Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A day in the life of a technology journalist

It's no big secret that my profession is one of the least trusted in the world. I'm a journalist by day because, as much as the pay is really crap, I still need to pay the bills while I make even less as a photographer on the side.

So for a while, this was my typical grab bag. A camera with a 35mm lens, a bus ticket for those times I couldn't walk across the city in time, business cards, tissues for my horrible sinus-infected nose, a collapsible keyboard, a spare battery for my camera, a set of headphones, my trusty notetaker, a lens pen, a sharpie, a backup red pen, a USB stick, a bag to hold everything in, whatever notepad I happen to have at the time, and a tablet to type everything into. Phew.

That pretty much covers me if I get told to be somewhere at the last minute, otherwise I'd bring a laptop. These days I find I'm ditching the camera since processing time often takes away from writing articles.

So what do I actually do with my day? I figured, for kicks, I'd take notes for a day or two.

16 July 2012

0840: I'm out of the house. I'm late. Again.

0852: In the lift and up to the office. We have news meetings to plan our day at 9am, which means I have about 8 minutes to read up on what news I've missed and figure out what I want to pitch. This often means I skim through the news on my smartphone as I walk to work. I've learned quite quickly where I have to look up to avoid being hit by traffic.

0900: I'm in the lift again. As it turns out, there's an event on at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, so I haul ass to get there in time for it to start. After the session, I quickly go and find a corner to sit in and start writing up the article immediately while it's fresh in my head. I have an interview scheduled for about 12 noon, so the more I get out of my head now, the better.

1224: Interview is done, so I grab my first piece of food of the day thanks to the event catering, which turns out to be cake. Then I sit down and continue hammering out my first article from the morning's session.

1259: I file my article, close my laptop and go and find something substantial to eat. Sandwiches are available and are a handy treat. Sandwich in one hand, smartphone in the other, I chat back to my colleague in the office who is looking through my article and answer his queries. I don't have long because the next session I want to cover is starting.

1423: That's the last session for the event that I'm interested in today, so I head back to the office. When I get in, I notice there's been the slight possibility that there's been an intrusion on one of my accounts, so I spend a few minutes changing all my password, check my mail, tie up a few loose ends, and help my editor with something she's looking for before getting to work on an article from one of the sessions. The interview I had can wait: the interview was set up as an exclusive, but the session was not. I start getting to work.

1724: I finally file my article. It hasn't been a very productive day, but sometimes it's like that. I start going over the agenda for an event the next day to decide what sessions are worth going to.

1814: There are some issues that my editor has with my article. It's frustrating, but we go back and forth over the issue until it's resolved.

1829: I'm drained, exhausted and a little frustrated. I hit the gym to work it off then slink back home at around 8:30pm for dinner.

2100: Jess does her best impression of me.

17 July 2012

0833: I wake up and instantly I know I'm fucked. I get ready as fast as I can and leg it to work.

0905: News meeting. I'm fortunate enough to have a busy enough day as it is that I don't really need to pitch.  By this time, my article from the night before has gone live, but I have the interview still left over from the previous day that I need to get done. I scour my usual haunts to see if there is anything on fire that needs coverage straight away. With nothing demanding my attention, it's into writing up the interview.

Interviews bother me because they make me realise how certain subjects squeeze their way out of questions by changing the subject, by answering a similar question, or by not answering it at all. On the other hand it also helps me to recognise when such a tactic is being played though and I end up playing the typical counter: asking the same question as many times as necessary, but rephrased differently. It's a waste of everyone's time if the subject isn't willing to talk or simply isn't honest enough to say they don't know.

1100: I file, stick around a bit for a few quick questions from my editor, then I declare that I have to get moving and leave, jumping into a taxi to get to the other side of town. The taxi driver is insane and gets me there faster than I expected. I wander upstairs and there's a bit of an issue with media accreditation, but they eventually relent. There are a few sessions beginning at about 1130, so I find myself a seat and get comfortable.

1130: The order of the speakers has changed due to one of them being late, meaning I now have to sit through a session that I wouldn't have previously attended. I take notes anyway because there are no other interviews or previous sessions that I could write up in this time. The talk turns out to be a mixed blessing as later in the week another speaker touches on the same topic and the two can be combined into a larger, more in-depth story.

1309: I grab a taxi back and pick up some lunch on the way. Wanting to avoid a repeat of having to stay back while my article is edited, I eat at my desk while I hammer out the article.

1532: The deadline for last articles is 5pm, so I file at this stage and prepare to start on the next article from today's sessions. My editor flicks it back and suggests that because it's a popular, but complex topic, I could go deeper into detail. I spend more time researching certain elements of the story and plucking out more detail from my notes.

1640: I file again, but it is quite a complex topic and editing takes some time.

1724: The article finally makes the cut after several edits. It goes in the queue for publication the next day and I get to go home.

So that's two days in the life of a tech journalist that is still learning the ropes. Although I picked these two at random, they probably represent two rather tough days in the past month. I don't always get to go out and some days I'm just at my desk, writing and talking to people over the phone. The thing is, I don't think there really is a routine day. There are regular things like meetings and so on, but sometimes what's planned at the beginning of the day completely changes. And sometimes you have days where something significant happens and you drop everything to cover it.

As much as people like to hate on journalists, I don't think many of them appreciate the effort that goes in to a story. What generally takes someone a few minutes to read can actually take significantly longer to put together once you consider the additional checks that journalists do. Even when giving away a slice of the day to an event, there's no guarantee that there's going to be anything newsworthy.

And sometimes people make mistakes, or worse, they are misinterpreted through a lapse in concentration or an error introduced in the editing or sub-editing process. It's deeply demoralising to have someone rip you to shreds with accusations of being biased, too lazy to fact check, serving someone's agenda, or simply because you made a typo. While I was certainly humbled by my boss when making a typo in an engineering report when I was in that industry, the world never descended on me and called me the scum of the Earth.

But then again, I guess part of being a journalist is being able to bear that.

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