, or to say, “we’re going to definitely present a certain kind of angle because we want to campaign on this” or point out that we view an issue a very particular way, our job really when it comes down to it is not to comment, or what they call ‘editorialise’. It’s to say, “let’s take an issue. A few people are going to look at it a few different ways. Let’s report credible spokespeople, not just Joe Blow off the street, and let’s report what they say”. It’s our job to report what other people say on these issues or how they analyse them.

    [Audience]: I feel that objectivity can be lost not only in how you structure your article, but where it’s placed. Value judgments on what is on the front [page].

    Christina: Absolutely.

    [Audience]: Is it something that’s thought about?

    Christina: Probably not in the objectivity sense, but essentially, if you look at the front page of a newspaper, it’s supposed to be your greatest advertisement for your product, which is your newspaper. You want it to sell. You want to put the story on the front that you think will appeal to the widest and greatest audience. That doesn’t necessarily come down to the way it’s reported, but the story itself, and if you think it will be appealing to your readership. Lots of things decide or come into play when you’re deciding where to put things on pages.

    Normally, we say in journalism, generally people will put more of their attention into what’s on the right-hand page. They’re natural readership patterns, or reading patterns. We’ll put our best photos usually on the right-hand pages. Probably put our strongest stories, or what we consider to be stronger stories on our right-hand pages; which is not to say that the left-hand pages aren’t as important, but research over time has shown those are generally the way people read.

    There are those kinds of decisions going on. At the News Mail, one of the things that I’ve always felt to be quite important, because people have often complained there’s always so much bad news on the front page — and that’s because good news doesn’t sell. We know that. [laughs] We get the figures and we see what sells. But it’s important to me to have page three — that’s generally the first thing that people see when they open the cover paper. For me, I want that story to be bright, and upbeat, or quirky, or entertaining. That’s what page three is to a newspaper, to me.

    Janette:   What they call ‘water cooler stories’; stories that people are going to talk about the next day. Every paper, when you draw up a broadsheet page – broadsheets are the big papers, tabloids are the small papers – it’s when you draw up a broadsheet page that you basically have a heavy story across the top, heavy duty, because you’ve got about eighty centimetres of copy there. Then you’ve got your mains, which is going to be something probably social. Then you’ve got a quirky one there and the something that’s probably community on the bottom. That’s pretty much the formula for putting together page three in the major papers.

    That doesn’t change. That doesn’t change from the U.K. to Australia. It’s just the way people like it. People feel comfortable. People like to be entertained. They like the important or what we consider the big news on the front, and often, unfortunately, it is bad. Not always, but often. But inside once you hit page three people like that mix. It keeps them entertained, keeps them happy, which is great.

    Christina: From an outsider’s point of view it may not seem we put that much thought into where we put them, but there’s a lot of different things going on when we place our photos and stories on pages. A lot of it, too, comes down to context. If we’re reporting an ongoing story, and we might report it three or four days in a row. [We’ll say] “we put it on page three yesterday. We don’t really want to do that again. Let’s give it a different position in the paper because it’s probably not perhaps as important as it was yesterday but we still want to make sure we give it a really visible read.” Lots of different competing interests, I guess, in putting pages together.

    Janette:   Journalists do get questioned quite hard when they’re putting their story together. When you put a story together, you have to be balanced by law. That’s how it works. You have all the right of reply, and all those sort of things that you’d know about. All the right of reply and that sort of thing is very important, but it’s also very important in terms of the whole balance. You’re not allowed to just go out there — unless you stick ‘comment’ on it, in which case you carry the can for that comment. It’s actually saying ‘this is my view, I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with me’. Andrew Bolt’s made a career out of that. That’s the way it is.

    But, the time you stick ‘comment’ on it and also when you talk about objective… once someone’s worked for a political party, if they work for a mainstream major newspaper again, they’ve got to have at the end of every piece they write the fact that ‘this person worked for a political party’. You’ve got to tell people what you’ve done. That’s why journalists think very long and hard before going to work for a political party.

    Christina: I guess in Australia too, where Janette started her career in the U.K., and there’s a much greater breadth of newspapers in the U.K. There are well-known papers that take certain political leanings. They can afford to because there’s a big enough readership, a big enough variety of newspapers. If people know they’re sort of a bit left wing they’ll buy the Guardian.

    Janette:   People also buy on that basis. They buy the paper that suits their political view.

    Christina: They’re catering to their own audience. We can’t really afford to do that. Certainly not as regional papers because we’ve only got one readership and if we alienate half those people, then we’re in trouble. But even for our larger newspapers here, most of our capital cities still have monopoly newspapers. There’s really not a lot of competition, which, although it means they’ve to a point got some guaranteed readership, it does mean that they can’t afford to alienate their readers by taking certain political leanings in their reporting. Even though over years, especially probably in the Murdoch press [News Ltd] there’s been criticism.

    Andrew: As an editor, Christina, what do you like to see from your writers; your journalists?

    Christina: Initiative, first and foremost. At regional papers we have a lot of young staff, a lot of people who might be fresh out of uni and so there’s a lot of development that you have to do with them to get them to the stage where you could leave them to their own devices. But generally, I like to see people who show a bit of initiative, not just in the way they write but in the way that they deal with people.

    If they’re trying to get a comment on a particular story and they hit a brick wall, try and find a way around it. Not to give up, and also to see different angles in stories. You might find there are events we report on every year and we could report the story the same way each year. Or court stories, you’ll find we get people appearing for drunk driving and wilful damage and whatever in court, every single day, but it’s about finding a different way to tell the story.

    I like people to be passionate about what they do. Not to see the job as a nine-to-five because it’s not. We try and do the best thing by our reporters that we can, but news doesn’t run on a nine-to-five schedule, or on a Monday to Friday schedule. So it has to be about give-and-take. So I guess we need people to be flexible, and to understand that.

    But I guess also I like people to, as we were saying before, realise the privileges they have. If we get a reporter come to us who’s not from Bundaberg, there’s no better job in the entire community to have to get to know your way around town, to get to know the people who drive the place than to be a journalist, because your very job depends on you getting out and about, meeting new people all the time; tackling the issues of the day. That really is, as I said, quite a position of privilege and a great adventure. Every day generally is a lot of fun.

    I think flexibility and a willingness to try new things [is what I like to see], because Scott [Thompson] is someone who just started at the Isis Town and Country, which is our Childers paper. Scott does quite a bit of work for us in Bundaberg as well, but every single day we’ve pretty well thrown him into a different situation. He’s show a willingness to tackle it and that’s something that to me, as an editor, is really important. What’s been your most interesting job so far, do you reckon?

    Scott: I don’t know. Childers is a place in that, it’s a small town, so you know everyone and you don’t get overwhelmed by it, but there’s always things. It’s very tourism-based so just going out and meeting people and hearing some of their stories have been interesting. You get to do things that you might not do in regular jobs. I’ve been out and I’ve seen scrub pythons eat like seven guinea pigs in a row and I’ve got to pat baby macaws and things like that. Every day’s something different, and you never get sick of your job. That’s a really good thing.

    Christina: The other good thing too – the sort of paper that Scott’s working at because Childers is a bit smaller, sometimes people take a little while to get used to newcomers and it’s sometimes hard to crack into that because people think, “this is our local paper, and he’s from Bundy, but that’s Bundy and we’re Childers!”. People can get quite parochial. It takes that sort of persistence as well to say, “I’m not a local boy, but I’m getting to know people”.

    We were at an event together a couple of weeks ago, at the reopening of the Apple Tree Creek memorial rotunda, and in the space of about five minutes I must have seen Scott say ‘hi’ to about 20 people who just working past. “Hi Scott,”; “Hi, how you going Dorothy?” People he’d got to know, just in the six weeks that you’ve been with us. It’s a great job in that respect, but if you get knocked back you’ve got to keep trying, that’s for sure.

    Andrew: I do want to draw a bit more on Scott, and the path that he’s on now. Could you tell everyone a bit about how you came to work for the Isis Town and Country, Scott?

    Scott [pictured right]:  I studied a Bachelor of Journalism at UQ, and my biggest regret is I didn’t start writing or looking for stories in my first year. You should always be looking for stories, even if they’re just writing on a blog or something, or looking for small places that are easy to get into. You should always be looking for stories.

    I got to my fourth year and I had nothing to show for myself. I’m thinking, “I’m supposed to be getting a job by the end of the year,” so I went out and started writing for, like Andrew, the street press. I did an internship at Time Off, which is one of the free street press magazines, in Brisbane. I blogged for U.K. magazine Rock Sound for Soundwave Festival [2011]. They picked one person out of all Australia, and I basically built up a bit of a portfolio and then I approached Christina, because my parents still lived here and they told me that there was this job going in Bundaberg.

    I got knocked back for the cadetship because I’d already graduated, but I got the job at Isis Town and Country, so I’ve been here for five or six weeks. It’s been really eye-opening in that it’s a lot more full-on that just doing the street press, but you’re not thrown in the deep end. Christina’s given me a lot of help and I’m quite thankful for that.

    I’ve probably learnt more from actually doing my job than learning about it at university. Like other people have found out, it’s very dry and academic based. I think with QUT they do [a] more practical approach [to the journalism degree], and that’s much more important, but I’ve learnt more from actually going out and doing the work, than learning about it.

    Christina: And that’s not to say if any of you are thinking about studying any sort of media or communications, that’s not to say that it’s not a valuable exercise [to study at university]. There are a lot of things that it’s really handy you know before you come to a job, like a bit about ground legal knowledge like what’s defamatory, what might be contemptuous. Those kinds of things are really valuable for you to know.

    But I’m sure a lot of people – and I know I could say the same thing as Scott – that I felt I learnt so much more in my first few weeks of my job than I probably did altogether at uni. But he’s right; the thing that got him his job was me looking at his published work. To me, that showed someone who got off their rear end and done some stuff of their own accord, who wrote well. I could actually see how he wrote and that gave me a glimpse. Looking at his university record wouldn’t have really done anything. Just because you get a high GPA doesn’t really reflect an awful lot. That was far more important to me.

    Even if you guys aren’t interested in journalism necessarily, whatever sort of path you are interested in, do try and get work experience, because one of the reporters that I have at the moment, she very directly got a job because she did work experience with us six months ago. Ever since then we were trying to find an opening for her. If you can take the initiative and in your school holidays, or even through your school-provided work experience programs, definitely take advantage of it, because if you get yourself noticed and they get to know your face, your name, and what you’re capable of, then you’ll definitely find it smooths the path for you later on.

    Andrew: Who knows what a freelance journalist is?

    Audience:   I think I do. I don’t want to embarrass myself…. You write your own stories and sell them to magazines, so you’re not actually employed by anyone? You write the stories and then you sell them to the magazine or papers who want them?

    Andrew: Yeah, that’s basically it. I’ve been a freelance journalist for about two years now, and it means that at any one point I can think of a story idea and have 12 or 15 different publications that I could potentially sell that idea to. I don’t actually write them first, though, because I might not know if I’m going to get paid at the end, and I don’t necessarily want to waste my time.

    [Audience]:   So you just think up the idea and sell that idea to a paper, and tell them that you’ll write about that idea if they pay it?

    Andrew: Yeah, it’s about marketing yourself. I’ve got a few good clips under my belt for Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian. I always mention those first if I’m introducing myself to an editor. [That way] they know ‘this is not just some guy off the street. He’s actually got some credibility’. Maybe. [So it’s about] the intro, and then the [story] idea and how you’re going to approach it, who are you going to talk to, how long you think it’s going to run to, and then you pass it on to the editor. It’s for them to decide whether they go ahead with it.

    Christina: Freelancing is notoriously difficult in Australia, to make a career out of it. And to get paid well. But what you’ll find, and what Andrew may have already found this, is that even as a freelancer once you’ve built up a relationship with a certain publication, they might then commission you to do some stories as well. It can actually go both ways. It’ll usually start off with you pitching an idea to them, and then once they’ve looked at your stuff and say, “we can rely on this guy; he writes well, he hits the nail on the head. Next time we need something done and maybe we can’t get it done by our own staff we’ll give Andrew a call and see if he can do something for us as well, because we’re happy to pay for it.”

    Andrew: I did an event in Brisbane on Tuesday evening about freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law; two guys who are pretty well-known freelance journalists based in Brisbane. They were talking about how most magazines these days… if you think of any magazine, basically, they only have skeleton staffs. Once upon a time, they would have had dozens of people working on Rolling Stone with staff writers, these days there’s only an editor-in-chief, an editor, an art editor, and the rest are just freelancers or they don’t actually work in the office; they just are around Australia, and can be called on anytime.

    Christina: Those people buddy up to local newspapers, because they read stories that you’ve actually done the hard work on and then say, “hey, can you give me a phone number for that person; we’d love to do a story for New Idea”. I say, “no, do your own hard work!”  [laughs]

    Andrew: Christina referred to it being difficult. It definitely is, because on a daily basis you’re marketing yourself, trying to get paid. You don’t know where your next pay check’s coming from. Some weeks I’ve had nothing. I’ve been pitching stories all week, and nothing’s come back. Next week I get commissioned stories that are worth thousands of dollars. It’s very up and down, and very stressful at times.

    Christina: You’ve got to be organised too. If you just work for a newspaper or any organisation, you get your weekly or fortnightly or monthly pay check and that’s fine. You don’t have to do anything. If you’re a freelancer, you’ve got to keep track of your jobs. You’ve got to keep track of, “have they paid me?” Some pay on time and some don’t. You really have to be very organised, to firstly get the work and then make a buck out of it. It’s not the easiest way to do it.

    Andrew: I did want to point it out because we’ve been talking about careers, but there are alternatives to that kind of method [of getting a job at a single publication].

    Christina: Which is great if you want the freedom to work on your own stuff, or you might actually have another full-time job. Perhaps writing on the side is a passion of yours and that’s something you can still continue to do. I guess that’s a really good thing as well, that journalism is a lot of things. It’s not just working at a local paper and reporting on news stories. There’s science writing and finance writing. You might find a lot of people who have different life experience or different kinds of educational qualifications, but still write well can make really good science writers or health writers or medical writers, or whatever. There are a lot of different paths you can take, I suppose, to get to that place.

    Janette:   You would often commission a person who’s an expert in their area to write an article for you. They have to have a fairly strong track record to do that. As an ex-features editor, you’re very careful about using people who call themselves freelance journalists but actually haven’t gotten any qualifications to do that. They can be quite dangerous because journalism is full of legal potholes. When you send your journalists out there, the one thing you need to have in them is complete confidence because what they bring back, you’ve got to trust that implicitly.

    Christina: You make your decisions based on that.

    Janette:   You do, absolutely. If people go out there and bring back information that hasn’t been checked out thoroughly, or is incomplete, or even worse… I used to get a lot of contact from people who do some course and think they were freelance journalists and I’d have to break the happy news to them that actually, they weren’t. You can do freelancing if you are an expert in your field. That’s a different set of criteria all together and when you’re writing opinion pages they’re the people you do tend to tap into.

    Really to be a freelancer, to be a successful freelancer – and credit to you for working in that area – you actually have to be better than the people they have on staff, because unless I’m really strapped and have no one else to do it, I’m thinking, “who can I get to write this story that must be written?” If I know you’re actually going to go do a better job of it because you’ve got good contacts, got good writing style and I like everything you do – but it’s not a style that I want all the time, or a subject I want all the time – then I’ll go and ask you, because at the end of the day people like quality journalism.

    It’s great when people rip out a story or article and keep it. If you’ve got a freelance journalist – and there are some around, some excellent ones around who you know will deliver something that’s out of the ordinary – then yes, you’re going to pay them.

    Christina: The other long-held debating point as well – and this goes back to people who have expert areas, but write as well, is reviews. Whether it’s restaurant or food reviews or reviews of theatre, that kind of thing; when I was growing up there was always this argument of, “do you want someone who’s a great journalist and like film and TV, or do you want someone who’s gone and studied film and TV at uni and really understands a lot more of the nuances in it, but also happens to write well?” Perhaps they’ll make a much better critic. Same for restaurant reviews. You don’t want to send someone along who’s like… I like to eat out, but that doesn’t make me an expert. [laughs]

    Janette:   From an editor’s perspective as well, there’s people who are experts in their field, whether it’s film and TV, they have their own reputation to consider. They are very careful about what they say and don’t say. That gives you confidence as well because you’re actually putting this person out there — if they write something that really isn’t up to scratch, then their reputation in that field can be damaged, so they don’t do it. I’ve found them very reliable, actually. The worst thing is to send in someone, as you said, to do a review of something and they really don’t know their subject. It’s very embarrassing.

    Christina: Reviews can get you into trouble. There are actually some really well-known examples of some quite outlandishly critical restaurant reviews which ended up getting the newspapers into legal trouble and costing them quite a lot in fines. Sometimes these things aren’t really judged to be fair comments. Then you end up paying for it.

    Andrew: I want to point out that, at no point during the couple of years I’ve been doing [freelance journalism], have any of many editors I’ve been involved with asked “do you have a degree in journalism?” or, “have you studied?” It’s far more important to have the clips, the bylines, that you’ve had published, than a piece of paper saying you studied for three or four years, doing a degree.

    Christina: In fact, when Janette first started out explaining how she got into journalism, she said she went in as a direct entry reporter. We have, just probably three weeks ago, taken on a first-year cadet, which… the way the pay structure works in journalism is when you come out of doing a degree in journalism or communications you come out as a third-year cadet and spend a year doing your cadetship, and then you become a graded journalist.

    We really wanted to take on a young person who hopefully was local so they’d grown up in the area, who we could really develop at the newspaper, give them on-the-job experience, because we felt we could give them just as good development of their skills and qualifications at the newspaper as they could at university.

    I actually approached one of my company bosses saying, “can we still get first-year cadets?” He said, “you can, but geez, we haven’t done that in a long time”. That was really important to us. She grew up in Childers. She moved to Bundaberg a couple of years ago. She doesn’t have a degree.  In fact she’d been doing a little bit of work in our advertising department and I said, “you’re going to have to take a bit of a pay cut”. She said, “that’s okay, because I know that’s what I want to do”.

    To me, that was far more important, that she was someone who has a lot of ties to the area, so she’s not just going to leave after she’s done a year and got her experience and move onto a bigger paper. She’s at least going to be someone who will stay with us for a while. She knows people and really enjoys what she does. It doesn’t matter to me that she doesn’t have any university experience, because we’ll give her the benefit of our training, of company training that APN as a company puts on.

    I already saw the way she wrote and her turn of phrase and thought, “she can do it”. That’s rare. You don’t often get those opportunities, but it’s something I’d like to see happen more often because I think sometimes we underestimate young people and what they’re capable of. I guess the other side of that, there are some people who really want the university experience, not necessarily for the educational qualification but they want the experience of that mishmash of people at university, meeting people from all different walks of life and I guess the coming of age and social experiences that uni can offer. I never discourage it. But it’s not necessary, if you don’t think that uni’s for you.

    Andrew: I highly recommend studying at university, and staying on campus at college. I look at my degree; that was neither here nor there, but staying at campus and making all the friends who I’ve maintained for years, and the social events surrounding [college] – that was awesome.

    Christina: Yeah, they’re formative years.

    Audience:   I went to Women’s College, and when you move from Bundaberg you have nobody, and then you go to college and instead of living in a house and knowing nobody, then you meet all these people, it was great.

    Andrew: Scott can probably concur, as well. He went to St. Leo’s [College].

    Scott:  Yes.

    Christina: Great. I lived off-campus actually because I was very determined not to be one of those pampered residential kids. I was quite self-righteous about that.

    Scott:  [College] is kind of bad thing because it breeds laziness. You get everything done for you, get your meals cooked for you, get your rooms cleaned…

    [Audience]: But if you’re a scared 17 year-old…

    Scott:  That’s true.

    Christina: Going back to this cadetship job; maybe that’s a risk sometimes, that a lot of 17 year olds are scared. A few of the people we spoke to, a couple of whom are members of the writers’ group actually, really good kids, but just weren’t ready to be journalists. We had this girl come in who’s just a couple of years older and it made all the difference in the way she carried herself.

    Andrew [pictured left]: Janette made a reference earlier to how, when she was editor, she would commission experts in certain areas to write opinion pieces or write features on those topics. It doesn’t have to be that way. To give an example, I now do some video game journalism for a website called IGN. The way I got into that was because late last year… to give you a bit of background info, Australia’s video game development industry is about 700 people-strong. That’s 700 people who are involved in making video games you play on PlayStation or Xbox or Nintendo.

    The news leaked out [late last year] that the biggest video game developer in Australia had shut its doors and fired all the staff. They were based in Brisbane. The news lingered for a couple of weeks, and no one was really reporting on it, or confirming or denying that it actually happened. There was nothing coming out from the actual company. I wanted to know if it was true, because it interested me – firstly, that the biggest company could shut down and no one really knew the reason, and how it couldn’t be confirmed for so long.

    I started investigating myself by contacting some people who used to work for the studio and got a picture of what it was like to work there. With that information I put a request through to the CEO of the company – which was still going, but no one knew it at the time. He was happy to talk to me because I’d done my background research and I hadn’t just called up to say, “is it true that you guys are closed?”

    When it first happened he had some calls from journalists who were like “So you’re closed, hey? What happened?” He felt he was being antagonised by them, rather than [feeling] a compassionate approach. With that background information that I’d found myself, he opened up and told me why their business model wasn’t working, and what happened to the company, and what’s next for them – which wasn’t that they’re shutting their doors. They were just downsizing a hell of a lot. That story [‘Krome Studios: Things Fall Apart] was an international exclusive, because no one else was covering it and no one seemed to care, so I got in there and got the story.

    Janette:   That’s your news sense coming out, and that’s journalism. With regard to using experts, what I’m trying to say is if I want a piece written about a specific topic or area, that’s when you call in your experts. You’re talking big names here.

    If I want a piece of journalism about a business or company or organisation that’s shutting down, that’s news sense. Regardless of whether your credentials have checked or not, that’s where your journalism degree comes into play. All the things you were saying, and what editors want to hear; “I did my background, I did this, I did that”. Regardless of whether you say “it didn’t matter to me”, actually it has made you the person that you are. I hate to say this, but you are a product of your university degree. And you are a product of the system. And that’s not a bad thing, because that’s what underpins, when we come back down to the reliability of information you read in the media, and as an editor, that’s what you’re looking for. That’s what you need.

    For instance, everything that you’ve said to me… if you’d rung me up, even without me asking you “are you qualified?”, because you don’t need to. You can tell the ones who aren’t qualified. It’s just so clear. They don’t use the language that we use in journalism and all those things, you tick all those boxes, and then you’ve got a story. Unless you tick all those boxes, you haven’t got your balance. You haven’t got your background. You haven’t got everything that you need to actually make a rounded story.

    So yes absolutely, I think that a lot of journalists… and in fact we should talk about initiative as well, there are stories all around us all the time. It’s a question of recognising them. That’s another skill that you gain through training and experience.

    Christina: And just living a little as well.

    Janette:   Absolutely, just being aware and contextualising it and reading other newspapers and actually understanding the importance of what that meant. You said — what were you telling me just then? Seven hundred game companies, so this one closing down wasn’t like a corner store. Actually a corner store is a big thing nowadays. It isn’t like something insignificant happening in a vast industry. It’s like a graphics company closing down. How many graphics companies are there? Most of them are sole traders and dinkering along. One of those goes, but you put it in context immediately. You said “this is a small industry, this is a major player”. It’s gone.

    There’s also the “what happens now?” There’s also, “why did it happen?” And so you go and do your background checks. Actually, I have to say you’re a bit following the creed of journalism and if you’d rung me up with that story I’d have listened to you and I probably wouldn’t have said to you “do you have a degree?” I know you’ve got one because the way you talk; you wouldn’t talk that way unless you had one.

    Christina: You’ll probably find in situations like that as well, the fact that you didn’t have a big newspaper backing you might actually have helped you out. Because as soon as you say, “hi, I’m Andrew McMillen from The Courier-Mail”, people will freeze up sometimes. But you get the opportunity to actually explain who you are and that you’ve done a bit of looking into it. It’s a different path in sometimes. It’s the same for us. “Hi, I’m [whoever] from the News Mail,” and some people go, “Oh hiiiii, how are you?” That’s a path to success. Other people don’t like the News Mail so much. It’s an instant turnoff. As I said, everyone judges based on what experience they’ve had with the name [of the publication].

    Janette:   It’s not always the fault of the current editor, either.

    Christina: No, but that’s all right. The other thing I was going to point out, you mentioned some of the different work you’ve done. Sometimes I think people can really pigeonhole what freelance work is or what journalism is. There’s a lot of copywriting you can do. When I was living in the U.K. for a number of years, I worked at a particular paper. I used to write the odd travel article that I’d freelance through a bigger national paper. I used to go out with a guy who was a graphic designer, so sometimes I’d get some copywriting through websites he’d work on. Sometimes that might be as boring as explaining high-definition television, or some gaming stuff. These were things I didn’t know anything about, so you have to do your own research, and make sure what you can write for people will be believable and in laymen terms enough so that it’s understandable to someone who were just like you before they picked up that article, or looked at that website and didn’t know what they were talking about.

    Janette:   It’s interesting. You have a trivia night with journalists and they have the most eclectic amount of information you’d ever believe because we all… when you work in a newsroom or work in a features department you have to be able to research really quickly and get to groups with ideas really quickly. As a business writer, I can get across company core values, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they fit really quickly. They go “Wow!” I say, “I’ve been doing it for a few years; you get good at this stuff”. But most people don’t have those skills, and again, it’s an interesting thing. You are basically a jack-of-all-trades in terms of information. You kind of become instant experts in things. That’s what we need to be because, if you work for a major daily newspaper, you come out of conference and you say to a journo “I want a thousand words on this subject”.

    They may know nothing about it but they just go “okay”, hit their contacts book, hit the rounds. Learn about it, find people who know a lot about it, and talk to them really fast, and that’s the difference. The difference between a piece of journalism about a subject and a piece written by an expert in that subject; talk about objectivity… I don’t expect the expert to be objective. They have a very strong view but we stick their name on it and they have to stand by their opinion.

    But when a journalist writes a piece it has to be very balanced. When you look at feature articles, I look very hard at the intro but then again a lot of the time the decision on what a story’s about has been made at the back bench level. We’ve told them what the story is and that’s based not on our own personal view. It’s because, like [how] Christina’s here today; anyone who works at senior levels in the media is out there talking to people all the time, and important people, and people who are ordinary, and people who are just connected.

    You find out an awful lot of information so you’re not making an impromptu decision. You’re making a reasoned judgment. You’re saying this is what people are saying out there. I used to run what they used to call the Monitor section, the big opinion section in The Courier-Mail. That was my baby. I used to have a range of people in my contacts that I would ring up on a Thursday afternoon and say, “these are the stories I’m working on. What’s important to you? You tell me what’s important to you.” Some of them were housewives, some were business people, all sorts of things. I respected all of their opinions.

    Christina: I think that’s a common misconception. I think people think that I’m an editor and I get the opportunity to hob-knob with a lot of well-known or perceived as important people in town, that the opinion of our newspaper is driven by that. It’s not. If we want to address good discussion and debate type stories, we want to appeal to what everyday people are talking about… Janette referred to it before as a ‘water cooler story’. That comes from the idea that in the old days, people used to talk around the water pump in the village, or when they’re at work and go to the water cooler. It’s those discussion topics that, when people are passing each other in the street or in the workplace, what are those basic things that affect them that they talk about?

    Whether it’s for instance, one of the big topical things to come out of the budget in the past couple of weeks was teenage mums and when they should go back to work after having had children. That’s something that affects a lot of people. It’s about addressing those kinds of issues that we think the everyday person is talking about, not what the mayor’s talking about or the big businessmen in town. That’s not what drives us as a community paper because they’re a very small part of our readership, in reality.

    Janette:   We have to talk to them because they’re the decision makers, the influencers, the ones who actually make the call at the end of the day. We need to know what their thoughts are. That’s when newspapers really come into their own in the community, [when] they can put out there what decision makers are thinking about and actually ask the question; “is this right;  is this wrong?” I think that’s a very important role to play.

    [Audience]: There seems to be a pattern that I know from my experience; it wasn’t just that studying journalism in university is very dry. It wasn’t just that. I was better at that and I knew that journalism was dry, and I could tell like Scott said; you have to put yourself out there and have to have the passion. You have to get up and go find the story. I didn’t really want to do that, and that seems to be a pattern. You don’t just need people skills and writing, you also have to have the real drive.

    Janette:   The hunger for stories.

    Christina: Yeah, look; it depends on what sort of journalism you’re interested in. If you’re into feature writing or music writing, you still have to have the hunger but you don’t necessarily have to have the need to be confrontational. You find a lot of hard news journalists who — one of my friends, we went to uni together, [we were] like peas in a pod. But we knew instantly when we started working for different papers as soon as we graduated, and he was the guy who loved being out staking out peoples’ houses and really loved hitting people up, and had enormous guts. I remember thinking, “oh geez, that’s not me at all”. I loved sitting down and talking to people and getting a great story out of someone, that you know they would tell you something they wouldn’t tell another journalist because you took the time to understand them better, relate to them a little better. That was the kind of journalist that I was as a young person.

    I think you can still be passionate and hungry without necessarily being hard-nosed. But at the same time, those kinds of journalists are very sought-after. There’s probably a bit of extra prestige, rightly or wrongly connected with it in some ways, and [it’s] quite hard to break into.  You have to really work at it to get into it.

    Janette:   I think [you need to be] inquisitive as well, in the same way you were talking about that story just now. It’s that interest in the world around you. I find… I have Austar, because I love watching all the overseas news. I watch all the overseas news channels. I love to know what’s going on out there because I don’t get enough of that through my own media here in Australia. I probably will never get enough of it. I watch the [Federal] budget from start to finish. I watch the election from start to finish. It comes on; I’m sitting there glued to the chair. I’m reading; I’m making my own decisions so when they come on later and start interpreting, I’m like “whatever. I saw the speech, don’t worry about it. I know what’s going on.”

    That’s me, and I like to be informed. I think that if you like to be informed and you are inquisitive and you see the story and, “go hang on; that’s important because….” and that’s important because it’s what puts it into the newspaper, and it can be important because of its importance to the community for whatever reason. It’s important because it’s got implications for peoples’ lifestyle or budgets. There’s all sorts of “it’s important because”.

    I used to work on the back bench to various newspapers as chief sub, which is like the conduit for all the copy that comes through. I used to have a ‘WC’; I used to go through stories because they come in, loads and loads of stories. It was, ‘who cares?’ You put ‘WC’ by it, it was like it was dead, gone. No one cares. That’s my judgment, but someone has to make the call at some point. You’re making that judgment based on experience and based on your knowledge of your readership. At the end of the day your readership is who you’re talking to. ‘Who cares?’ is actually a really important benchmark to have in newspapers. People ring up and say, “I’d like to put something in the paper”. You go, “that’s actually not of very much interest to a lot of people”.

    Christina: Or it might affect you.

    Janette:   You personally, but it’s not that interesting, the ‘who cares?’ And other people you’re talking to them, they go “blah, blah, blah…” and you go, “that’s really important and we should do a story on that”.

    Christina: If it’s affecting you, it’s probably affecting thousands of other people in town as well.

    Janette:   That’s right. And they say, “oh, is that a story?” And you go, “yep, absolutely.”

    Andrew: [to audience member who has been asking most of the questions] What are you doing now, if I may ask?

    [Audience]:   I’m doing my graduate diploma in teaching, and then I’m going to do my Masters.

    [Audience]: [to Andrew] You said before about some of the contacts that you made. You said that you got a hold of a few past employees about the video game company. How do you get the numbers of these people if you’ve never met them before? You don’t know anything about them.

    Andrew: It’s a good question. The way I did it… I’m not saying this is the only way, but there’s a website called LinkedIn which a lot of people use for their professional histories. You can search by ‘past employer’. I searched for anyone whose past employer was ‘Krome Studios’, which is the name of the company involved, and that uncovered dozens of people. I just hit every single one of them via email. Actually, those that had websites or personal blogs; I hit them and said “I want to look into this. Can you tell me anything, or do you know anyone who was working there recently?” Not everyone replied, and some people even told me to “bugger off, just leave it alone”, but a few did [reply positively].

    Christina: Persistence comes in.

    Andrew: Yeah. A few people did open up and gave me contacts who had just been laid off by the company. I had a range of people who’d been there from five years ago, up until the week it closed.

    Christina: And take this however you will, because I’m sure a lot of you use social networking sites a lot, but they’ve opened up a lot of research tools to newspapers. If we’ve had some crime stories — to give you an example; there was a pretty awful stories probably two or three months back. I’m not sure if any of you might have been familiar with it but a twenty-four year old woman who was seven months pregnant when she was killed, she was found dead in a house. It looked as though she might have been stabbed. There was a bit of mystery around it.

    We basically were able to come up with a name because the police wouldn’t release it to us straightaway. We were able to come up with a name through looking at Facebook connections between people. Then, thankfully because we’ve got quite a number of employees at the News Mail, when we threw that name around the building one of the advertising staff said, “my mum knows that girl’s grandmother”. Through speaking to her grandmother we were able to speak to her dad and do this really quite heart-wrenching story about this dad’s pain for his daughter who had a drug problem and got caught up in the wrong crowd. And no one was ever able to crack that story because they didn’t have the same contacts, just through the community that we had. That story is still ongoing, but Facebook particularly has opened up a lot of research paths for us in that way.

    [Audience]: Do you find there’s a lot of controversy around reporting peoples’ names in the paper? If you have a court case and it’s particularly horrific, like a lot of controversy surrounding that?

    Christina: Actually there is law in place that dictates what you can and can’t report. Sometimes we do make a judgment call. Sometimes we can report someone’s name and we decide maybe it’s better not to, but generally — to give you an example; you’re not allowed to use the names of child victims of any sort. You’re not allowed to use the name of someone who’s been accused of any sort of sex offence until it’s been established that there’s enough evidence for it to go to trial because that recognises the fact that perhaps someone might have maliciously made an accusation against them and you’ll ruin their reputation if you report their name until that later trial time.

    There are very specific measures that are put in place legally to govern what you can and can’t report. We just find that the best way to deal with that is to treat everyone the same. You follow the law to the letter because once you start making exceptions, then it’s very difficult for you to justify or explain why you treated this defendant one way and that defendant another. You really need – with court [reporting] especially – you need to be able to treat everyone fairly.

    When I talk about using judgment, to give you an example; I had a court case about twelve months ago where there was a couple of young guys who plead guilty and were convicted of stealing from a guy and assaulting him. They said, in their defence, that this man they’d beaten up and stolen from had actually offered to sell his wife for sex to them. The reporter had originally included that man’s name and his wife’s. I thought, “just in case the guys made that story up, for the sake of that woman, I’m going to take that out because people don’t need to see that”. It’s not important; it doesn’t add anything to the story. It didn’t really change anything about it except for the fact that someone’s dignity was protected.

    Sometimes it is a bit of a minefield and a lot of people will call us threatening legal action because we’ve used their name in the paper, but generally it’s just because they don’t understand how court works and what we are and aren’t allowed to do. We always take the time to explain it to them. Some are accepting, and others not so much. [laughs]

    Janette:   It has been accepted in the legal community that, for instance, drink driving. The News Mail carries the names of people who’ve been convicted of drunk driving that week. Where I did my cadetship there was a lot of shoplifting; very poor people who would go shoplifting. So used to get these very upset women saying, “please don’t put my name in the paper,” and I’d go, “[it’s] not my call”.

    As you say; level playing field. It is regarded by the police certainly – and by the legal system generally – that part of the repercussions of drinking and driving is to be publicly humiliated. That’s really a sad fact of life, but it is a deterrent for people. They might not be deterred by a large fine, but they would certainly be deterred by people knowing about it in their own community. It’s not something people generally are very proud of.

    [Audience]: You were saying before you’re using Facebook. Are you finding some sort of online media and basically everything online is becoming a big part of the industry?

    Christina: Absolutely. It’s something that’s a really difficult thing for newspapers to navigate at the moment because we tend to find that we have quite specific audiences, different audience, those who read the paper and those who read us online. Just by people who leave comments on your stories, you get to know the different clients of readers you have. Websites are definitely becoming the way of the future. The difficulty a lot of newspapers are facing at the moment is that they’re not as commercially viable yet as paid advertising is in newspapers. That’s how we survive. Obviously we make money out of the cover price of newspaper, but that’s a small percentage compared to the revenue that comes in through advertising and advertising allows us to exist as a company.

    We’re sort of in this state of flux at the moment. We’re doing a lot of work on our websites and making sure that we stay relevant to younger people especially because I don’t know about you guys; would most of you look at websites rather than pick up a newspaper? Would that be fair to say? [most of the audience raises their hands]  Yeah. It’s really important for us to maintain that, while not losing our newspaper audience at the same time. At the moment we’re in this awkward middle ground of maintaining the two.

    Janette:   The other aspect of social media and the internet generally is the unreliability of information that’s contained on it. It’s a real minefield, especially for journalists. It’s a valuable resource, no question about it. I don’t know how we managed without Google, quite frankly. I can’t remember how we managed without Google. It is very important to check the reliability of the information and that comes right down to published papers and that sort of thing. People have access to a means of communication that really has and still has no legislation that is workable around it. It’s very interesting. Newspaper sites, funnily enough are one of the most reliable forms of information gathering.

    Christina: And publicly trusted.

    Janette:   Exactly right, but also all the Facebook sites and that sort of thing; be very careful about what you put on your Facebook site because it is out there in the world and it can come back and bite you. It does put a window into your own personal world, and I know we all warn children and young people nowadays, but do take it very seriously. It’s very important but also, from a journalist’s perspective, if there’s information that’s on the internet in whatever form, we tend to actually require them to follow it up with other means of inquiry. We don’t trust internet information generally unless it comes from a very, very reputable site. Then we tend to identify that source as well. If it’s wrong, we blame them.

    Christina: That’s an interesting thing to bring up. When you’re researching for assignments… there’s always this age-old argument that we’re giving our kids as good an education now as we were twenty years ago, and everyone just copies and pastes everything from the internet. There are actually some really good theories around at the moment that says because there is so much information on the internet, actually you are getting really good skills of analysis because you have to weed out the good from the bad and decide what is relevant, and what is trustworthy, and what isn’t. There is quite a lot of skill of analysis that involves using websites these days. I wouldn’t discount it out of hand.

    I tell you what; sometimes, if we’re trying to crack some stories or we’ve got a spare 20 minutes here or there, it’s terribly fun if you know a few underworld criminal names in Bundaberg, and figuring out who knows each other and, “oh, I hadn’t expected that name to crop up”. [laughs] It’s actually quite an adventure, but as Janette says, your Facebook profiles are your reputation, and it’s something that when we’re researching stories we get a pretty good idea of who people are based on what sorts of photos, what sorts of comments they put up on their social networking sites.

    Andrew: So tell us more about this underground criminal network in Bundaberg…?

    Christina: Going back to this story about this seven-month pregnant woman who was killed; because of some names that we were familiar with that were in the mix, we have a court reporter who goes to court every day. You get to know who the usual suspects are, I suppose. I probably wouldn’t want to mention too many names, but [laughs] but once you’re familiar you realise, there really is a network. [A teacher indicates that most of the students have to leave to catch buses.]

    Andrew: Guys, thank you so much for coming. This is part of National Young Writers’ Month. There are postcards up here if you want to grab one, for more information about the website. Join the community, start setting some goals about writing if you’re so inclined, and talking about writing.

    Please thank my guests, Janette and Christina.

    ++

    For more on National Young Writers’ Month 2011, visit the website. For more on Andrew’s involvement as Queensland ambassador, click here. For the full set of photos taken by Paul McMillen during the session, click here.

  • National Young Writers’ Month 2011: ‘Why I Write’ entry

    I’m the Queensland ambassador for the first National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM), which runs June 1-30 2011. You can read all about what that entails here.

    Below is an entry originally posted on the NYWM blog. It’s a response to the question, “Why do you write?”

    Why I Write: Andrew McMillen

    As National Young Writers’ Month approaches, guest writers will be joining us to share their perspectives on why they write.  Today Andrew McMillen, our Queensland ambassador, talks us through his motivations.

    As a journalist, I write because I want to be engaged with society. I want to contribute. I want to tap new veins of research. I want to speak with people who matter about the issues that concern them, and tell their stories to the widest audience possible. I want to be involved; to ask questions, to challenge preconceptions, to dig beneath the surface veneer. I am still quite new to this, as I can probably count on two hands the number of my published stories that have achieved these goals. But these are the goals, nonetheless.

    That’s my stance on ‘why I write’ as of May 2011. It wasn’t always this way.

    The first time I was ever published, in any sense of the word, was in 2002. I was an eager member of an online video game community, to put it lightly. I spent hours each day contributing to discussions about all manner of topics with people across the world. I started writing news for the site; a process which, essentially, involved rewriting press releases and summarising new information garnered from other websites. Totally unglamorous – and actually, kind of dirty now that I look back on it – but at the time, I loved it. I felt engaged. Empowered. People were reading my articles, and coming out the other end knowing things that they did not know before! It was a breakthrough. I was 14.

    I didn’t uphold this (clearly unpaid) role for long, but I never forgot that first experience of being published. Of having people read my words, and react. Occasionally, throughout my teens, I’d find momentary inspiration in something. I’d sit down and put my mind to writing something outside of my high school assignments. A spirited defence of a friend’s band on a local message board. Over-earnest attempts at aping Tucker Max‘s style by recounting some drunken nights spent with friends. A live review of my favourite band, and how much it blew my mind. These stories never made it far, but it was the writing equivalent of flexing my muscles every once in a while. As with bodybuilding, if you don’t use the muscle, you’ll eventually lose it.

    I moved to Brisbane from Bundaberg in 2006. I began studying Communication. I didn’t have a good reason for doing this. It essentially came down to my parents pressuring me to study something; anything. Communication seemed like the course that would suck the least. Ultimately, I was wrong in this assumption – though since I’ve never studied anything else, I can’t really compare their suckiness – but I finished my course and got the certificate.

    That first year of university, I went to a few dozen live music shows. I liked music a lot, but I’d never really considered writing about it. Especially not for money. The concept seemed faintly ridiculous. Initially, it was something of an ethical dilemma: why should people get paid for writing about something that they love? (Sidenote: boy, has this view changed.) That year, I began avidly reading Brisbane’s street press – free newspapers, delivered weekly to record stores and venues across the city – as well as the handful of online music media sites that existed at the time. Eventually, I made the connection that the people reviewing shows in those pages, and on those websites, were doing so for free. They weren’t paying for tickets. And some of them weren’t great writers: their sentences were awkward, and their facts were wrong.

    After reading one too many poor reviews of a show I’d paid to attend, I decided to throw my hat into the ring by writing my own review. And sending it to a couple of editors: one street press, one online. Both liked what I wrote, and assigned me more reviews. It was June 2007. Over the months, what began mostly as a cost-saving venture as a university student eventually became something about which I’m more passionate than ever: comprehensive, unique live music reviews.

    Nowadays, I still review shows, but my attention has shifted toward meatier targets: namely, feature stories. Big, long, heavily-researched articles which require dozens of interviews in order to condense a wide range of viewpoints into a coherent narrative. This is way, way harder than going to watch a couple of bands and filing 300 words on how they performed – which was essentially the extent of the copy that I filed as a journalist (in the loosest sense of the word) between mid 2007 and early 2009.

    Clearly, the goal has shifted from gaining free entry into concerts. It’s now about telling stories, starting dialogues. Challenging. Provoking. All that stuff I mentioned in the first paragraph. But without those experiences along the way – first, thanklessly rewriting press releases about new Nintendo games, then the equally thankless task of reviewing live music in Brisbane – I wouldn’t be where I am now. While both why and how I write have changed immensely in the last few years, my belief in – and dedication to – the craft of writing only strengthens with each passing day.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist for Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail and triple j mag, among others. He is also the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011. For more on Andrew, click here.

    For more information about National Young Writers’ Month, visit the NYWM website. If you’re a young writer, register on the website, set a goal, and join the conversation. It’ll be fun.

    If you’d like to contact me for an interview or to arrange media coverage of any of the above events, email me here.


  • Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month, 2011

    I’m the Queensland ambassador of the inaugural National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM), which runs from June 1-30 2011. On behalf of Victorian arts organisation Express Media, it’s my job to inspire Queenslanders under the age of 25 to set themselves a writing goal. With the support of the National Young Writers’ Month community, they’ll (hopefully) be able to reach that goal during June.

    For more information on NYWM, visit the project website, where you’ll find forums, blogs, writing exercises, interviews and articles all designed to give you the tools to reach your own ambitions.

    I’m honoured to be a part of the first NYWM.

    With the goal of inspiring young writers in mind, I’ve organised three live events in the lead-up to June: two in Brisbane, and one in Bundaberg, my home town. I’ve wrangled together some of my favourite Brisbane-based writers – four of whom I’ve interviewed before; click their names below for those conversations – as well as two Bundaberg locals who’re well-versed in the craft of journalism.

    Event details below, in chronological order. Click the event names link to view their respective Facebook events.

    May 17: Talking freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law

    Under 25 and interested in a career in freelance journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – two of Brisbane’s best-known (and best-regarded) freelance journalists will discuss how they’ve built their lives and careers around writing and publishing words. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    John Birmingham (@JohnBirmingham) is the author of the cult classic He Died With a Felafel in His Hand and, more recently, thrillers such as Without Warning, After America, and the Axis Of Time trilogy. He also wrote the award-winning history of Sydney, Leviathan. He began his writing career as a freelancer for national magazines like Rolling Stone and Australian Penthouse. He currently freelances for The Monthly and The Weekend Australian, among others. He also maintains several weekly columns for Fairfax Media and his own blog, Cheeseburger Gothic, where he has a built-in audience of Birmingham-fanatics affectionately nicknamed ‘Burgers’.

    Benjamin Law (@MrBenjaminLaw) is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. He is a senior contributor to frankie magazine and has also written for The Monthly, The Courier Mail, Qweekend, Sunday Life, Cleo, Crikey, The Big Issue, New Matilda, Kill Your Darlings, ABC Unleashed and the Australian Associated Press. His debut book, The Family Law, was released in 2010 via Black Inc. Books. He’s currently working on his second book, a collection of non-fiction looking at queer people and communities throughout Asia. It has the working title of Gaysia. For more on Benjamin, visit his website.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for NYWM 2011 – will facilitate the session. He’s a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. He has been a fan of both Birmingham and Law for quite a long time, and was thrilled to interview them both in 2010 for The Big Issue and The Courier-Mail, respectively. For more on Andrew – who will do his best to contain his excitement at being seated on the same stage as these towering literary giants of Brisbane – visit his website.

    Attendees are encouraged to ask questions of the speakers at any point throughout the session. This event seeks to answer any and all of your questions that relate to careers in freelance writing and freelance journalism.

    Date/time: Tuesday 17 May, 6.00pm-7.30pm

    Location: Metro Arts studio, 109 Edward Street, Brisbane City.

    Cost: Free.

    May 20: Talking journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young

    Under 25 and interested in a career in journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – two of Bundaberg’s most experienced journalists will discuss how they’ve built their lives and careers around writing and publishing words. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    Christina Ongley is the editor of the Bundaberg NewsMail and the Isis Town and Country. Her career in journalism began in Bundaberg in 1998, when she worked in the NewsMail’s newsroom for four years. During that time, her roles included reporter, feature writer, sub-editor, chief of staff and news editor. For the following six years, Christina lived and worked in the UK for a three-edition daily paper in Essex named The Echo, where she was soon promoted to news editor. Prior to her reappointment at the NewsMail, she was the media and communications executive for Surf Lifesaving Queensland.

    Janette Young is an editor and journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, starting in the newsroom of her local newspaper in the UK at the age of 18. At 26, she became the first woman editor in her newspaper group and from there moved on to work on The Times in London and at the Press Association in Fleet Street during the Gulf War. Since moving to Australia in 1991, Janette has worked within News Limited, West Australian Newspapers and APN News & Media. She was Assistant Editor with The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and subsequently with The Sunday Times in Perth, and in 2009 was a finalist in the Queensland Media Awards for Best Business / Property Report. During her career, Janette has been Launch Editor of a number of magazines and newspapers, and has lectured and tutored Bachelor of Communications students in Print Media, Media Law and Ethics and Online Journalism. For more on Janette, visit her website.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011 – will facilitate the session. A graduate of Bundaberg State High School in 2005, he’s now a Brisbane-based freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. For more on Andrew, visit his website.

    Attendees are encouraged to ask questions of the speakers at any point throughout the session. This event seeks to answer any and all of your questions that relate to careers in journalism.

    Date/time: Friday 20 May, 1.30pm-3.00pm

    Location: Bundaberg East State School library, 33 Scotland Street, Bundaberg East.

    Cost: Free.

    May 24: Talking feature journalism with The Courier-Mail’s Qweekend magazine staff

    Under 25 and interested in feature journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – three staff writers from The Courier-Mail’s award-winning Saturday magazine, Qweekend, will discuss how they approach their craft. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    Matthew Condon is an author and journalist who served out his cadetship on The Courier-Mail in another century, and now edits Qweekend. His first novel, The Motorcycle Cafe, was published in 1988 and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Since that first success, he’s either won or been shortlisted for nearly every literary award in Australia, for novels such as A Night At The Pink Poodle, The Pillow Fight and The Trout Opera. His most recent book is entitled Brisbane. Its narrative interweaves a historical analysis of the city with Matthew’s own experiences of growing up here. Released in August 2010, John Birmingham called it a book of “great beauty and depth” in his review for The Monthly. Mr Birmingham is completely correct.

    Trent Dalton (@TrentDalton) is a feature writer for The Courier-Mail. In 2010, he won a News Award for Features Journalist of the Year for the second time. He’s also an acclaimed screenwriter: his short film Glen Owen Dodds, which starred David Wenham in “an uplifting tale of love, faith, the meaning of life and other trivial matters”, was last year nominated for Best Screenplay In A Short Film at the AFI Awards. I’ve long believed Trent to be Australia’s best feature journalist, which I discuss at length here.

    Amanda Watt is a staff writer at Qweekend, a position she’s held since 2008. Highlights during this time include receiving a commendation at the 2008 Walkley Awards in the Magazine Feature Writing category; winning Best Feature at the Queensland Media Awards the following year; being ‘highly commended’ at the 2010 Walkey Awards for a Qweekend feature on internet child pornography; and being named as a finalist for Features Writer of the Year in last year’s News Awards alongside her colleagues Matthew Condon and Trent Dalton. A University of Queensland arts graduate, Watt has worked as a reporter and a feature journalist at The Courier-Mail since 1998.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for NYWM 2011 – will facilitate the session. He’s a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. A longtime Qweekend reader – some might say worshipper – he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss feature journalism with three of Queensland’s best writers. For more on Andrew, visit his website.

    Attendees are encouraged to ask questions of the speakers at any point throughout the session. This event seeks to answer any and all of your questions that relate to careers in feature journalism. For more information about Qweekend, visit their website.

    Date/time: Tuesday 24 May, 6.00pm-7.30pm.

    Location: Metro Arts studio, 109 Edward Street, Brisbane City.

    Cost: Free.

    For more information about National Young Writers’ Month, visit the NYWM website. If you’re a young writer, register on the website, set a goal, and join the conversation. It’ll be fun.

    If you’d like to contact me for an interview or to arrange media coverage of any of the above events, email me here.

  • The Weekend Australian story: ‘Independent bookshops: Holding the line’, March 2011

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review. The full story is included below.

    Independent bookshops: Holding the line

    Some of the big boys may be in trouble, but independent bookshop owners are stubbornly hanging on, writes Andrew McMillen

    “We’re all a little bit crazy. We’re all a little bit obsessive. We all work far too hard. We’re really passionate about what we do. We all do a huge amount of unpaid work in the community. We’re all literary award judges. We talk to schools. We’re passionate about literacy.”

    Fiona Stager, co-founder of Avid Reader in Brisbane’s inner south, is describing the sort of people who own and operate independent bookstores across the country.

    Suzy Wilson, owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, an inner-east suburb of the Queensland capital, wouldn’t argue with that assessment. There’s “a certain addiction to doing this”, she says. “I love it and believe in it. I believe in how important bookshops are in communities, to the extent that I’m not prepared to disappear.” With a laugh, she adds an afterthought, “Which my accountant thinks would be a really good idea.”

    Entrance to Riverbend Books is gained by passing through the bustling Teahouse, Riverbend’s cafe. Monday morning business is brisk and walk-ins are hard-pressed to find empty seats. Inside, dozens browse the shelves; among them, young professionals and mothers with babes in arms. The sound of children laughing and playing echoes throughout the space. Handwritten staff recommendations hang from every other shelf. Overhead, a jazz soundtrack is played at just the right volume.

    A former schoolteacher, Wilson knows “a lot about literacy and the ways of leading children towards books”, but had “less than zero” business knowledge when she decided to open the store in 1998. Based on what she gleaned from books on the subject — and what other medium would a prospective bookshop owner use to increase her knowledge? — it became clear that since her business would not be based in a shopping centre or an area with a high passing trade, Wilson needed “some other thing to make it a destination”.

    Hence the Teahouse. Initially, a relaxation of Bulimba’s town planning laws allowed her to sell coffee, sushi and sandwiches, but not hot food. Since then, the overall store space has doubled and the Teahouse is now a restaurant in its own right, serving breakfast and lunch daily. Its earnings account for about 30 per cent of Riverbend’s overall business, but Wilson hopes the books and food split will return to 50-50, as it was in recent years. The two operations “complement each other really nicely”, she says.

    Visiting authors have commented on the bookstore’s atmosphere. Children’s author James Maloney regards it as the “community church”, and another writer compared it with an English pub, referring to the store’s power as a social space. “I really like that role,” says Wilson, eloquent and generous in conversation, and with her praise of others.

    Last year Wilson travelled to New York with Stager and two other bookshop owners, Mark Rubbo and Derek Dryden. Dryden is owner of Better Read Than Dead, in Sydney’s Newtown and Rubbo is general manager of independent chain Readings, which operates six shops across Melbourne. “He’s one of the few who’s significantly increased his online sales,” Wilson says, with unbridled admiration.

    Rubbo makes the point that “people will always want to have some face-to-face contact and the pleasure of going into a bookshop, discovering things and talking to people. I think it will always be important. But that aspect of the business is losing market share to internet retailers.”

    In New York Rubbo, Wilson, Stager and Dryden were the Australian contingent at Book Expo America, the largest annual US book trade fair. Calling it a place where “many interesting minds come together to talk and think about the book industry, and where it’s going”, Wilson found conversations there were the impetus for “facing the music”; for adding up the risks involved in continuing and the chances for survival.

    Wilson nevertheless gives the impression she would rather not have to deal with questions about her business and its future, whether asked by her accountant, her customers or a journalist. The mere existence of pleasant, inviting bookshops such as her own should be punctuated with an exclamation point, not a question mark. After all, what else but passion could fuel the pursuit of an endeavour such as hers?

    The business concerns of bookshops have been widely discussed of late, due largely to the mid-February announcement that REDgroup Retail — the company that oversees book chains Borders and Angus & Robertson — was entering voluntary administration. REDgroup chairman Steven Cain pointed his finger squarely at the federal government for its refusal to lift import restrictions or enforce GST on online shopping.

    When this topic is raised, Wilson is unequivocal. “I regard it as grossly, grossly unfair that Amazon doesn’t have to collect GST. Canada make them do it, so why can’t we?” she asks. “I’ve written a few letters to politicians over the years. I’ve been bamboozled as to why no one wants to do anything about it.”

    To Wilson, Amazon — the world’s biggest bookshop, whose storefront exists solely online — is “that horrible word we don’t like to use too often”. No wonder. Businesses such as Amazon and the Book Depository, an emerging online bookshop based in England that offers heavily discounted titles and free shipping to Australia, have altered the way customers buy books.

    Wilson tells a story about book-club members who had been buying titles at the store for 10 years. Discovering the Book Depository had the same books for half the price, members “took me to task”, Wilson says. “I asked if they’d let me put up a spirited defence of my situation because they actually thought I was ripping them off.” She sighs. “That hurts. So I put up my defence, but they’d already ordered the books, so they went away a bit sheepish. I said, ‘If you buy from them, you’re saying that this place has no value in our community.’ I completely understand that you have to watch your dollars, but it’s a choice about where you watch them and what you value in your community. I think you have to look at the bigger picture and say: ‘Do I want a community without a local bookstore?’ ”

    But this is all business talk. Wilson would much prefer to discuss Riverbend’s role as a community hub; how, for instance, seven local school principals use the Teahouse for their monthly breakfast meetings. Wilson regularly sits in with them. “They’re a really interesting group,” she says. In their most recent meeting, the topic of social media came up. It turned out that none of them — all “oldies”, according to Wilson, who lumps herself into that demographic — uses Facebook or Twitter. She realised last year all of her staff were “competent and involved” with such networks; at the time, she was blissfully ignorant yet aware of the necessity to keep her finger on the digital pulse. So, with the school principals as the first guinea pigs, Riverbend will soon begin hosting social media classes.

    These are the kinds of gaps Wilson loves filling: an in-demand service, provided for a greater good. An example is the Indigenous Literacy Project, which Wilson founded in 2004: since the start of the project more than 60,000 books have been delivered to 200 remote communities across the country.

    Wilson believes social projects at independent bookshops across the country are about “all of us putting our minds to building this community to be as strong as possible, so that we’ve got the best chance of surviving”, although she acknowledges they require a huge amount of work, which is “not really reflected in the returns”.

    However, the pursuit of what Wilson dubs “the tipping point of profitability” will determine the years ahead. By hosting school principals for breakfast and helping indigenous children, perhaps these community-focused measures, in a roundabout way, will help Riverbend’s doors stay open.

    Riverbend is not the first bookshop to realise the importance of leveraging its floor space beyond the basic act of stocking and selling books, and certainly won’t be the last. Stager sees the Avid Reader’s bulging events calendar as one of its key strengths. “We’ve put a greater emphasis on our events, which is what we’d started a couple of years ago. I’ve always been very event-driven; that was one of the core principles I started with, using Gleebooks in Sydney as a model.” Seeing as an example the growth of live music within an industry affected by declining physical sales, Stager decided to concentrate on what she deems “the live experience”; usually, visiting authors giving readings and conducting question-and-answer sessions with readers. Successes in the past 12 months include 400 payers attending a Shaun Micallef book launch at the Hi-Fi, a couple of blocks down from the bookshop on Boundary Street in West End, as well as more than 600 attending a Paul Kelly launch at the same venue.

    David Gaunt has managed Gleebooks since 1978. “We’ve been around for a long time and I don’t think we’ve ever been unaware that the best chance for independent bookstores to survive is to place a strong emphasis on social engagement in the community,” he says. “In our case, this includes heavy representation at festivals and conferences, events outside the shop, as well as the country’s biggest in-store author event program.” Such events sustain customer interest year-round, he says, but especially when the going’s “really tough, which it certainly is at the moment”. For Gaunt, the act of bookselling, online or off, has barely changed during his time in the industry. This year, the only real difference is that Gleebooks promotes its events program through social media channels.

    Enticing though such events are to so many, reading is still, by and large, a solitary pursuit. As to whether Stager views online bookstores as competition to the service in her shop, she responds cautiously. “Yes, they are. And that’s because everybody in the media has told the readers that Amazon and the Book Depository are our competition. I think they get millions of dollars of free advertising, which they don’t warrant.”

    It’s perhaps an irony that so many Australians have gained knowledge of these alternative, online retailers through the act of reading the news, and the growing profitability of online sites is proof people do still read; more than ever, perhaps.

    According to Stager she has “one big advantage over Amazon. If it’s on my shelf, you can buy it, there and then. I’ll gift wrap it for you, beautifully. I offer events and interaction with other readers through great customer service. There is more to retail than just getting something. Retail is an experience, and I have to make sure that when you come into my shop, you’re having an experience.”

    Stager is adamant book consumers shouldn’t support independent retailers just because they’re smaller and thus perceived to be vulnerable. Instead, she says, “They have to support us because of what we offer: customer service, our range and a whole lot more. We have to be good citizens as well, so we have to be doing the right things by our staff, by our community.

    “That all comes into play. Don’t support me just because I’m small and an indie; support me because of the things I do.”

    For the full story, visit The Australian’s website. Thanks to all of the helpful independent bookshop owners I spoke with for this story, many of whom I had to omit. Please note that the above photo was taken by Lyndon Mechielsen.

     

  • The Vine story: ‘First Three Songs, No Flash – And No Copyright’, March 2011

    A feature article for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    First Three Songs, No Flash – And No Copyright

    Andrew McMillen inspects the contracts and copyright law related to recent Australian tours by Big Day Out artists Tool and Rammstein.

    (Main pic: Slash vs Photographers at Soundwave, Adelade 2011 by Andrew Stace)

    As the 2011 Big Day Out tour wound itself across the country this year – it ended in Perth on Sunday, Feb 6 – hundreds of professional photographers snapped portraits of an artist line-up that included Californian hard rock act Tool and German industrial metal troupe Rammstein.

    These two bands were the heaviest-hitting acts on the tour. Yet their photo release forms also revealed that they were the bands most protective of their image. “All copyrights and other intellectual property rights shall be entirely Artist’s property,” read a line from Tool’s contract, which photographers wishing to capture the band from the front-of-stage photo pit were required to sign. “[The photographer] is prohibited from placing the photos in the so-called online media, and/or distributing them using these media,” stated Rammstein’s decidedly archaic contract, which concludes with an apparently self-defeating line about being subject to the laws of Germany.

    Such rights-grabbing statements are nothing new in the live entertainment business, where artists’ images and ‘trade secrets’ have always been fiercely protected. Eddie Van Halen was known to turn his back to the audience when performing innovative electric guitar solos before Van Halen were signed, so as to prevent both his newly-discovered techniques from being viewed by rival guitarists – or being captured by keen-eyed music photographers.

    Recent Australian tours by popular rock acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Muse have demanded that photographers shoot only from the sound desk; Muse, too, issued a contract which states that photographers “hereby assign full title guarantee the entire worldwide right, title and interest in and to the Photographs, including the copyright therein”. Which means that if Muse (or, more likely, their management or lawyers) happen to be browsing your live photo portfolio and they’re particularly taken by a picture of bassist Christopher Wolstenholme’s fetching red suit, they can request the high resolution image file – or negative – free of charge. You have no power to negotiate because you’re bound by a contract.

    Why, then, in an age where the vast majority of gig-goers carry web-ready media devices in their pockets, are bands still so insistent on attempting to shield themselves from the close scrutiny of professional cameras? And are these contracts even legally binding, or simply attempts to scare newbie photographers into surrendering their hard work – with zero additional compensation on top of their publication’s one-time print fees?

    For the full article, visit The Vine.

  • Brisbane Times story: ‘Online scalpers bad medicine for music fans’, December 2010

    My first story for brisbanetimes.com.au. Excerpt below.

    Online scalpers bad medicine for music fans

    A ticket scalping website continues to operate in defiance of Queensland law, a week after 100 music fans were left stranded when their tickets to Bon Jovi’s Brisbane concert were cancelled.

    Suncorp Stadium staff cancelled all tickets purchased by TicketFinders.com.au to last week’s sold out Bon Jovi concert after being alerted by two customers claiming to be ripped off by the company.

    The Sydney-based website’s operators continued to list tickets for sale on the day of the concert, despite being notified by customers that their tickets had been cancelled.

    While the band’s fans are understood to be out of pocket for the tickets, both Queensland Police and the Office of Fair Trading say they remain powerless to investigate the company without official complaints.

    Meanwhile, TicketFinders.com.au continues to flout the law.

    Queesland legislation passed in 2001 as part of the Major Sports Facilities Act states that it’s unlawful to sell tickets for events held at eight Queensland venues – including Suncorp Stadium and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre – for above 10% of their face value.

    Last night, TicketFinders was listing ‘category A’ tickets to April’s Justin Bieber concert at Brisbane Entertainment Centre for $300, despite their $95 face value.

    Bad medicine

    Two disgruntled TicketFinders customers, Steve Taylor and Julia Foster, discovered the website in early July after Googling “Bon Jovi Brisbane tickets”.

    The Palm Beach couple said they ordered two $299 ‘diamond class’ tickets from the website, the day after tickets went on sale through the concert’s official ticketing partner, Ticketmaster.

    Initially wary, Mr Taylor said he rang and spoke with representatives from the website on several occasions before paying, “just to reassure ourselves that we weren’t throwing $600 away”.

    But when their tickets arrived four months later, their face valued was clearly labelled at $99 each, and the location of the seats was much further away than the ‘diamond class’ they’d requested.

    Mr Taylor said he called TicketFinders, assuming he’d been sent the wrong tickets.

    “They virtually laughed in my face and told me to get stuffed,” he said.

    Mr Taylor’s next step was to contact Suncorp Stadium and report the situation. The venue’s response was to ask for the tickets’ barcode, and soon after, all tickets purchased by that seller – around 100 in total – were cancelled.

    For the full story, visit brisbanetimes.com.au.

    This story came about after the couple quoted, Steve and Julia, commented on my last blog entry about ticket scalping, for my Junior ‘issues’ story in October. Thanks for your help, guys.

    Also of interest: this was also the first time I was told by an attempted interview source to “go fuck myself” and that, as a journalist, I’m “the lowest of the low”. Read the story, and see if you can work out who might have said that to me.

  • Native Digital blog project: One Movement For Music 2010

    A couple of months ago I undertook a blog project for One Movement For Music 2010, a Perth-based event whose five days (Oct 6-10) consisted of daily MUSEXPO panel discussions, nightly industry showcases at live music venues throughout Perth’s inner city, as well as a three-day music festival. I first blogged for One Movement during its first year, in 2009.

    On behalf of my employer, Native Digital, I coordinated blog content on One Movement Word and operated the event’s social media accounts – Facebook and Twitter – from the beginning of August. On the ground in Perth, I live-tweeted it and blogged daily highlights of the conference, as well covering the festival and showcase acts in photo form – links included at the bottom of this post.

    The difference between last year’s traffic and 2010 was significant. Whereas in 2009 we were starting from a literal blank slate – zero Twitter or Facebook followers, and thus no traction – this time around, we had 300 followers on Twitter and 600 Facebook fans, which meant that our blog content instantly had an audience. These numbers grew as the blog campaign continued: as of 1 November, we have 945 Twitter followers, and nearly 2,500 on Facebook.

    The growth in overall blog traffic speaks for itself – compare 2010 (top image, 17,000+ visits) to 2009 (bottom image, 6,700+ visits).

    August – October 2010:

    July – October 2009:

    This year, One Movement Word’s blog content was split into the following categories – click for further info:

    Posts in the latter category included:

    I want to give a special mention to the ‘State Of Global Independence’ panel, moderated by Nick O’Byrne of AIR, as it was an incredibly inspiring discussion, and by far the best music industry panel I’ve witnessed. Which doesn’t sound that impressive, really, but trust me: Nick and his panelists touched on some brilliant, universally-understood topics, like pursuing your passion, the nature of independence, and being kind to others without expectation of repayment. I’ll say no more; you’ll have to read my transcript of the panel at One Movement Word. It’s totally worth it. I promise.

    Thanks to Sunset Events and Native Digital for again allowing me to be a part of the One Movement online campaign.

  • A Conversation With Get Busy Committee, Los Angeles hip-hop group

    Get Busy Committee koala/uzi logoKoalas, uzis, and ‘Heartbeats': Los Angeles-based hip-hop group Get Busy Committee (GBC) don’t mess around. Their 100% self-funded, self-released debut album Uzi Does It was released on their own label, Tokyo Sex Whale, and declared 2009’s ‘hip hop album of the year’ by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park/Fort Minor off the back of their lead single ‘My Little Razorblade, which sampled the rhythmic pulse of Swedish electronic act The Knife’s distinctive track ‘Heartbeats’.

    Consisting of underground rapper Apathy, Styles of Beyond‘s Ryu, and producer Scoop DeVille, GBC took the unlikely step of releasing the album in a USB uzi format that won them coverage on Wired, thereby reaching a tech-mad fanbase and creating buzz ahead of a digital album launch that saw Uzi Does It offered in mp3 form for just $1 via MySpace Music. Confused? Get busy. Below is an email conversation with the group, which was answered for the most part by Apathy.

    Andrew: Hey GBC. I follow music industry news, I heard about you through guys like Bob Lefsetz (music industry commentator) and Ian Rogers (CEO of online music marketing company Topspin Media). Is it true that all publicity is good publicity, or were you weirded out by having a mid-50 year old guy like Bob write about you?

    No way! Bob Lefsetz has been around long enough to have a good idea of what he likes, and I hope we’re on his good side! GBC does not age-discriminate, and we are definitely NOT for the kids!

    Ian’s involvement and enthusiasm seems to have boosted your profile to a level that other acts might spend months or years developing. How important is his guidance and experience to the group?

    In all honesty, Ian Rogers and the folks at Topspin have been the best thing to ever happen to our career. When in the past we would have a crazy idea, it would just stay a crazy idea. Ian is able to take a crazy idea, add sweet peppers and Giardiniera on top of a paper thin cut of beef, throw it in a French roll, and make a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich out of it. (Sorry… Man V. Food is on in the background as I write this.)

    We also have to thank our good friend Mike Shinoda [Linkin Park/Fort Minor] for linking us up with Ian!

    “This is a marathon, not a sprint. Get Busy Committee hasn’t even played a live show since the record came out yet,” wrote Ian on his blog. Do you have an interest in the marketing and promotion side of things, or are you happy to let others take care of it while you work on the music?

    Ryu: Yes, we are heavily involved with the marketing of the group. From the conception, it was very important to me that every detail of the group was carefully thought out. From the way we comb our hair, to the stylish clothes we wear. [A reference to their song ‘Stylish Clothes‘]

    I also have a background in marketing/PR with the clothing brand True Love & False Idols. With GBC I wanted our image, logo (koala with uzi), website, and merchandise to be an extension of the brand. Everything is designed by our good friend and owner of TLFI (and sometimes GBC collaborator) Alex (2tone) Erdman. The marketing for this album has been a fun experience for us.

    “Financially we’re doing slightly better than break-even at the moment, which means no one is making a bunch of money but we aren’t losing money, either,” wrote Ian in the same blog post. I take it that – having been in other groups – GBC have been realistic about the financial situations for musicians since you formed a couple of months ago?

    We were very realistic financially with this album. The point was never to become rich off of the album; we just wanted to generate enough money to continue to raise awareness.

    Los Angeles hip-hop group Get Busy Committee

    Hypothetically, what would it take for an independent hip-hop act like yourselves to be able to live off your music – touring, merch, record sales, etc? Is this even possible in 2010?

    An artist being able to live off of [recorded] music, touring, merch, etc is a very real possibility in 2010, provided that the artist is patient, and the margin of profit works in the artists’ favour. It’s also important that you offer a product that people can’t live without. Everyone can live without a CD, but nobody can live without an uzi-shaped USB, with a free album included!

    In the end, the funds you take is equal to the guns you make!

    From an interview here: you said “‘My Little Razorblade’ is probably the worst recording ever. The vocals are all blown out.” What? Are you serious? Fuck pristine, I love the edge this track has. It’s the first thing I heard from you guys, and still my favourite. Was it difficult to clear the ‘Heartbeats’ sample? Have you heard any feedback from The Knife’s camp?

    Thanks! Razorblade is one of our faves as well. We like the blown out vocals as well!

    As for the sample? The Knife have been really cool for not suing the shit out of us. We assume they are familiar with the track, I think one of the band members follow us on Twitter! @GetbusycommittE

    In that same interview, Ian stated that the album is “something that you guys have been working on for over a year; in your spare time, and across the country, and for essentially no money”. You later said “Don’t make a record, it’s the worst way to try to make a living.” What are your day jobs? Do they have any relation to your music?

    We have been fortunate enough in this business to sustain us through the years: Styles Of Beyond, Fort Minor, Demigodz, as well as producing for outside artists have paid the bills for years. Some years are better than others, but we have been very fortunate thus far. Some of the things we do to earn money are:

    Scoop DeVille: His production credits include Snoop Dogg’s ‘Life Of  Da Party‘ and ‘I Wanna Rock‘, Fat Joe and Young Jeezy ‘Ha Ha‘, as well as upcoming tracks on albums from Busta Rhymes, The Clipse, Bishop Lamont, and of course the Get Busy Committee. Safe to say, the kid don’t need a day job.

    Apathy: Shitloads of solo records including the recently released Wanna Snuggle? as well as upcoming albums with Army Of The Pharaohs, and the Demigodz. Production for Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes and more. Your boy is good!

    Ryu: Get Busy Committee, and PR/Marketing for True Love & False Idols.

    You’ve all been part of the hip-hop scene for over a decade. You knew the music business pre-internet. It must be quite a change to work as GBC, whose marketing and promotional output is almost entirely online.

    Yeah the marketing and promo has changed a lot, but we’ve been in the business long enough and have worked albums in just about every climate of the ever-changing music business, so the new way of doing things hasn’t come as a shock to us. It’s actually a welcome change after spending so much time on major labels. The new style of marketing is much better suited to a group like us. We love it.

    Scoop, have you shown GBC material to Snoop or The Game? What kind of feedback have you been getting?

    Scoop: Yeah I was just out in Miami recently with Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, Cool and Dre, and they loved the USB uzi! I should have brought more with me, everyone was taking pictures with them and shit! The industry is definitely taking notice of the moves we’re making. We’re actually working on a Get Busy Committee and Busta Rhymes song tonight! Shit is gonna be nuts!

    Learn more about Get Busy Committee on their website. Follow them on Twitter at @GetbusycommittE, and watch their bittersweet debut video for ‘I Don’t Care About You’ below.