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Journo in Jandles

Hot off the press from finishing her Diploma of Journalism in Brisbane, Kiwi Clare Chapman crossed back to NZ to begin writing for the Taupo Times. From death knocks to drinking, she tells Grace Naug about her first year in the newsroom.

24 year-old Aucklander Clare Chapman has no idea what she would be if she wasn’t a journalist. And luckily she won’t be flicking through the unemployment pages anytime soon after landing her first job at the Taupo Times ( ) which is a Fairfax rural newspaper on New Zealand’s North Island.

Happy to be back in her home country after years away – living in Melbourne, travelling Europe and spending 2008 in Brisbane completing her Diploma of Journalism – Clare tells us what’s the chop with being a hack. 

What made you want to be a journalist?

I always loved writing and hated the thought of sitting at a desk from 9-5 every day. My editors old school – if I’m sitting at my desk he’s wondering why I’m not out there finding a story!

What skills do you think you need to be a journalist?

A love of writing, curiosity, the ability to talk and develop rapport with a wide range of people. You have to work hard, build up your portfolio and always ask the hard questions. If you can pass an accident without wanting to know what the hell’s going on this probably isn’t the right line of work for you.

The Taupo times is a bi-weekly community paper. What do you think are the benefits of working for a smaller rural paper?

The benefits are huge – the range of experience you get is far greater than you’d get at a larger daily. I’m able to cover all rounds, choose my stories and take photographs. I’ve also had experience sub-editing and doing page layout which wouldn’t have happened at a larger paper. The down sides are always going to be that there are some lulls in activity; for one edition I had an elderly man getting a parking ticket as my front page story… needless to say that was a slow week.

It’s easier to make contacts in a smaller place too, which has its up and downsides. One winter week I had written a huge expose on the dangers of driving on black ice with the help of a few of the local police officers who I got to know well. However I felt the laughing stock of the station the next week when on my way up the mountain, I slid on black ice, completely wrote off my car, and had to be picked up by the same guys I’d been talking with.

What would you say is the best/worst aspect of your job?

The best is turning up to work every day and not knowing what will happen, whether I’m going out to a fire or meeting a politician or going to a protest. The worst, hard to say, possibly writing those stories that have to be done but are lacking in lustre, the fishing report for example. 

What’s been your most memorable story?

I wrote a story about a young cancer victim who had been given months to live. He decided to write a bucket list. I met him the day he ticked the first item off, and did a skydive. His attitude in the face of death was inspirational and struck a chord with many readers. Items on his list included everything from marrying his fiancé to swimming with sharks.

He agreed to talk to us so he could make as many people as possible aware of the need to have regular health checks. The story snowballed and offers of support flowed in from around the country; everything from wedding venues, flowers, trips, and a honeymoon.

What’s been the hardest story to write?

A nine-year-old girl was killed water skiing behind her parent’s boat when she was run over by another boat. Her injuries were horrific and although she was pulled from the water immediately by her family she died as she got to the shore. Her parents, brother and grandparents were there when it happened; all were obviously inconsolable as was the young driver of the boat that caused her injuries. After being at the scene, seeing her family collapse in disbelief, seeing the girl’s body, and also seeing the distraught driver of the other boat, it was really difficult to write. The family wanted no publicity about the even as well, which always makes it difficult.

It is said that journalists are all alcoholics-  would you defend your profession against that?

Absolutely not! After-work drinks have been an essential part of every newsroom I’ve worked in and I’m not complaining.

Do you think being a journalist is a difficult job?

It has its moments but overall not really. Sometimes it is frustrating, developing the right contacts or chasing people up about stories, and sometimes stressful writing for deadlines, but the positives far outweigh any negatives.

Grace Naug is a first-year student at La Trobe University. This is her first piece for upstart.

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