18 April 2013

Rethinking My Whole Life

When I was a kid I watched way too much Lois and Clarke. I don’t know what it was about the show that appealed to me at the time, but it really sucked me in. I used to make sure I could be at home to watch it on TV, and if I couldn’t be there I would make sure Mum taped it for me. On VHS. Yes, I’m that old. Shut up.

It was at about that time in my life that the idea of becoming a journalist started to appeal to me. It would be easy to assume that it was all about wanting to be Superman, but my passion for writing and for public information has only strengthened over the years, while my obsession with the Man of Steel has thankfully declined. A bit.

By the time I left Darwin to travel to university, I knew there was only one field of study for me. I had good enough marks from high school to study just about anything that wasn’t medical, but to my extended family’s despair I enrolled in a bachelor of arts program and signed up for a journalism major. As an extra side project for interest’s sake, I also enrolled in introductory linguistics. Nothing was ever going to come of that, it was just for fun really.

Five years later I held a Bachelor of Journalism and an Honours Degree in linguistics. Many of my colleagues from the school of journalism went on to cadetships and positions in regional dailies. Some have gone on to do some great things. One of my colleagues is now a political reporter for ABC TV in Canberra, and another has just become an editor at ABC radio in Queensland.

Me? I decided to put my job offer from the Border Watch (the local daily paper in Mt. Gambier) aside and entertain the strange idea of working as a professional linguist for a speech technology company in Sydney. I figured I could always become a journalist later, but the opportunity to work as a linguist was only going to come up once in a blue moon.

With the benefit of hindsight, moving to Sydney was an excellent decision, as it was in Sydney that I first met Kim. But that’s another story that everyone’s sick of by now.

When I returned to Darwin a few years later, the plan was that I’d be able to walk straight in the front door of the NT News and say “job please”. The weeks I had spent as an intern during my studies coupled with being a local boy were supposed to be a watertight guarantee. Unfortunately in the intervening years the entire management and editorial staff of the paper had changed (it does that about every six months) and no-one knew who I was anymore. My applications landed in the pile of applications from every journalism graduate in the country, and I slunk off to become a trainer at a locally run credit union.

Two and a half years, one promotion, and five applications later, I managed to wrangle myself another two week voluntary stint with my local newspaper. Perhaps this was finally my chance to put aside this project management nonsense and fulfil my destiny as a newsroom cadet.

Well, I was offered a “research position” with the Northern Territory Government instead, and for the last twelve months I've been once more managing recording projects in other languages, despite no such activity being found anywhere in my current job description, which is admittedly fairly vague. It seems my true destiny is to sit in front of computers in quiet rooms, listening to other people record languages I don’t understand. This realisation would be extremely depressing, if I hadn’t had an equally powerful revelation this week about journalism.

I don’t want to do it.

It came this week as our televisions, newspapers and computer screens were flooded with images of the Boston Marathon bombings. Twitter exploded with expressions of support, the news had images of the aftermath on repeat for at least a whole day and online news was full of opinion pieces about how this was further demonstration that no-one should ever feel safe and terrorists are lurking behind every corner. Let’s bomb them. Three people were killed, which is a tragedy. One of the victims was a child. Look at this nice picture of him.

Meanwhile in the same week, 39 Afghan civilians were killed by US armed forces, who blew up a wedding celebration for some classified reason. And as we prepare to pull forces out of Iraq, a series of up to fifty explosions killed 46 people in Baghdad and injured over three hundred. That one happened at almost exactly the same time as the Boston attacks.

But look at this picture of a dead American boy. It’s a tragedy.

Well, okay, yes it is a tragedy and my prayers are with his family. My prayers are also with the families of the Iraqis and Afghans hurt and killed at the same time, even if the media don’t give flying fig about them.

And it’s not just a symptom of our society’s general ignorance. As soon as people become aware of these facts, they are as shocked and disgusted as I am that we could spend so much air time lamenting the loss of three people, when almost thirty times that are being blown to bits overseas, some of them at our hands. It’s not that people don’t care about it; it’s that the mainstream media are telling us not to care about it. The commercial news values of every major media outlet have dictated that the loss of three white people in America is worth a full day’s uninterrupted coverage, but the death of close to a hundred people in the Middle East isn’t worth reporting.

That’s inhuman, inconceivable and repugnant. I want no part of it. I’d rather record notices in Kriol telling people to take their kids to school than walk within twenty metres of a newsroom this week. And so would Superman. So bollocks to my journalism degree. I’m going to go and do something worthwhile with my life.

Make of that what you will.




Garry with 2 Rs
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