A ‘rat pack’ reporter reflects

Why social media reminds me of a media scrum…

Early in my writing career I was a member of the “rat pack” – that busy brigade of federal political correspondents who hung around the entry of Australia’s old Parliament House.

We “doorstopped” politicians for the latest comment on the scoop, scandal or issue of the moment, significant or otherwise. Did the nation really need to know what then Prime Minister Bob Hawke received for his birthday?

Microphones and cameras were thrust in faces, questions fired on top of each other, and if we were lucky, we’d strike a rich new angle, glean a fresh quote, and then we were off – running to all corners to file our reports to news desks around the country.

With four deadlines a day, the first at 7am, it was high pressure, high adrenaline and hard work. I learnt to write fast – 20 to 30 stories a day – and to keep my ears and eyes open.

Frenzy

Was that another pack disappearing around a corner? Who were they following?

On the hour, the scurrying would stop as we scooted into our offices to hear what the radio reporters had found out. 

Every article or news broadcast from a rival reporter mattered. Any quotes they aired were instantly “on the public record” so we added them to our own reports, like episodes of a never-ending soap opera.

When fresh news broke with the ringing of bells, to indicate media releases had been posted in our pigeon holes, and when newsworthy subjects came up at Question Time or in normal parliamentary proceedings, I was there, scratching away on my shorthand notepads.

In the silvery pre-dawn, I would skim five daily newspapers, then phone hapless press secretaries of Ministers and Shadow Ministers, waking them to seek fresh comment.

One morning, the steps of Parliament House looked different when I arrived. A farmer had dumped a load of wheat in front of them, protesting at the price on the international market – but that’s another whole story…

Voices silenced  

I’ve often wondered what happened to all the stories I wrote that weren’t deemed newsworthy by the editors of the day – particularly those about child abuse, domestic violence and Indigenous affairs. Why were they ignored?

Now social media gives everyone a chance to speak out, and every issue a chance to be aired. 

Another ‘rat pack’?

Social media reminds me for all the world of being part of that rat pack, scurrying around in a vast echo chamber, where we chase each other’s tails, re-post worthy content, show mutual respect when possible, and build our profiles as authors.

Who’s following who? Why? What’s new? What have I missed?

The learning curve is steep, the results public, and the jury’s still out on the rewards. Sometimes there’s a rich vein of meaningful content and I learn more about the craft of writing, editing, submitting and publishing fiction. Sometimes I’ve just wasted valuable writing time.

Chill

By contrast, Instagram is a peaceful place for me, offering a kind of mindfulness. 

I enjoy following rose breeders, travellers and creatives, including other writers. It’s a joy to share some simple visual gifts that pop up in my own life – a beautiful sunset, a street flower, a bird on a gate. 

Back in Canberra, after filing another set of stories, and with the next deadline an hour or two away, I loved exploring the National Rose Garden, inhaling deeply.

Photo courtesy Daiga Ellaby

Or sometimes we’d head out to the Lakeside Hotel for a buffet breakfast. Luxury! Croissants and coffee never tasted so good.

That feeling? A bit like finishing another blog!

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