A life in newspapers

I come from a family of writers, mostly journalists. My parents met and fell in love as young reporters on The Courier-Mail in the 1950s. When I was growing up, if you told a story, it had to have a strong lead and put the most important things first. If you didn’t tell it right, you didn’t get to finish it.

My father was chief sub-editor in the days the newspaper was produced in hot metal. Stories were typed on manual typewriters, edited on paper and then keyed into a special machine that produced hot metal type. It came out in newspaper columns which were then laid out manually in page frames for printing.

Journalism may have lost its lustre since then, but to my three brothers and me, who visited our father’s work at Bowen Hills in inner Brisbane as kids, it was venerable. On my night, I wore a navy blue dress with a red and white tie at the front, a matching hair band, long white socks and black patent leather shoes. In the composing room – smells of grease and engines – Dad’s friend Merv Irwin gave me my name engraved backwards in metal, like a stamp.

And then the newsroom, clacking typewriters punctuated by dings and ratcheted carriage returns over constant talking, people rushing around. I don’t know what my brothers thought but for me it was life-changing. I was taken away by the energy and excitement, people illuminated by their shared purpose, to learn the truth of things and tell the world. I’d found my calling. I finished school, started at the Telegraph, left only when life took an unexpected turn, did other things, kept writing, hoped I could get back.

The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia says 40 per cent of jobs we have now won’t be here in 15 years. You might think a job requiring writing skills, an understanding of human frailty, warmth and perseverance would survive. But many of us go to the internet where the news is free, that dreadful cacophony that defers to the mob. And we don’t count the cost. Diversely owned newspapers were an important check on power, as the recent film Spotlight showed. It was a team of dedicated journalists that investigated and made public the great evil at work in Boston. It's a co-op of journalists who've brought us the Panama papers, working for the few independent media outlets left in the world.

I’ve been back in journalism these last three years, writing about mostly small things, raising children, education, nature, creativity and dear Spike, and this is my last column with the weekend magazine. I’ve learned that many journalists still strive to ensure that what we read is fair and right and well-written and important. It’s been an honour to be their colleague, and yours, dear reader.