“I was privy to the final gasp of the great newsmakers.”
A Writer introduces his latest book.
AFTER a career in publishing, marketing and other creative dalliances that was more like the verb (‘move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way’), I arrived relatively late to journalism.
A decade in, I received the comment in the title of this foreword from one of my social media readers. It was posted in reply to an appeal from me for the commenter to take in the whole of my 800-word piece before dissing the point I was trying to make.
The import was brutal. I was expected to step away from the debate about my own work. I was nothing more than the journalist who wrote it, not to be trusted on that basis alone. Had I persisted, the grab-bag of insults would surely have included ‘fake news’.
What on earth was I thinking, becoming a journalist in my forties?
Most of my journalism has taken place in the shadow of the social media’s rise at a time of enormous upheavals and fractures in the journalistic landscape. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to earn a living as a reporter and editor for almost ten years, usually taking positions that no one else wanted because the pay was terrible and the prospects of advancement zero.
My first full-time journalism contract was inexplicably based on the template for engaging a builder. A year-and-a-half later, the boss tried to dump me because advertising sales were gently drifting downwards and he thought it better to install an unskilled family member as the writer.
I held my nerve, cited my tradesman’s agreement in an assertive conversation, and tried to imbue my employer with courage when he cried and begged me not to make him honour it.
This strangest of arrangements lasted until the office locks were changed on me before my final pay arrived in the bank account, and the first gap in my journalism career opened wide.
I did what so many of us do: I started a blog and learned to publish online. The lure of the Publish Button was strong but it hadn’t quite found the sweet spot to kill the media just yet, because soon enough I was asked to interview for a position at Fairfax Media.
As one of the company’s last sub-editors I was privy to the final gasp of the great newsmakers, working with subs capable of taking the shoddiest copy and transforming it into double-page spreads with multiple lead stories, down-pages and briefs, all spell-checked and “legalled” in under 15 minutes.
It was an education like no other in a newsroom environment swiftly replaced by a landscape where news-making means almost nothing.
Along the way, my writing output increased to the point where I was often heard to confess that there’s no off switch.
This is undoubtedly due to the rise of digital and independent publishing tools which allow writers to reach a wider audience than ever before. Finding a readership is still the challenge it always was for wordsmiths, but securing our place in the flow of digital media is as easy as a username and password.
So it was a defining moment for me when seasoned journalist Margo Kingston, also formerly of the Fairfax stable, offered me the chance to write for NoFibs.com.au. The gig: a regular column. The subject: the Arts.
“The articles in this collection walk the indefinite line between politics, art, culture, identity and equality.”
Getting an encouraging green light from a respected commentator is rare. Doing the work for free, yet having editorial control, presented the perfect antidote to hours spent shaping the work of other journalists while still on deck as a paid, casual sub-editor at a Fairfax newsroom in Queensland.
The resulting output forms most of the articles in this volume, written over a four-year period (2013-2017) during which Tony Abbott’s brief prime ministership was played out then snuffed out, leaving Australians to endure the fallout.
The articles in this collection walk the indefinite line between politics, art, culture, identity and equality, traversing the period when journalism as we knew it went into its death throes and started to slide behind pay walls.
They also document the final, frustrating years of Australia’s journey to marriage equality; the belligerent delays, missteps and guesswork in delivering marriage equality to a community in which 60 per cent of voters continually told our representatives that we wanted a change to the law.
Here lies the key to understanding every long-form title I wrote across the same period, and why I often crossed over into activism in addition to journalism.
Any ‘scum’ still writing articles for general readership these days are either overstretched under a masthead, or still plugging away independently for very little return, more likely nothing. This book is dedicated to every one of them.
If you’re still reading this, just 800 words in with no digital bells and whistles to amuse you, your attention span is fit and you’ll probably make it to the end. If any of it leaves an impression, please take that incredibly rare action that is a gift to independent writers and a necessity if we want journalism to survive: share it.
An extract from Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.