2022 WA Media Awards - Purple experiences

Media Intelligence, Media Relations, Media Training, Purple, Western Australia

Purple 9 Nov 2022
15 mins

Ray Jordan

A daily newspaper is a peculiar beast; a mix of high energy, frenetic activity to meet impossible deadlines, and at times, even in dealing with tragic events, a place of farce and black humour.

On 21 February 1980, the Adelaide Advertiser bureau rep in the Sydney Interstate News Bureau asked other state paper reps to cover him for the night he was to spend with his girlfriend.

No problem and he was obviously in high spirits when he phoned through the night to see everything was all right.

I felt like Boot in Waugh’s Scoop when I said: “Not much, just 13 killed in a plane crash at Sydney Airport.”

His response of “yeah, good, see you tomorrow,” suggested he hadn’t quite grasped the situation.

Still in true newspaper fashion, the next day’s Advertiser carried a full broadsheet front page of the crash, together with two pages of special reports, all under his byline.

When he phoned next morning after receiving a congratulatory call from his editor about his great coverage, his brief “what the fuck” said it all.

Needless to say, we drank well at his expense that night for having shoved endless stories down the Telex to his paper, while using all manner of excuses for him not being able to answer frantic calls from his night editor.

Ah for the days of a Telex and a landline.

You also get to meet all kinds of people in newspapers.

I was sent to interview famous British comedian Spike Milligan while in The West Australian’s Sydney news bureau in 1980.

He was obviously unwell with a heavy cold. After a couple of perfunctory questions, I said: “Mate you’re as crook as 700 men; how about we do this interview another time.”

Remembering that he had previously indicated he liked Australian wine, I suggested a chat over a wine tasting one afternoon.

But he didn’t like to drink before a show, which he was performing that week, so he suggested I pick up his girlfriend and him after the show and we go out for dinner.

We wound up around 4am and somehow, I managed to produce a feature from the few pieces of the night I could remember. But that’s not the end.

A few days later, Sydney Morning Herald senior photographer and Olympic butterfly gold medalist Kevin Berry and I went backstage to get some images (actually we called them pics back then) and in walked another UK comedic great, Ronnie Barker.

The pics of the two chatting remain etched in my memory.

It’s the people you meet that makes journalism so much fun.

Ray Jordan worked at The West Australian in Perth and in its Sydney and Melbourne bureaus


Ruth Callaghan

It was my first celebrity interview. In fact, it was one of my first interviews ever — and it was a big one. A huge household name, a beloved larrikin character, an Australian icon.

It was Agro – the talking bathmat puppet that hosted a children’s cartoon show in the 1990s.

Now it’s not always clear what you should ask a puppet. Particularly a puppet you are meeting over the phone, from a shared desk in the South West Times, with the interview fortuitously timed for the quietest time of day when everyone nipped out to get some lunch.

All I can say is thank God it was just me and the receptionist.

For a start, I thought was interviewing the puppeteer, Jamie Dunn, about Agro.

But he kicked off in Agro’s voice so I tried to follow along. Until about three questions in, Dunn switched character and demanded to know why I was trying to question a couple of yards of fabric about his life’s work.

So, doggedly, I switched to asking Dunn the questions. Five minutes in, he switched personalities again, this time mocking the serious tone of my approach.

After 20 minutes, I was a muddled mess with virtually nothing that could be quoted or used, left trying to explain to my COS how such a simple brief had gone so wrong.

I swore off interviewing celebrities, fabric or otherwise.

Three years later Agro’s Cartoon Connection was cancelled. Serves the bloody bathmat right.

Ruth Callaghan worked at South West Times and The West Australian. She still freelances for magazines and the Australian Financial Review


Peter Klinger

The death last month of Dietrich Mateschitz, the Red Bull co-founder, reminded me of the time I interviewed him in the Red Bull Hangar-7 at Salzburg airport. It was not my best story nor won me any awards. But it was one of my more surreal journalism experiences and stayed with me as a reminder of how memorable – and unexpected – story-chasing can be.

I was working on the business desk of The Times in London in late 2005 when I contacted the Red Bull PR office to ask for an interview with Mateschitz. He didn’t speak with media but, somewhat surprisingly, the Red Bull team agreed to an interview in Salzburg. They organised a seat on a commercial flight (on a carrier like easyjet) to take me from London-Luton to Salzburg for a two-hour session with Mateschitz before I was to fly back to London – all within a 12-hour timeframe. I was excited, told my editor and eagerly awaited the day in early February.

When the day came, the flight took off from Luton. It was uneventful until we got to the Austrian Alps when the captain announced that weather issues meant the plane would land in Klagenfurt instead of Salzburg. Passengers – snow-chasers and Sound of Music fanatics – would be bused from Klagenfurt to Salzburg and arrive a few hours later than the plane’s original arrival time.

In a tizz – because I didn’t have a few hours to spare – I rang Red Bull from Klagenfurt and told them of my dilemma. They reassured me all was good and that they would send a plane.

Half an hour later, one of Mateschitz’ private jets landed at Klagenfurt, I boarded (as sole passenger) and then enjoyed the 20-minute over-the-mountain hop to Salzburg.

Not sure whether it was the mountain air or surrealness of it all for a reporter who started his journalism as a cadet doing the police round in Kalgoorlie, but I was completely overawed by the occasion when I finally sat opposite Mateschitz in Hangar-7. I can’t remember much of the interview. The lack of quotes in my story that was published in the Saturday edition of The Times on February 25 remind me it was obviously more of a conversation than a Q&A.

But I did find out that Mateschitz drank six to 12 Red Bull cans a day (increasingly the sugar-free version), was adamant that Red Bull posed no health risk, dismissed any suggestion he would sell Red Bull with the line “I don’t sell fun” and admitted he had done a decent marketing job.

My story didn’t change the world. Not even my world.

But when I think back to the best, the weirdest and the most memorable times in my 20 years in daily journalism, my 12-hour round trip to Salzburg is right up there.

Peter Klinger worked at the Kalgoorlie Miner, The West Australian, Australian Financial Review and The Times in London


Chris Leitch

Relationships are important in journalism and as a young sports reporter at the Northern Territory News in 2007, I thought I had a pretty good one with Andrew Vlahov.

So I was genuinely shocked – and fearful – the day that I walked into a basketball stadium and saw the huge frame of Vlahov thundering towards me with rage in his eyes.

A four-time Olympic basketballer and star for the Australian Boomers and Perth Wildcats, Vlahov’s playing days were over by this stage and he was the manager director of the Wildcats.

The Wildcats were regular visitors to the Top End and as the basketball writer, I came to know the MD well. At the time he was leading the push for Darwin to have a team in the National Basketball League as the basis for an expansion into the Asian market.

Andrew Vlahov’s public image was larger than life in the 90s.

When the Wildcats headed back to Darwin that year, Vlahov naturally came with them, meeting with sponsors and charming politicians with his big visions.

So it was that the previous day, I had written a few preview stories about the upcoming game that were published in that morning’s paper – looking at where the game would be won and lost, spruiking the contest, fairly straight-forward stuff for a sports reporter.

I arrived early ahead on the match to get myself settled and speak with a few people, and as I entered the stadium, Vlahov made a beeline straight for me, holding a copy of the paper.

Vlahov cut an imposing figure. At 201cm tall, he famously spruiked suits for Kingsize Menswear in a television advertisement, stepping over the buildings of Perth.

His playing weight was around 108kg – and, well, he was past his prime.

I was terrified.

“Did you write this?” he roared as he leaned in at me, pointing at an article.

My brain recalled the stories I had written – what could have offended him this much? Wide-eyed, I looked where he was pointing…and breathed out: “No, that wasn’t me. That’s a contributor to the paper.”

“Who was it?” I gave him the name of the regular contributor.

He looked straight through me for a second, turned on his heels and stormed off looking for the culprit.

Immediate crisis averted, I familiarised myself with the contributed article, which I had not seen before it was printed and made some poorly-researched remarks about the Wildcats’ trip north.

I went to find the sports editor and tell him how my life had flashed before my eyes.

Vlahov, the editor and I later had a chat, we shook hands and resumed a good working relationship. But it was an encounter that I will never forget.

Chris Leitch worked at The Northern Territory News before joining The Sunday Times as an online editor with PerthNow


Carina Tan-Van Baren

In journalism, as in life more broadly, it pays to be yourself.    

As a young reporter with a still-developing sense of self, I spent a lot of time pondering the presence, character and style of newsroom veterans.   

From bombastic to laconic, quiet observer to seductive raconteur, trusted confidant to forensic inquisitor – the journalistic approaches around me were as varied as they were successful. The common factor was that each reporter played to their strengths.  

I figured early on that I couldn’t credibly use words like “mate” or “cobber” to befriend the blokes and was far too young and green to be intimidating.   

So I settled on my early strengths – no one in their right mind would find me threatening so interviewees tended to be less guarded with me, I was not afraid to ask the difficult questions and I worked damned hard.   

Not terribly exciting or inspiring as personal styles go. But all three factors have stood me in good stead over the years.   

Another valuable lesson learnt – humility.  

Like many enthusiastic young reporters, I was sent to Canberra to mix it with the big guns in the Federal Parliamentary press gallery. My performance was solid but largely unremarkable – no Walkleys for me.  

Then, one day, I was tipped off about the key plank of the Federal Budget a little over 24 hours before its release.  

This was BIG. From the quiet end of the press gallery, I had managed to scoop such journalistic luminaries as Michelle Grattan, Fran Kelly and Laurie Oakes (who once famously obtained an entire Federal Budget before its release).   

Immensely chuffed with myself, I rang a lobbyist who worked for a key stakeholder in the relevant sector to get his response for the Budget day splash.  

He refused. He did not believe me, even when I assured him my source was impeccable and the story was rolled gold solid. Our exchange was both deflating and alarmingly time-consuming as we hurtled towards deadline.  

I eventually managed to extract some begrudging comments along the lines of what his organisation’s response would be if the Government happened to take the reported action. He clearly thought I was wrong and would only embarrass myself and my paper by going to print. 

I was not and did not. But that was the day I truly understood the value of credibility and reputation.  

Carina Tan-Van Baren worked at The West Australian in Perth and Canberra 

Wendy Pryer

My most memorable experience was covering the industrial relations reforms implemented by the Court Government in the 1990s – led by one of the more colourful characters in Cabinet at the time, the Liberal member for Riverton and Industrial Relations Minister Graham Kierath.

A strapping man with a twinkle in his eye and a lot of presence, on more than one occasion Mr Kierath strode purposefully into the press room at State Parliament to express his displeasure at my reporting on the debate around one of the three pieces of legislation, dubbed the “first, second and third waves” – industrial reform that would introduce, for the first time in the nation, individual workplace agreements, removal of workers’ right to associate and restriction of other unions rights.

Those were the days when The West Australian had a team of five journalists covering State Parliament each day, not just question time, with contentious legislation like these being debated into the wee hours of the morning.

They were also the days when pollies would come into the office most nights – after the first edition had been published – to vent, to offer you a story, or sometimes a drink.

I recall during one particularly robust exchange, Mr Kierath, who I was actually quite fond of, spluttering at me that I was a communist.

But that was ok, an angry CFMEU official had called me a “CCI slut” just the day before – I think that’s code for being an industry plant in the West Australian newspaper offices.

Such was the significance of the reforms and the passion the debate ignited.

There are a few reasons this is my most significant memory:

It was a time when West Australians were prepared to take to the streets to protest government reform.

It was also some of my best reporting, including coverage of the day unionists overran Parliament House and staged a sit in the Legislative Council, the establishment of the workers embassy opposite Parliament House and the visit by members of the Brethren, a Christian group, to the Legislative Assembly, to witness the historic passing of the legislation they supported.

I also developed a deep respect for the then Trades and Labor Council secretary, Tony Cooke, not because I supported his position or the union campaign but because his integrity, and strength, in the face of great cruelty, was striking.

Mr Cooke was the son of Eric Edgar Cooke, the serial killer who stole the innocence of Perth when committed more than 20 violent crimes, eight of those resulting in death. Eric was the last man to be hung in Western Australia, at Fremantle Prison, in 1964, when Tony was eight years old.

I was interviewing Tony about the IR reforms in his office one day when the fax machine kicked in and spat out a few pages. He looked at them and stopped speaking – they were doctored images of Mr Cooke with a noose around his neck – obviously intimating he should go the way of his father.

I was sickened. I asked him if I could report on it, but Mr Cooke took the high road, gave a wry smile and said he had seen and heard it all before, adding that it was a very emotional time and it certainly wasn’t the first time. No anger, no malice, just sadness.

Wendy Pryer worked at The West Australian in Perth and Canberra


Jean Perkins

“Get it first. Get it right. Get it often.”

This was former The West Australian editor Paul “Mooner” Murray’s succinct and sage advice to fresh cadet journalists on his approach to news gathering in the days before smart phones, Google, or Twitter.

Getting it first on police rounds was an almost impossible task when faced with the TV station chiefs of staff’s prowess at deciphering traffic on the police scanner (despite our best efforts at buttering up the police/ambos/fireys with nightly first edition newspaper deliveries right to the doors of their operations centres).

Getting it right was awkward when the back bench insisted a green court reporter ask a colourful Northbridge identity’s lawyer whether his client’s occupation had changed since it was last reported (get the person’s name, suburb, occupation is still drilled into me).

And getting it often meant attempting to dazzle the fearsome chief of staff in morning briefings with a decent story idea or run the risk of being given endless photos to write stories off, or being tasked with chasing down a follow up story to a follow up story and hoping to have something, anything, to put into your message for the afternoon news list.

The Mooner mantra is something that has stuck with me right through my career. And with the shift to online news, and smart phone users capturing stuff-ups and celebrities and shark attacks on the spot, I fear that the drive to get it first is valued by many much more than getting it right.

Rose Porteous entertaining journalists inside Prix D’Amour

But less of the glum. There are many memorable moments I could draw on, but a particular favourite is the day I staked out Rose Porteous’ house after she had come across some black clad men in her kitchen while making a late-night avocado smoothie.

To thank the many reporters and camera people who had patiently waited all day in the sun for her to make an appearance, she eventually opened up Prix D’Amour for refreshments.

We gathered expectantly at the foot of a sweeping staircase before she high-kicked all the way down to Hey Big Spender while Willie shooed their poodles off the food table. So 90s. So Perth.

Jean Perkins worked at The West Australian


Fran Lawrence

In 1997 I was a cadet journalist at The West Australian, which back in the day involved being locked in a small classroom until you achieved 120 words per minute in shorthand before being let loose in the newsroom.

After graduating from the classroom, cadets were rotated through a few weeks at a time across key areas of the news floor – business, sport, general news, the Inside Cover column (RIP) and police rounds.

The latter involved parking inside a small room with a TV and police scanners for the graveyard 5pm-1am shift, and hoping something newsworthy happened. In addition to monitoring the scanners (God help you if you missed something), the job involved ringing around the full list of Perth metropolitan police stations every hour to ask “anything going on?”.

Sometimes this meant grabbing the on-shift photographer and pool car and heading out to a job late at night; most of the time you could get the details you needed from the boys (and girls) in blue over the phone, assuming there wasn’t an ongoing situation or developing story underway you needed to get out to.

One night one of those hourly ringarounds turned up a story – a young man had been hit by a car and killed in Northbridge earlier in the evening, on a busy street. The very obliging copper on the end of the phone provided the victim’s age, suburb and even his name.

The story had missed the first edition of the paper but could make the last edition, which had a filing deadline of around 10pm – so after informing the night Chief of Staff, who shuffled around stories to fit the piece in the forward pages, I banged out the story and filed.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself when one of the back bench subs stuck his head into the police rounds room to ask if I was sure the subject of the story was dead.

Of course, I fired back. Police told me so themselves. Dead on the scene? No, taken to hospital and died there.

“Oh OK, so you’ve already double checked with the hospital then.”

Um. A quick call to RPH revealed the young man in question had in fact come in with some nasty injuries but was still very much alive and kicking. Story quickly pulled on deadline and cadet journalist feeling much less pleased with herself.

Cue one more visit from the same back bench sub:

“Cheer up mate. It’s not every day you get to resurrect someone.”

I can still hear the cackling as he went back to his desk.

Fran Lawrence worked at The West Australian


Peter Kermode

I was at the Australian Financial Review based in the Fairfax offices at Darling Harbour, Sydney, when the call went out across the news desk that we all had to attend a staff meeting immediately, to be held in some trade union hall in Chinatown.

I’ve never been a member of the union but was aware that the house committee and Fairfax management were in negotiations regarding a new pay deal.

Fairfax journos were proud of their militant reputation and had taken a particular dislike to CEO Fred Hilmer. Maybe because he had described Fairfax journos as content providers.

It was all very exciting wandering in to the hall, where we all found seats and were then lectured by Peter Hartcher (then political writer at the AFR) about the injustices of the proposed pay deal from management and how we, as hard-working comrades, deserved more respect. And more money.

It was a Friday afternoon, the day before the AFL Grand Final, and suddenly everybody around me thrust up an arm and shouted ‘Aye!’.

I asked a colleague what had just happened and he looked at me with some sympathy. “We’re on strike mate,” he said.

This was new to me. Firstly I discovered we were locked out of the IBM tower, where my wallet, keys, bus pass and other personal items were sitting at my empty workstation on level 25.

A long walk home to Balmain ensued and I spent the next week sitting at home, without pay of course, reading the SMH and the AFR which appeared to me to be pretty much unchanged and completely unaffected by my absence.

No drop in quality nor quantity of the copy, plenty of advertisements and certainly no mention that the content providers were on a well-earned break.

I began to ponder that perhaps a move into corporate communications might be an option.

Peter Kermode worked at The West Australian, Australian Financial Review, Money Marketing UK and WA Business News