Journalism moves on (but you’re always learning)

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Over the weekend, I disposed of an awful lot of my writing history. It hurt, but you always have to keep moving and learning.

I spent much of last weekend digging around under my house. Not because there’s anything wrong with the foundations (that I know of), but because this week is one of two occasions this year when I can dispose of large rubbish items via leaving it on my kerbside, and I had a lot to sort through.

Moving twice in the space of the last year, both out of and into my house had left me with much to sort through, and naturally those idiots at AJ Grant left behind some rubbish as well, because of course they did.

In the process of getting rid of things, I came across a very heavy plastic crate, filled to the top with magazines. One specific magazine, in fact. Australian Personal Computer, the mag I cut my journalistic teeth on way back in 1998. That feels like a long time ago because, any way I choose to look at it, it was.

I worked at APC (which was, at the time, a magazine owned by Australian Consolidated Press, or ACP, an acronym confusion point that was its own hilarious talking point from time to time) from February 1998 — I forget the date — through to September 11, 2001.

I’d kept the full “run” of my time on the magazine; for some time on shelves in the house until I had kids and space was at a premium, and then in storage boxes under the house. I hadn’t looked at them for many years by this point.

I opened up the box, and was greeted by the rich, wafting scent of paper mould.

Damn. At some point, some moisture must have gotten into the box, and while the magazines themselves presented as dry, clearly they were in the process of going particularly bad. Which meant only one thing — they had to go.

Before anyone gets twitchy about them flapping around on my kerb, the magazines went to my recycling bin. They’re paper, and should be recycled responsibly.

Pulling out all those issues brought back a wave of memories associated with that job.

Interviewing for the position at a magazine where my older brother already worked, and being asked (predictably) if I could work with my brother.

I answered yes, because of course you would if you wanted the job. It turns out we work very well together, because even when we don’t agree we can work around it.

At the same interview, I was told the equal best bit of journalism advice I’ve ever had:

“You know, you’re unlikely to get rich doing this. You have to do it because you love to write.”

For those curious, the other bit of advice that I’d say is equal to that is that “As a journalist, you never, ever stop learning.”. It’s sad to reflect that both people that gave me those particular nuggets of wisdom are no longer amongst us.

Working across three floors when I first started; the main “offices” on level 8, the labs up on level 11 and the single office shared with PC User that was dubbed “The Pit” because it had no windows and only a single door. Or maybe that was the inhabitants, although the Pit’s atmosphere didn’t stop its inhabitants becoming successes in their own fields right across the planet. What was interesting at the time was that there was a need for resources, and there were resources. Dedicated reviews writers, folks writing news, others writing features and a shared pool of knowledge and mentoring.

Which also reminds me: The Pit was where (pretty much as an office) we all crammed in to watch the first trailer for The Phantom Menace, a trailer that utterly melted the Internet when it first debuted. No, really, it did at the time, and bear in mind this was an era when most folks were on dial-up connections if they had connections at all. We got the trailer, eventually and had a viewing in The Pit. The lads in The Pit were testing projectors, you see…

From there, moving to a single floor (such luxury!) on Castlereigh Street, and having enough space to throw frisbees and a red rubber Novell brain (I’ve still got that, though it’s showing its age) around the office in bored moments. Not that it wasn’t hard work — there was a lot of blood, sweat, tears and checking of copy in order to put out a magazine that folks would want to spend their money on.

APC also gave me a solid appreciation for the value of both mentoring and good sub-editing. I can recall as a young journalist (even I was young once upon a time) complaining to one of the subs about what had been done to one review or another, and being utterly raked across the coals for it.

I was, of course, totally in the wrong, and I quickly learned. Writing is a skill that has to be nurtured, and being willing and able to take feedback to improve is a vital part of developing that skill. Also, a good sub-editor is worth his or her weight in gold, and then some more again. Sadly it seems that subs are the first to be cut when times are tough, presumably because they’re viewed as not “creating” content. It’s very short sighted thinking, because talented subs can both ensure content is correct and improve it immensely.

Equally, working amongst a large group of skilled and emerging writers helped me immensely, because there were so many different viewpoints, skill sets and abilities to call on, lean on and learn from. It’s why I try to help out other writers wherever I can, because it’s the kind of help I had early in my career that laid the foundation work for the writer I’m still becoming. Remember, you never stop learning, and if you think that you have, then your writing is only going to get worse. Really, it is.

Magazines aren’t dead — I’d still like to think that there are many niches and writing formats that they can serve in a way that online doesn’t do well if at all — and it’s worth noting that APC continues under the stewardship of Dan Gardiner. I can recall Dan joining the staff at APC, thrown into the deep end — we all were, and it’s a good way to sort out those who can write and those who can’t — but there’s no doubt that the magazines I threw out belonged to a different era of magazine publication — or that he’d probably kill to have the resources we did then.

Still, looking at those issues did highlight a four year span of my life that’s now long in the distant past.

It did sting to let them go, but time moves on.  I can’t imagine my kids, all of whom were born after I’d moved on from that job having any particular attachment to, say, the issue where I told people not to buy the Fish PC (this being a PC shaped like a fish, and I only wish I was joking) or the issue where I blatantly stole an idea from PlayStation Mag and we tested whether you got worse at driving games after a few drinks.

You do, if anyone’s curious about that.

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