Don’t blame journos for a $300m hoax

Bushfires in Tasmania

Bushfires in Tasmania. Image from NASA’s Earth Observatory

A year ago, if I’d read that environmental activist Jonathan Moylan had issued a hoax press release saying ANZ Bank had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan to Whitehaven Coal, because he wanted to protest the company’s plans to build a new coalmine in a state forest, and the announcement had temporarily wiped $314 million off Whitehaven’s market value, well, I would have thought, good on him. The forest is home to threatened species, we should be switching to renewable energy, mining companies have enough money, the share price recovered anyway, etc.

And maybe I should have had the same reaction last week. It was so hot that the Bureau of Meteorology had to add new colours to its maps. Bushfires visible from space raged across three states. And I spent much of my time reading about the science of climate change for a feature story I’m working on. There is no debate in the scientific community: because humans burn fossil fuels for energy, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the world is getting warmer. As a consequence extreme weather events will become more common.

And yet, and yet. Now I have spent almost a year working as a business reporter, I couldn’t make up my mind what I think about the stunt. Yes, we should emit less carbon dioxide. But should activists spread false information? What about the investors who lost money by dumping shares in Whitehaven Coal when its share price dropped? Is it okay to undermine confidence in the market, possibly making overseas investors more nervous, or making it harder for “Mum and Dad” investors to participate?

I don’t have opinions about that.

But as a relatively new (idealistic!) business reporter, here is something I do have an opinion about. Continue reading

How to sell out without losing your mind

bling

Image via quinn.anya on Flickr

It is always a pleasure and a privilege to attend the National Young Writers’ Festival, which is held in Newcastle on the last weekend of September every year. And this year I had the unique pleasure of speaking on a panel titled “How to Sell Out Without Losing Your Mind”, which also featured Rosie Stevens, Michaela McGuire and Lachlan Williams.

The concept of the panel was that we had all taken unexpected writing jobs or unexpected “other” jobs to support our writing.

We more or less agreed that being realistic is part of adulthood. And I don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams! But it’s okay if you don’t get your dream writing job, particularly not as a graduate or young writer. There will still be lots of other excellent writing opportunities, if you want to write and you’re prepared to put the effort in. Something I said on the panel is that if you only want to work for one publication, and nowhere else, maybe you need to consider the possibility that that might not happen, and whether you would still want to be a writer. And something I didn’t say is that if you only have one dream writing job, maybe you need to read more.

We also agreed on the importance of discipline. Creativity doesn’t just happen, by magic, despite what it looks like in movies. If you are serious about any kind of creative practice, not only writing, you will have to set aside time in your week to work on it. And sometimes you might prefer to spend that time sleeping or watching television or at the pub. But if Ira Glass says everyone he knows who does interesting, creative work took years to get good at it, well, we’re all going to have to put in those years of effort. For example, Michaela McGuire told the audience that on weekdays she gets up at 3 or 4 am and writes, then goes to her 9-5 money job, then comes home and goes to sleep at 6pm.

…I don’t get up at 4am and write.

But then, neither have I been published in The Monthly.

I go the library in the evening and on Saturday sometimes though?

The other thing I wanted to be clear about is the distinction between being disciplined and putting too much pressure on yourself. Sometimes it’s hard for high achievers to see the difference. If you want to start getting up early and writing, that’s great! Good on you! But if you sleep in one day, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Or if you can’t get up at 4am and write at the moment because you are working three jobs to pay your rent and trying to finish your masters degree, that’s not the end of the world either. Deep breaths everyone.

But pretty much, if you want to sell out (i.e. get paid) without losing your mind: write a lot, make time to write a lot, make time to do other things, look for what you can get out of unexpected opportunities, network, apply for things on Seek, don’t stress too much about the future of the media, and be prepared for things to take time.

Shorthand FAQ

 

shorthand

Q: Hi Elizabeth, what are you doing with your Thursday nights this semester?

A: I’m doing a shorthand course at Swinburne in the city!

Q: Shorthand? What?

A: It’s a script that allows me to write really fast.

Q: When would you ever need to do that? Couldn’t you just type? Continue reading

Yes, good writing can be taught

classroom

Image via sidewalk flying on flickr

Right, so a couple of US-based consultancies surveyed 225 employers and found they wanted to hire Arts graduates with good communications skills.

Of course, screamed S.A. Jones on Killings last week:

“After twenty-two years in the workforce and having managed hundreds of people, I’ve worked with a surprisingly small number who could write really well. By this I mean they could digest fat wads of disparate information, sniff out what was credible, discard the dross, distil the essence and repackage it all into a coherent, logical argument. Of those staff members, most have held Arts degrees.”

Sometimes in this kind of discussion, experienced writers assert that good writing can’t be taught. Thankfully, S.A. Jones avoids this, only saying that good writing skills aren’t easy to acquire.

Of course learning to write well takes time and practice. But that doesn’t make it impossible.

It drives me nuts when people suggest that if you’re a writer, it’s only because you have some kind of magical, natural talent. To develop this talent, the argument goes, you have to work on a whaling vessel or get a menial job or have some kind of life experience, not sit in a classroom and study creative writing or journalism.

Again, of course rich life experiences benefit writers. But when we talk about “good writing”, I think we conflate two things: clear writing and outstanding writing.

Perhaps you need to live on a whaling vessel or equivalent to become an outstanding writer, a prize-winning novelist, or a long-form feature writer who can move readers to tears. You probably need years of practice too.

But clear writing – well-crafted prose that will help you in work and life – can be taught in a classroom.

Want to know a secret? There are rules. Or guidelines. Or rules you can break once you know them well. For example:

  • Don’t write sentences longer than 25 words.
  • Write in the active voice, not the passive voice (e.g. “I ate the cake” not “The cake was eaten by me”).
  • Pick a concise subject and a good verb. Don’t pick a ridiculous verb though, you will sound ridiculous. (E.g. “Rising nationalism influenced the prime minister’s decision to go to war” not “One of the most important causes of the war was rising nationalism”. In the first example, the subject is “rising nationalism”. In the second, it’s “one of the most important causes of the war”.)
  • Don’t use adverbs or adjectives. I mean, you can use a couple, but think twice before you do. (E.g. “She strode” not “She walked quickly and deliberately”.)
  • Be concise.
  • Re-read, edit and proofread everything. The squiggly underlines on your screen will help you with this.

I learned many of these rules in classrooms at uni (and if you’re keen, some of my teachers have written books on the subject).

Of course I’m still learning. Of course it takes time and practice. And of course some people are naturally more talented with numbers or visual images than with words.

But these are skills we all can, and should, learn. They’re not magical talents to be acquired at birth or on a whaling vessel or never at all.

So as a Christian, how do you feel about being a comedy festival reviewer?

microphone

Image via Pickersgill Reef on Flickr

The comedy festival has finished for another year and I am sad but also quietly relieved. I’ve loved watching stand-up comedy since I first saw the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala on television at the age of 14 or so. But festivals can be such a whirlwind and this year I struggled with the late nights more than before. Grandmotherly, I know.

This year I saw a bunch of shows as a Beat magazine reviewer. It’s a great deal, because I like comedy and writing and free tickets. But it also meant that I got asked this question a lot:

“So as a Christian, how do you feel about being a comedy festival reviewer?”

The short answer is, “pretty fine”. But sure, I see why you’re asking. Continue reading

It’s jacket time

In other news, there is scientific evidence that you should wear an authority jacket:

“On page 27 of New Women’s Dress for Success, Molloy describes a “field study” in which women office workers were sent to other departments during lunch hour to make an emergency request (“I need the Smith files!”) to an underling while the boss was out of the office. In half the cases, the women wore “dresses, skirt-and-blouse outfits, and pants-and-blouse outfits,” and in half the cases, the women put on a jacket over those same outfits. The researchers then tracked how long it took in each case for the underling to complete the task the woman requested (in some cases, the request was completely ignored; in other cases, the underling waited for the boss to get back from lunch before even starting). The upshot? Women wearing jackets got their files 32% faster. There’s more:

“While putting on a jacket helped every group, women over forty years old, large women, and women wearing conservative dresses were helped least. Young women, petite women, voluptuous women, casually dressed women, and women wearing pants were helped most.””

Via the excellent Jen Dziura.

Here’s how much graduate journos get paid

coins

Image via epSos.de on Flickr.

Money can be an awkward topic of conversation. It’s perfectly acceptable to respond to someone who compliments your outfit with, “Thanks! It was $5 at the op shop down the road, what a bargain!” But it would be rude in most circumstances to ask how much that outfit cost.

If you’re thinking of moving to a new suburb, it’s also a delicate matter to ask friends who live there how much they pay in rent.

And the amount of money we earn is more or less a taboo topic.

I’ve been job hunting over the last few months and some of the editors who have interviewed me have asked how much I would expect as a starting salary. For example, at the end of last year an editor from a fairly fancy, corporate-sounding organisation asked that question. I didn’t know what to say. Should I have increased the figure based on the fact that I would have needed to move interstate to work for them? Or should I have kept it low to show I wasn’t grasping? In the end, I avoided answering.

Much later I realised that I needed to know the industry standard to have a professional conversation with prospective editors about it. I emailed about two dozen people I knew who had a graduate job or had had a graduate job in the last few years. I felt awful asking but most people were super helpful. I’m not going to break their confidences and reveal individual figures (sorry if you read this far in hope) but here is some aggregated information:

Almost every journalist I spoke to started on a salary between $35,000 and $47,000 a year, plus superannuation.

Some of the more prestigious positions are towards the upper end of that bracket, like you might be able to guess, or figure out from very clear job ads. And if you follow this kind of thing, you already know that in some cases the journos who get those “graduate” jobs (e.g. at the ABC) already have a couple of years’ experience under their belt. But there are also companies I’d fall over myself to work for that paid their graduates somewhere within the lower end (which no-one was complaining about). Jobs at country newspapers/broadcasters were often at the lower end too, but I guess rent is cheaper in smaller towns anyway.

I had a couple of responses that worked out lower than $35,000: one was working a casual job, one heard on the grapevine what their salary would have been if they’d converted from casual to full-time, and one started work more than a few years ago. I’ve also been made an offer that’s lower than that range, but like I said, it’s difficult to have these conversations without sounding grasping.

Someone I spoke to pointed out that how much interning and volunteering we’ve all been doing to get this far, which is true. I don’t think there’s any point turning down an honest-to-goodness graduate journalism job because we might not be paid as much as our friend who’s working for the public broadcaster. But doing some preparation doesn’t hurt.

Something else I discovered is that there’s law about this. Print journalists have an award which specifies legal minimum pay rates. If you’re employed as a cadet journalist straight out of high school and don’t have a university degree, the minimums are $23,362 in first year, $29,202 in second year and $35,043 in third year. If you’ve graduated from an appropriate university degree, you can either be employed as a graduate cadet if you’re doing some kind of training course on $35,043, or as a level one journalist on $38,937.

If you want to be a gazillionaire, probably go and study commerce. But if you want to write, I hope this helps a little bit.

My NYWF Dream Panel

National Young Writers' Festival

This week I wrote an application to be a panellist at the National Young Writers’ Festival and the application form asked a lot of questions. A lot. 25-word bio, 100-word bio, ideas for festival events, and were there any writing skills I really wanted to brush up on like self-publishing a novel?

I’ve never written a novel, if you’re playing at home.

One of the best (and toughest) questions asked who I would like to see on a fantasy panel if time and money were no obstacles.

I decided that my dream panel would be on the topic of Lady Blogs. That is, blogs that are aimed at women that are also very good blogs. Not that one about how a push-up bra is a better investment than a PhD, that doesn’t count. Don’t read that. I mean the ones about being a productivity unicorn or how if you mess up you should apologise once and then stop apologising.

Here are my dream panellists:

Edith Zimmerman and Jane Marie

I’m not great at that moment where your friend comes to you and tells you all about a really terrible situation and then pauses and looks right at you because they are waiting for your advice. But in the last year or so, I have learned to deal with that moment slightly better, because I have started sometimes saying to people, “I read on The Hairpin that…” and giving them advice from people who had some kind of experience to base the advice on in the first place.

Seriously, these women edit a website that features Ask A Dude, Ask A Lady, Doll News, Women in the News, and pretty much everything else you could want. It was also the inspiration for my pencil skirt, so thanks, The Hairpin.

Jen Dziura

I could read Jen Dziura’s Bullish columns on The Gloss and The Grindstone all day. But that would be beside the point, because they are mainly about how to get more things done with your life. They have titles like Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE, How To Make Money As An Artsy Artist Commie Pinko Weirdo, and 3 Romantic Mistakes That Young Women Make That Cause Weeping Among The Angels And Kittens.

I really want to try a Ladies’ Working Brunch some time. Let me know if you want in.

Molly Lambert

Formerly the editor of This Recording and current writer for Grantland, Molly Lambert’s background is in pop culture rather than Lady Blogs as such. She makes it onto this list because of her outstanding advice on how to be a woman in a boys’ club. If you haven’t read it already, why not?

Diversity is good news for feminism

Nobel Peace Prize winners 2011

Winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Image via activioslo

Today is International Women’s Day – a time to to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women, and to remember the struggles of women worldwide.

It’s as good a time as any for feminists to think about the feminist movement and where it is heading.

In the west, we include the many and varied issues faced by third-world women in our list of reasons why we still need feminism. But we’re not always as good at accepting diversity among western women.

Let’s take last year’s winners of the Nobel Peace Prize as an example. Theirs are the kind of struggles and achievements that we should celebrate on a day like this. 

The award was given to three women from Africa and the Arab world for their peaceful struggle for women’s safety and women’s rights.

One of them, Tawakkol Karman, is a human rights activist in Yemen. She is also a Muslim.

The other two winners are from Liberia – president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who brought Christian and Muslim women together to protest and pray for peace.

As another example, consider a movement in Argentina: the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. These women’s children “disappeared” during the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s. In the search for their abducted children, they engaged in public protests to pressure their government.

Authors studying the movement found that these women were more interested in preserving life than challenging the gendered division of labour.

The work of these African, Arab and Argentinian activists is pro-women, pro-justice and pro-equality, whether or not they would identify as feminists themselves.

And it’s this kind of work that often gets invoked when we’re challenged about whether feminism is still relevant. Yes, we respond, feminism is still relevant in Australia. It’s great that we have a female prime minister, but women are still underrepresented in parliament. And feminism is still relevant because of global inequalities: think about the struggles of women in developing countries. It’s “beholden on women who do have equal rights” to fight for women in non-Western countries who don’t, according to one feminist musician performing at a Melbourne cabaret event tonight hosted by the International Women’s Development Agency.

But it’s an uncomfortable truth that those working to advance women’s interests in other countries don’t always take approaches that we agree with.

If the western feminist movement wants to include these struggles, if it wants to recognise them and argue for their importance, then it has a responsibility to be more inclusive of Australian women with diverse views.

Now, the feminist movement needs to stand for something. I’m not suggesting we should start letting girlfriend-basher Chris Brown into the club, should he care to join.

At its core, the feminist movement works for the good of women and girls.

But different women have vastly different views about what that might look like and how it might be achieved.

For Leymah Gbowee, it was achieved partially through prayer and interfaith dialogue.

For the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, it was about prioritising the preservation of life over debates about the division of labor.

To many Australian feminists, these attitudes may seem absurd or plain wrong.

But then, there are also many Australian women who want equality for their gender but get rebuffed by mainstream feminists.

Trust me. I was once accused of “dressing like a Christian”. Goodness. Last time I checked, the amount of skin I displayed was no-one’s choice but my own. And my faith doesn’t somehow stop me from being furious when the subjects of sexual assault get accused of “asking for it” because of their hemlines.

I’ve met smart, independent women who think they don’t get to call themselves feminists because they would like to be married one day.

I’ve met several young women who, when asked about their career goals, respond that they’d like to do this and that, but what they’re really keen about is being a mum.

At first, I was taken aback by this. I’m immensely grateful to the activists of my mother’s generation and those before who have ensured that I am able to choose a university education and a career. But my choice to study and work and risk waking up one day and realising that like Julia Gillard, I have no fruit in my fruit bowl is just that – a choice.

Becoming a mum is rarely seen as a feminist move – quite the opposite. But it doesn’t mean you stop believing women should be able to walk alone safely at night or you quit expecting your partner to help with the housework. In fact, it might even involve explicitly feminist work in the form of raising daughters and sons who value equality.

The feminist movement should be robust enough to sustain debates about how best to advance gender equality. It can only be improved by including women with different and creative ideas.

All of the cakes

This weekend I entered a cake competition called Cake Off. I’m not really Australia’s next MasterChef but I like cooking and I like eating so I thought I’d give it a shot. Plus the lovely Maddie Crofts was hosting it and afterwards the contestants and spectators got to eat all the cake, so it was a pretty good deal. 

Do you remember the Women’s Weekly kids’ birthday cake book? I made the castle cake from that, except in chocolate instead of vanilla.

castle cake

Later I made cake truffles by mixing the leftover cutout cake bits with the leftover icing.

truffles

Also it was Sophie Gyles‘ birthday, and she is lovely too, and I couldn’t face any more chocolate cake, so I made her a Persian love cake.

persian love cake

Now I am full.