In a career spanning 33 years in the print media in Australia, I worked as a reporter, sub-editor, columnist, section editor, leader writer, cartoonist, journalism trainer and course writer.
I’m proud to say that I started on a local paper – as an indentured cadet at Standard Newspapers, (now Leader Newspapers), which published 10 local newspapers from its headquarters in Park Rd, Cheltenham.
Thanks to the indulgence of the editor, Murray Smith, a legend in the print media industry in Australia, I was not only hired, I was let loose – resulting in a ban from the City of Chelsea for a rather too vivid description of the Mayoral Ball.
The pianist “plonkety-plonked her way through the same plonkety-plonk tune dozens of times until the last of the 16 deb sets had plonked their way down the hall,” I wrote. I also described the debutantes as “glassy-eyed and lead-footed”.
I pleaded the defence of “truth”, when the editor-in-chief Tom Young called me to account.
“Even if they fell on the food like a plague of locusts, you don’t say that!” he yelled, banging his fist on his desk.
In those days, there were no sub-editors at Standard and Murray subbed my stories AFTER they were published. Murray also encouraged my early efforts as a cartoonist.
When The Herald and Weekly Times took over Standard News in 1980, I was offered $10 per cartoon, which was soon capped to $50 a week.
Later that year, I moved to The Herald (now The Herald Sun) as a general reporter, before graduating to Local Government Reporter.
In those days, research meant walking upstairs to the Herald library for the most recent newspaper cutting on your interview subject and reading it surreptitiously on the way in the taxi. (You weren’t supposed to take the cutting out of the library).
I left The Herald to join The Western Times (also now defunct) so I could pursue my cartoon career, and eventually ended up as a sub-editor at The Age in 1986, before working on Accent, the (feminist) “women’s” page, as a reporter, columnist and editor.
My weekly column, A New Life Journal, began in 1993 at the invitation of the Editor, Alan Kohler.
I left The Age in 1995, but continued to contribute my column (as Family Postcard) while also freelancing and teaching journalism.
“You’re lucky. I had to learn all this by accident,” I frequently told the 16 cadets I taught every Tuesday afternoon at Leader Newspapers when I returned as Cadet Counsellor and Editorial Training Consultant 23 years after I began as a cadet there myself.
It was privilege to be a journalist during the print media heyday, and like many of my colleagues today, I mourn the death of the print media in Australia and the loss of many excellent publications and careers.
The principles of good writing that I learned as journalist – accuracy, brevity and clarity – are still the foundation of my writing.