Gazette reporter shuts laptop after two decades in the community

The Gazette crew at our Christmas Party at Richmond Club on December 15. Front row: Geoff Jones, Justine Doherty, Sarah Falson. Back: Lorraine MacGregor, Val Banning, Angela Jovanovski, Paul Roberts, Natalie Nicholson, Mitch Vleeskens,  Anna Russell, Damien Tomlinson, Ann De Lanty, Conor Hickey, Glenis Wright and editor Matt Lawrence.
The Gazette crew at our Christmas Party at Richmond Club on December 15. Front row: Geoff Jones, Justine Doherty, Sarah Falson. Back: Lorraine MacGregor, Val Banning, Angela Jovanovski, Paul Roberts, Natalie Nicholson, Mitch Vleeskens, Anna Russell, Damien Tomlinson, Ann De Lanty, Conor Hickey, Glenis Wright and editor Matt Lawrence.

LEAVING the Gazette feels like finally moving out of home. 

When I started here as a two-day a week casual sub in March 1998 I had two preschool kids. We were in the process of moving to a rented duplex in South Windsor while we built our house on acreage at Kurrajong Hills. One of my kids has now finished a degree and the other is a casual labourer. Neither can remember me ever working anywhere else. 

I have been at the Gazette for a seventh of its 129-year history, and almost a third of my own lifetime.

I have been here through seven editors, (one of whom was me). For those wanting a trip down memory lane, they were: Paul Roberts, me, Rebecca Lang, Justina Staniforth, Peter Gladwell, Maryann Jenkins and Matthew Lawrence. 

I’ve been casual sub, part-time sub, full-time sub, chief of staff, journalist, editor and senior journalist.  

I’ve worked with 39 other journalists and subs here (that I can remember), several of whom I mentored in an informal way and helped along with their skills. 

Portrait by Kylie Pitt.

Portrait by Kylie Pitt.

I have loved being able to have a crack at everything – photography, public speaking representing the paper, video, Facebook Live as well as the standard writing, interviewing and subbing. 

Being a journalist, even just at a community paper, gives a natural sticky beak a wonderful entree into the halls of power and into people’s personal lives. That privileged access is a powerful thing. Ordinary people complain about the actions taken by the powers that be over such issues as the Windsor bridge replacement, but journalists get to ask the RMS and the politicians the questions that everyone else wants to. 

I’ve also loved, using this same privilege, being able to help people with their problems, as there is nothing like the glare of the media spotlight to make politicians or companies bump things up their priority list.

 It’s also turned me from being a naturally shy person to someone who can bowl up to anyone and have a chat. (Getting older also helps). 

There has been so much change over my two decades here. The worldwide impact of social media on our industry has meant that from the 30 or so staff there when I joined the Gazette, there are now 11 (plus three ‘floaters’ between sites). For the same reason we’ve gone from free layout to templates. The Gazette was part of Rural Press, now it’s Fairfax. I was Justine Geake and am now back to Doherty. The Gazette was at 291 Windsor Street, now it’s been at 255 Windsor Street for five years. 

One of my favourite Hawkeye pictures ever, from January 2009.

One of my favourite Hawkeye pictures ever, from January 2009.

Regrets? That the kickstart of my journalism career, which this job was, coincided with the most labour intensive mothering years. 

Those two roles weren’t terribly compatible, and my kids spent a lot of hours a week at their (luckily) wonderful after-school carer Gillian’s place, as my love of this job and hunger for a career drove me. 

The great crew we’ve always had here led to traditions forming over the years. I would do a long rhyming poem about people when they left, and someone would always do up a mock Gazette front page for them. For many years after the 2000 Olympics we had the the Arse Clown award, a concept sports journo Paul Woodhams (Junior) and I cooked up. We kept a list of stupid things people did over the year and the stupidest would win the award, a stuffed toy clown which made noises and lit up, at the Christmas party.

Something I’ll miss is the weekly compilation of Hawkeye, which I’ve done for about a decade. That squirrelling away of stupid things is now a compulsive habit. They’ll just have to go on my Facebook page now! 

In this job John Howard came up and shook my hand at the Rural Press editors’ conference at Parliament House when he was prime minister, and I also interviewed Ita Buttrose. Other highlights were having my photo taken lying with a huge ground gun at the RAAF Base, going to the RAAF garden parties, and setting up and running the first couple of Baby Competitions

I want to thank all my contacts over the years who’ve tipped me off to stories. Without your help we would miss too much of what goes on, both good and bad, in our community. 

The Gazette has woven itself into my whole personality and life and it will be hard to unpick it. It has been my identity and my life’s work for so long, in a quiet, determined way. Though I’ve only actually lived in the Hawkesbury for 14 of the 20 years I’ve worked here, this community is now part of me and I will always deeply care about it. I’ve walked alongside so many of you for so long, and like a family member I will always be interested in what happens next in your lives.

My replacement is Krystyna Pollard, an excellent journalist who spent many years at the Blue Mountains Gazette, the Penrith Gazette and a stint on a community TV station. She is a wonderful asset to the paper and I am very happy to hand over all my contacts to her. Her email is krystyna.pollard@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

A final word – if you still want real local news, by people trained in research and fact checking and story balance, buy the paper each week. If the website goes behind a paywall to survive, subscribe and keep it alive. Real journalism is worth paying for. 

  • If you want to say goodbye, come to the Generators gig at the Australian Hotel at McGraths Hill this Friday, December 22, from 8-11pm.