Jumping the Journalistic Milestone: My First Assignment

Even before I set foot on the carpet of newspaper The Aucklander’s offices, I had already felt a feather-like breeze of contentment back in Auckland.

I didn’t know for sure how it would feel to be transported back to Auckland City, five-year family hideout in a world of relatives, and place of fun, fearless and phenomenal friendship and relationship years in a mix of career indecision, juxtaposed jobsand satisfying study of The Arts at University.

Because immediately after this I was catapulted into situations which… sure, I was mature enough to deal with, and we all have problems, but I missed bygone remnants of stability. I missed the flow of friendships, the reality of relationships, and the kudos of being good at what I did. And I hated London.

O, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;

–       Samuel Johnson (1777)

Yes, Johnson, I was.

And the feeling of disillusionment with life itself, it seemed, wasn’t enough. I had to commit career suicide, too.

The editor at the newspaper here casually mentions a journalist’s “extensive network of contacts”.

It would be the maddest, most nonsensical career suicide to wrench oneself away from a University where more than one lecturer pleaded with me to stay for postgraduate study, from a city where more than one temp agency already knew my years of experience and more than one bookshop would have employed me. And more than several friendships that gave me a warm glow of happy. Away from that and into…

London. January 2010. Do I need to elaborate?

And with journalism, it really is who you know. And that isn’t as bad as it sounds, at least to me. Connecting with all people and listening to their stories is a main part of the job, so it makes sense that a journalist is expected to be well established with friends and acquaintances before they rock up to the doors of job opportunities and serious internships. And those doors are slightly ajar (but still a competitive squeeze) for anyone who, like me, finds their natural state of happy from being in other people’s lives. (Yep, yours as well. I like you too.)

But those doors are sealed, locked and impassable to me in London, without an N.C.T.J. (£4,000) qualification, without more than a handful of friends from my teenage years, and lacking even a degree from “my own” country. In bad economic times.

Yet, this new, brave, self-sufficient planting of myself in a journalism internship at a national newspaper’s Thursday supplement in Auckland with a multitude of excuses to go back has changed things. As soon as I landed, I’ve been hit with a wonderful whirlwind of fine company, new connections with familiar friends, and a sudden surge of possibilities, with both wise realism and unbounded imagination, for my time of decisions.

A sobering thought comes to mind. I might not have come back. I doubted my reasons for coming back. Yet, the instinctive, lurching urge to come back was strong. It was inevitable. At least, it feels so, now that I’m here. Picked up at the airport and romantically whisked away by a hamper-bearing, handsome honey. (I fell asleep before I even got to the hotel, but that’s not the point. The point is, well, there’s another reason I pined.)

And so, a frantic fortnight into my self-directed trip to Auckland, I sit in my hostel bedroom. My fingers itch to write. I hear the soothing murmurs of tired travellers over tea at ten pm from the kitchen. The soft blackness of the calm night hours envelopes me into a comforting lull, after a satisfying dinner made with love and entertainment provided by my longstanding best friend with a penchant for shimmying. I feel rested.

Contented.

I hit the initial ‘can I really do justice with words by articulating all of this?’ that had plagued me for the past few months. And then my literary spirits kick back like a brazen bunny breaking into a binky within a two milliseconds of being flopped out on the floor.

Before finding my "work hoppy".

Turns out, I’ve found myself.

Where was I?

I always had an intuition I wanted to be in journalism. What I didn’t expect, especially after being accustomed to disappointment, is that it would be this good.

It’s daunting, yes. I’m given the phone number of our contact who offered The Aucklander a preview of the Walking Festival on Waiheke Island.

“You want this? You can have it.”

As if it’s perfectly normal to be given by a lead the Chief Reporter of an award-winning top city newspaper a lead and be left to meet the deadline. It sent a shiver down my spine.

A shiver of excitement.

I call up the main organiser of the event, and I call up the parks officer, and ask them my questions and write down everything they say. I book a time that suits the photographer to go out to Waiheke Island, get driven around by the parks officer wanting to show us prime views and walkways for the Walking Festival, and to tell us stories of Island life. I’m excited. And, with an ounce of empathy, it’s easy to get excited as a journalist because the very people I am interviewing are the very people most enthusiastic about it. My boundless empathy for mankind suddenly jumps out and makes the world glow with the untapped stories of everyone around me. It is wonderful.

Yet, this is work?! Seriously?

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life

Trying to make ends meet

You’re a slave to money then you die

The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

Y’know?

Work is where you are overcome by a desire to slit your wrists while being yelled at by customers who have been screwed over so badly you can’t fix it. Work is where you watch the clock tick in an empty warehouse and work out how many seconds it takes to earn a penny on minimum wage. (The answer is 6.) Work is where you re-arrange an endless supply of generic, over-rated novels and wish you had the time to write better. Work is where men in suits saunter self-importantly over to you and mutter some joke about how the receptionist is the service line for drugs and hookers. (That ex was culled. Not literally, unfortunately.) Work is where you’re covered in sticky beer by 1am and this reasonable aversion to pubs costs you the friendship of an old pal who thinks you weren’t enthusiastic enough meeting her for the first time in four years. In a pub.

Distant shot of Waiheke Island from the ferry

But taking the ferry to Waiheke Island from Auckland city, I find myself lulled to a half-dozing state on the sun-drenched ferry and see the sparklingly clear waters lapping around the hull. I feel an absence of misery.

Don’t get me wrong. There is stress.

I’m scrabbling down rocky paths and cliff side drops, running after the enthusiastic parks officer, frantically scribbling down his eye-widening stories while simultaneously looking at all the beautiful scenery for later casual observation, paying attention to the legibility of my non-short-hand writing and trying not to spectacularly trip over.

I ponder what the experienced, talented photographer sees when she looks at me nervously stammer out pre-prepared questions and then conspicuously stop as I try to catch my rasping breath with as much dignity as I can manage. And I feel positively grateful as she continues to ask questions out of interest and leave me to write down answers and pant quietly.

On the ferry ride back, with the beautiful sun beating down through the windows and my stomach rumbling with a pang of lunchtime hunger, I recognise it’s going to take a lot of concentration and wit to cut this overflow of notes into a sharp, coherent article for the print run tomorrow (which means the editors must edit it today). And it’s my first news story. I realise the risk of letting an inexperienced reporter loose on a piece of news and wonder how wise the Chief Reporter is to say he only wanted to read it when it’s finished. I wonder whether this means I’ll invest hours of mental activity honing an article that could, well, miss the point ridiculously.

And, after those hours, I click the fateful “submit” button on the content management system for the newspaper. And an awkward, nervous silence fills my ears as I KNOW the editor is reading my words right at this moment.

Yet underneath the almost refreshing wave of adrenalin, I am reeling with the thought, over and over again… that I have found my “work happy”.

I can’t believe this is allowed.

After a while, my heart ba-dooming cautiously while I try to look casual browsing Facebook, he glances up. He nods.

“I’ll go through it with you tomorrow, the before and after, but well done. It’s good work.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

He … said … good work!

And the next morning he brings me to a desk for his comments.

“It seems my suspicions were correct,” He starts. My mind inevitably races through a million possibilities for the end of this sentence.

“You can write.”

He doesn’t mean I can put one word in front of the other, does he? Wait, he means… I can…

REALLY write!

And while he strikes out a word or two, he mostly lavishes praise on me.

“You don’t need me to tell you how to write.”

!

And to actually see the tangible result of the hard work, the published article, set amid the newspaper with all the other reporter’s tangible results of their hard work I’ve heard about all week, I just think… yes. I did that justice. And the subject of the article deserves it.

Yet. When I got the email from the organisers saying thanks for the amazing coverage and a further entirely un-necessary email from the parks officer saying,

“Great writing. You’ve got a long and illustrious career ahead of you.”

I… I just don’t know what to say. I was only trying to relay the truth. And,

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

HERE’S THE ARTICLE ONLINE!

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7 thoughts on “Jumping the Journalistic Milestone: My First Assignment

  1. Pingback: 2011: Journalism, art and an existential crisis. | A leek writes

  2. Thanks for your visit to my site and the kind comments. Doing the dutiful thing, I’ve stopped by your site to return the favor.

    Good luck with your decision. From your writing I think you’ll do alright in the end. I scrolled down and read a couple of the preceding posts also.

    Years ago, I too wanted to be a journalist. It never came to pass because of four years in the U.S. Navy (to avoid being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam conflict) and getting married after my tour of duty.

    Thanks to blogging, at least I’ve found an outlet to express myself in writing. Sometime next year I’m going to use an online publisher and have some of my short stories, parodies and satire committed to print.

    Once again, good luck on whatever path you choose.

    I’m adding you to my blog roll and I’ll be back.

    • Thank you for that, sir, and I am now duly adding you to my blogroll (Under ‘Comedy’, of course). I’ve been to your site a few times, and it’s been entertaining each time. I would definitely be a fan of your short stories, parodies and satire committed to print. Go for it. You have good stuff!

      From my writing, you say? Such a compliment is above and beyond the dutiful thing. Thank you.

      And yes, I bet you could be a great journalist. Marriage prevented you, you say?

      Blogging is a great way to channel, improve, and test out writing before it hits the public sphere. And, especially with such comments, the blogosphere is such a great gathering place I sometimes start wondering where the virtual coffee is served, and remind myself I need to get some of the real stuff.

      I’ll be back to yours.

  3. Finally had a minute to sit down and read this post. I think this is your best post yet. It’s quite insightful in terms of what you have been through leading you to where you want to be. It would be a shame if you decided not to do the journalist course, but if you feel that it won’t hinder you from a career in NZ then I can see why you would be tempted to stay. Best of luck whatever you decide. x

    • Thank you, I think it is my best post yet, too. Because it covers the insights with acceptance, and a fresh dose of happy. :)

      I agree, it would be a shame. The NCTJ course is more of an international career-maker and a step I wouldn’t want to miss. Similarly, being an intern here in NZ is far from a career. I am only doing what I can. And enjoying it, at the moment.

      And excited about all possibilities.

      Thank you for the luck! x

      • who are you?
        who are the writers you admire?
        Are you Jane Austen writing from within a well defined social code, following the ritual. Are you Earnest Hemmingway, following the cause going places of discomfort because of your vision of greater good?
        Both heroic in their ways, both choosing very different ways. When you look back, what do you want to say of this decision?

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