The importance of being grateful

Gonzo Meet the Press #2 April 11, 2011

Tom Krause reminisces about his start in journalism more than 40 years
ago, offers some advice to budding journos and media advisers, and says goodbye
to an old mate.

 

My first real job in journalism was at the United Press International news
agency in New York City, just down from the United Nations building, in the
fall of 1967.

There were legendary journalists there at the time: Lucien Carr, friend
of the novelist, Jack Kerouac of On the Road fame; H.D. “Doc” Quigg, one
of the great writers of his time; and, I discovered much later, Australians
Steve Dunleavy and Derryn Hinch, self-confessed legends in their own lunchtimes
and brilliant journos. Dunleavy, of course, was the long-time right-hand man of
Rupert Murdoch at the New York Post, until his recent retirement. Hinch is
still working as a radio broadcaster and fighting a brave battle against liver cancer.

And there was another journalist at UPI, who was famous among the tyros
in the game. Arnold D. was a veteran writer and reporter, who guided me through
filing copy for three news bulletins a day for ships at sea. On the first day after
we finished our second bulletin at lunchtime, he said, “This is an important
part of the job,” and walked me out of the newsroom, into the lift. We went down
to the first floor and 42nd Street, then around to Third Ave and
into the Old Seidelberg pub, where he ordered two steins of Dortmunder beer,
and said: “When you get bored, try to see if you can still do the third bulletin
drunk.”

Needless to say, Arnold had a drinking problem, but he had taught me a
great lesson: Journalism is a challenging profession and you develop good
friendships and learn a lot about your job by having a beer with your
colleagues and contacts. I met a myriad of wonderful journalists and characters
in the Old Seidelberg.

Alas, that is no longer the case in the modern newsrooms of Australia.
In many of the television studios, many producers don’t have time to go out for
lunch. They work their ten or 12-hour shifts, eat at their desks, and go home,
leaving their hard-fought parking spot to battle the increasingly hostile
traffic.

So newcomers, be nice to those you meet in the newsroom. They’ve
already had a bad day. Do not badger them with questions. Just ask politely
what they do, and can you watch? Many of us old farts, as we often call
ourselves, like to help young people. We got a lot out of journalism, and we’d
like to give something back. It’s really that simple.  My colleague and friend, Jim Waley, former presenter
of the Sunday program and recently of
Sky News, certainly feels that way. We’ve often discussed how important it is.

Don’t be over-eager. I’m not saying don’t work too hard, as I am as
guilty of that as the next workaholic. It’s better to watch and work out what’s
going on, before jumping in head-first. You shouldn’t expect to be a presenter
in your first month in television. The best presenters I have worked with
started as reporters or producers, became good journalists, and then someone
decided they’d look good on air. That’s a process that can take years.

Do not watch the clock. If you have a task to do, do not go home before
it’s completed. The only exceptions are: a death in the family or a spouse or
partner insisting you come home now (ignore the latter at your peril), or
you’re so crook you’re not going to do a good job anyway.

Speaking of watching the clock, it’s time for a word or two of advice
to media advisers. I have spent years trying to get guests for the Seven
Network, the Nine Network (specifically the Sunday
Program), Sky News, and now the Ten Network (Meet the Press, of course). The one thing that drives me crazy is
the adviser saying, quite understandably, that they have to ask their boss
first and they’ll get back to me shortly. But sometimes “shortly” means “days.”

Please do say no if you have to, and do say it quickly. Producers are
used to rejection (many of us have novels in our Documents file which have been
rejected more times than a junk email!), and we will say thank you, and try the
next person on our list. But please do not pull out at the last minute unless you
really have to. We do understand if there is a legitimate reason, and very
occasionally we have to withdraw our invitation (something I hate doing,
knowing how difficult it can be to get a guest!). And producers need to say
thank you after the interview. The guest has often gone to a great deal of
trouble, and deserves our gratitude. The two most important words in journalism
(and life, I think) are: thank you.

And again, I leave the last word to a good writer, a mate of mine, Pete
Ruehl, who died this week. A transplanted Yank, Pete wrote a witty column for
the Australian Financial Review for
years – except for a 5-year hiatus with the Daily
Telegraph
. He loved American baseball (the Baltimore Orioles), sailing and
his wife, Australian journalist, Jennifer
Hewett, his children, Mercedes, John and Tom, and his family back in the US,
including his sister, Mercedes, an Oscar-winning actress, and his father, Vin,
a former FBI agent. Pete often talked about going back home to the States, and
in his 1992 book, American Downunder,
he figured he’d bounce between the two countries.

“But,” he wrote, “I’ll eventually get to the point here where I miss
the hustle, baseball, politics, cheap hooch, societal tension, hot pastrami
sandwiches, soft shell crabs, telephone service and the Chesapeake Bay, and
I’ll go back. I’ll get a couple of suits from Brooks Brothers and a batch of
cheap compact discs at Tower Records, and then I’ll celebrate the whole thing
with Maloney and Otis. The bitch of it is, I also know I’ll eventually wake up
one snowy January morning missing Australia.”

And we’ll miss you, too. Goodbye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and
watch the Orioles win the World Series from a vantage point high in bleacher
heaven.

(Here’s a link to Pete’s obit in the AFR, written by the lovely Colleen
Ryan, his very good mate: http://bit.ly/fJszwR)

Tom
Krause is supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own,
always have been.

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