“DON’T ever call a politician honourable!”, shouted my editor Howard Gaskin across the newsroom.
It was one of many ‘instructions’ that got yelled from his office to me, an 18year-old cadet journalist learning her craft and trying to figure out how to write. Other gems were ‘only an orchestra conducts’ and ‘don’t leave a council meeting until the last person has left, no matter what time it is and make sure you drink with them afterwards – that’s where you get the stories’.
Howard was renowned throughout the journalism world as a hard taskmaster, but what a solid grounding in journalism I got. He was right, of course; no-one ever gets a good story from sitting at a council meeting or waiting for the phone to ring – the good stories always come from networking and making contacts.
Back in those days it was just me and Howard and I took all of the photos too – black and white with no auto focus. Newspapers hadn’t yet hit the digital age, so stories were printed into columns and cut and pasted on to A3 pages and photos were made into bromides, scaled to the right size and cut and pasted and sent out the back to be plated and printed.
After a year of my cadetship, I was catapulted into the job as news editor at the Hills Gazette’s sister paper, the Avon Valley Advocate. Howard’s philosophy was you have to live and merge yourself in the community you report for to be able to write informed stories, so off to Northam I went, and I stayed for four years.
I didn’t feel young, running a paper at 19, with a 16year-old cadet to help me, and we just got stuck in, networking flat out, writing about everything, covering local council meetings, taking photos at sporting matches on weekends and championing local causes.
Howard taught me we could always beat the state papers to stories. It was the Avon Valley Advocate that broke the story a Royal Commission would be launched into WA Inc, care of our contacts in the local ALP branch.
Back then, the local newspaper was the go to for all information and it’s a sign of the times that we are losing these traditional treasures for the less personal online versions.
How lucky I was to learn my craft the traditional way.
It’s a sad time.