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1st Law of Journalism: Avoid cliches like the plague!

This article appeared in The Sydney Business Review on 15 December, 1995

Who? What? Where? When? Why? These are the tools of a journalist. Forget the phone, the laptop computer, the notebook (the old paper one), the tape recorder, and the trilby with the press card in it. A journalist asks the hard questions then gives you the answers.

Who?

A good journalist knows that readers want to know about the characters in the story. The answer is to put biography into the name.

If you read a story about how disgraced former detective RR conspired with missing Sydney hitman CDF (the man dubbed Mr Rent-a-Kill) to kill murdered Sydney prostitute SAH, you have all the facts you need. It would be an even better story if it involved prominent racing identity GF and missing Sydney heiress JN.

Please note that this can apply to generic people as well as specific persons. Out here among the western-suburbs battlers we hardly ever see an eastern-suburbs socialite.

What?

Nobody in the papers or on television lives in a house. Battlers in Sydney's west and the newly-deafened people of Leichhardt and Stanmore live in cottages. Socialites and drug barons live in mansions. Murdered people live in mansions as well, unless they are (were) pensioners, in which case they live in modest cottages. Working girls live in luxury apartments, and squatters live in flats.

Yachts come in two sorts - luxury and thoroughbred racing. Thoroughbred racing yachts are only brought out once a year, for the Sydney-Hobart, the Sydney-Mooloolaba, the Montague Island race and about three other races. This outing takes eleven months. Luxury yachts are for orgies, cocaine parties, and for being murdered on.

Where?

We must be grateful for the geography lessons we get from the media. I'd forget where I live if I wasn't reminded that Northmead is in Sydney's west. I might think that I still lived at Thornleigh, in Sydney's northern suburbs and also part of the leafy, upper north shore.

Sometimes, they get a bit confused. I saw yesterday that the M2 motorway is in Sydney's northern suburbs. This will be news to the inhabitants of Abbott Road, Seven Hills (in Sydney's west) when it appears out there in 1997. Speaking of motorways, a handbag belonging to missing Sydney heiress JN was discovered next to the F4 in Sydney's west a few years ago. With clues like that, non-disgraced current detectives (if such things exist) should have no trouble finding where the Kings Cross developer and the missing Sydney hitman put her.

When?

It's really important to know when things happened. I'm sure that when Channel 9 ran an update of the Craig Shergold urban myth the other night, they told the viewers that the story finished in 1991. A daily paper ran a story recently about how the Pope would be online on the Internet in six or seven months. This ran at about the time the Catholic Church announced their web site (http://www.catholic.net). A miracle! It's both coming in six months and here right now.

I also like the way events with nice pictures for the Sunday night TV news just happen to occur on weekends. This is almost as convenient as the fact that pictures always exist for newsworthy stories. This must be the case, as TV news rarely runs any story unless some footage exists.

Why?

It's all very well to be given the facts, but you need to know more. This is why commentators exist. Anyone can report the facts, but it takes real skill to tell you what to think about the facts, to turn data into information. Where would the average person be and what would they make of the world without JL, PA (either one), AJ, PMcG, TMcC and, well, modesty prevents me going on, but you get my drift. I like the American ratbag Rush Limbaugh, who signs off by telling his listeners that he will think for them.

News flash! Stop the presses!

I read today that jailed Sydney criminal LMcP thinks that missing Sydney hitman CDF may only be missing, not dead! That's the trouble with the hitman and the heiress - we don't know where they are, unlike notorious Sydney drug dealer WL, who kept that appointment with the disgraced former detective.

Award time

The story isn't the most important thing. The headline is, and I would like to make my award for the Headline of 1995. "People" magazine ran a story (with pictures) about cad and bounder Major James Hewitt, former riding instructor and alleged lover of the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales (mother of the future King). Showing a fair bit of skin, the photos were headed "Di's Major Parades His Privates". Love it.


Copyright 1998- Peter Bowditch

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