Of Wacky Funsters and student journalism

Rad Pads or sea sponges? It’s so hard to decide! From the Melb Uni Student Union website.

This anonymous piece about the newsroom culture of the Herald-Sun brought back many amusing memories of university life. In particular the kind of poorly presented, ill-considered, badly researched piece you can get into print. But that is what Uni is all about! Opinions! Idealism! Hotly debated hot hot hot arguments about Real Life!

“Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them,” was one quote in particular that raised a few hackles online, and as well as detracting from all her boiling opinions on Things, set back the course of feminism about 10,000 years. It also firmly points to the author we’re dealing with: the kind of stripy Rad Pad you’ll find lingering at the raw beetroot aisle of the Student Union Food co-op; a person I am familiar with but who doesn’t actually exist anywhere in society.

Why I too was published in Farrago, a long time ago. It was a comic called ‘Those Wacky Funsters’ and I thought it was HILARious. The editors – one of whom was Misha Ketchell – regularly shrunk it to a quarter of its intended size, stuck up the back with the ads without fanfare, never called me once about it, and as a contributor I might as well have not existed. Aieee, I was desperate to be published in those days. I wanted to get involved, I wanted to belong, I wanted to make something important and funny, but I was a complete dag.

They eventually stopped publishing it at all, which so aggrieved me that I created a 4-page version of the Wacky Funsters all about the crappy crap editors, printed it out and distributed it around the student union. All copies disappeared within the hour, and within two I received a conciliatory phone call. I was suitably rewarded with a trip to their office and a chance to play on their Photoshop (don’t laugh, it was 1995 – this was akin to being invited to step on the surface of Mars).

Anecdotes aside, my point is that I was very green – both in my content (thinking it was genius and that the WOLRD needed to know) and in my approach to the editors and my first tentative steps towards professional interactions.

Ah now THIS is how I remember the student union. Many earnest hand-drawn posters and old furniture.

This similarly green journo experienced what a lot of whippersnappers do in an unfamiliar workplace. I have been there my friend, many people have. I have been called ‘darlin’, talked down to, had my appearance commented upon, and been sexually harassed. Unfortunately, many of us ladies have. And, like her, I have also completely lacked the skills to either complain about it while looking the person in the eye, or respond with a juicy riposte.

I am older now, and such workplace experiences have not occurred in a long long time. I’m not sure that the author knows yet that if you can deal with things on the spot, they generally cease to exist. Or, if you have no luck with that, you can make a formal complaint to your employer (less appealing, but sometimes necessary). To then take your complaint straight to print, without putting your name on it, seems either naïve or intentionally sensational.

Looking back on my own Farrago farrago, why didn’t I just kick down their door and demand a meeting? Get on the phone and pester them? Just bloody well introduce myself in any bloody way? Who knows. I was young and you don’t need to be reminded that I was an idiot. I was pretty damn shy and had had no real experience outside of school and Uni. But the only record of my former stupidity is on this blog right here in this spot. My early efforts are not being hung out to dry from The Australian  to the Canberra Times.

It’s there for anyone to see how badly structured the Farrago piece is. She starts with a string of anecdotes that meander on for a third of her piece, and despite the fact that I’m no journalism graduate, I can see it’s not a great folio piece for finding work in a competitive industry. If I were her editor I would be hosing her down from day one – she sounds like a humourless pain in the arse.

Ugh, and this is the sort of freezing cold, crunchy shit they’d sell. What was I thinking – ah yes, I think it was the cheapest food on campus.

Despite my criticism of her writing I can see that with a bit of practice (and most of all experience) she won’t be such a bad writer after all. People like this author need student newspapers like Farrago to cut their teeth, learn how to write, deal with editors and field public opinion. I think the Herald-Sun has overacted on this one. They should probably pull their heads in and get on with the business of finding a good spot for that ‘Perky Porkers’ headline she wrote about.

You have to wonder why the Editor-In-Chief responded in the way he did – naming and shaming the author and making a complaint to the University of Melbourne. What does the Hun have to gain? Journalistic integrity? None of the author’s insights are a shock to anyone who’s ever idly leafed through it, so it’s not really ‘sensational’ or an ‘insider’s view’. She says so herself that none of her mates were impressed or surprised by what she had to report.

Alexandra Wake’s piece in The Conversation (a site managed by – wait for it – the Farrago editor I spoke of earlier) provides a more thoughtful view than I can of what transpires in a newsroom, and more importantly, the duty of care of the lecturer and how vital it is for supervisors to actually, um supervise their interns and debrief after their experience. I’m not sure if that actually happened, or if the author bypassed all these steps and went straight to Farrago. It would be interesting to know.

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