From assignment to article in The Age

27 November 2009

Written by: Lawrie Zion

A university assignment is the sort of thing you submit and then forget. The moment those stapled pages disappear into the depths of the submissions box you can afford to relax – you have done all that you can.

 Unless you happen to have The Age newspaper wanting to publish it.

For our final assignment in Writing for the Media, a first year subject here at La Trobe, we were asked to write a feature article on a subject of our choosing. Some wrote about teen pregnancy in outback Australia, others wrote about the issues faced by those working their way through university. I wrote mine about the lack of an R18+ classification for video games, using the recently banned Left 4 Dead 2 as a case study.

Two weeks ago the head of La Trobe’s journalism department, Lawrie Zion, sent me an email suggesting that I send the article to the Green Guide in the hope that they would publish it.

With nothing to lose I emailed the article to the editor of the Green Guide who promptly forwarded it on to Glenn Mulcaster, the editor of Livewire.  Livewire is the technology-focused white-page-section within the Green Guide.

To my surprise, Glenn emailed straight back saying that he would love to run the piece.

I agreed to meet Glenn at The Age headquarters on Spencer Street last Thursday to discuss the article. After a guided tour of the soon-to-be-vacated building we sat in the cafeteria discussing the changes he wanted me to make to the piece – cut down the word count from 1150 to 850, strip back the 200-word introduction to 40 words, and clarify some sections that I hadn’t expressed clearly enough.

Back at Glenn’s desk I set about making the changes that he had suggested while he tracked down some images to run with the story. A few minutes and a couple of phone calls to a PR representative at the game’s distribution company, Electronic Arts, were all that Glenn needed. His ability to get the information he wanted quickly and efficiently was quite impressive. Similarly, when it wasn’t clear whether an image sent through by EA was in-game footage or for promotional purposes only, another phone call cleared things up.

After a couple of hours of editing and tweaking, the article was ready to be imported into the page layout software used by editors at The Age. Glenn showed me how the article would appear in print before sending it off for sub-editing.

Glenn was extremely generous with his time and consulted whenever he made a change to the article. I learnt a lot while working with him including which types of publications have their names italicised, what title to use for certain people and when to use them. I also experienced, first-hand, what it is like to be a freelance journalist and have your hard work rewarded. And yes, I got paid for it too.

As I un-wrapped The Age yesterday morning and searched for my article I remembered how, as a young boy, the Green Guide used to always sit on top of the TV, folded to the relevant day. Now, as a journalism student I am able to give something back to the publication that served me so well. And all thanks to a university assignment.

Matt de Neef is enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University. You can read his article ‘Adult Classification Hits a Dead End’ here. His blog is called A Cursory Glance.