Pic by Jennifer Stenglein

Pic by Jennifer Stenglein

I don’t like to make a big deal about it but I am periodically called up to serve my country. And by ‘serve my country’ I mean sit in my suburban, air-conditioned office and get paid good coin to churn out copy on Aussie success stories for Austrade’s Australia Unlimited. In the lead up to the alcohol-fuelled nationalistic frenzy that is Australia Day, the good people at Austrade asked me to write profiles of Curtis Stone and David Blackmore.

I interviewed Curtis (well, read some answers he’d provided to emailed questions at least) and churned out this about the business school drop-out who learnt his trade a the feet of Marco Pierre White then won over Oprah, Ellen and even Donald Trump with his surfer boy good looks and Antipodean charm.

Interesting as writing about Australian cuisine’s contribution to the ranks of celebrity chefs was, I must say interviewing David Blackmore (who I did actually get to have a long conversation with) about his part in transforming wagyu from an obscure Japanese delicacy to something found on Subway sandwiches was truly fascinating. Funnily enough, neither Blackmore nor I eat wagyu; I gave up consuming animals before the marbled meat craze hit and he’s got a medical condition that makes it hard for his body to process iron-rich foods. Nonetheless, the story of how a maverick Japanese cattle farmer defied the wishes of his peers and made genetic material available to the world in the late 1980s and how a fifth-generation Victorian cattle farmer then developed a form a wagyu that’s got the thumbs up from Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller (as well as the Japanese themselves) is well worth a read even if I do say so myself.

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ABC: Amy Simmons

ABC: Amy Simmons

Have been flat out with my more commercial content marketing work in recent months (stand by for a big announcement on that front soon) but have recently carved out some time to contribute to two of the Murdoch Hate Media’s whipping boys de jour: the super fund, um, funded New Daily and the ABC. If this keeps up, it can only be a matter of time till I’m a Green Left Weekly columnist. Put the boot into Airlie Beach’s vainglorious plans to become ‘the new Byron Bay’ and called for a new progressive politics based on creating a society where everyone is encouraged to behave much as they do on the classic Aussie beach holiday.

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There are few instances when being on the wrong side of 35 in the media works to one’s advantage. But when the Over 50s travel mag Get Up & Go needed a mature but still ambulatory journalist to trek through the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s north-east being about 600 years old in journalist years played out in my favour. After a day of fine dining and genteel sightseeing in Launceston I found myself lugging a pack, with three couples who actually were over 50, along the pristine coastline of the Bay of Fires (so called because the original Indigenous inhabitants used to keep fires constantly burning on the beach to keep themselves warm). A lot of holiday destinations market themselves as allowing you to ‘get away from it all’ but I doubt much compares to schlepping along endless pristine beaches, largely out of mobile and email range, in the most sparsely populated corner of one of the most sparsely populated islands in the world. On the rare occasions I was  sufficiently energetic to get out in front of the other six guests and two guides I could very easily imagine myself to be the last – or first – person on earth. It’s a bit pricey ($2150 – $2,300) if you’re not a freeloading travel writer but still well worth the price of admission if you’re after a restorative glamping getaway.

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Seem to have found myself striding the corridors of power for the most unlikely of publications in recent times. Interviewed Clive Palmer, would-be PM and bankroller of the Palmer United Party, a while back for a superyacht mag and have now interviewed the Member for Grayndler (who just happens to be Deputy PM, Deputy Leader of the ALP, Leader of the House of Representatives, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and rumoured Rudd replacement come September 8) for an Inner West newspaper. Have to admit ‘Albo’ won me over, despite his politician’s propensity to launch into the same series of talking points regardless of what question was posed. I’ll be interested to see what becomes of him post-election.

Stefan Hair Fashions_Early_1DanAndSteph ResizeYet again I have allowed this blog to lie fallow for months while overwhelmed with paid work. Not quite sure why but things have been frantic here at Epistlinginthedark Enterprises for the last few months. In short order I’ve been asked to: spend a week hiking around Tasmania’s Bay of Fires for a travel-writing gig, author a 13,000 word e-Book on moving to New Zealand for one of the big four banks, take on the editorship of a custom magazine that’s being relaunched, churn out an academic journal’s worth of articles on the world-beating achievements of Australian scientists for my good friends at Australia Unlimited, interview the painter who won My Kitchen Rules for The Tradie and do a big profile of hairdresser and entrepreneur extraordinaire Stefan Ackerie for a superyacht magazine I occasionally contribute to. If I can find the time I will go into more detail about all of the above in future posts but I have to say speaking to Stefan was the most surprisingly enjoyable assignment of the lot, and not just because he insisted on sending me a big box of haircare products (conditioner for comment?) and inviting me to drop by and drink his “fine wine” next time I’m up Brisvegas way.
As something of a budding journopreneur myself it was inspiring to speak to a man who arrived in Australia as a penniless immigrant back in 1957, built a thriving business empire while remaining a decent human being and now, at an age when most would be drifting into retirement, is as fired up as ever about pursuing new opportunities. Will provide a link to the profile when it’s published in July but for now let me just put on the record this humble blog’s admiration for one of the few entrepreneurs who came to attention in the ’80s and who didn’t end up bankrupt, in gaol or hiding from the authorities in Majorca.

OPINION-VIEWPOINT-what-to-expect-297x222Like many a jobbing hack in recent times, I’ve been supplementing my income through brand journalism or, as it’s more commonly referred to in Australia, content marketing. Briefly, instead of renting space in a newspaper, radio program or TV show, organisations are increasingly generating their own content and putting it up on their website or channels such as Facebook or LinkedIn. The growing popularity of content marketing is no doubt another nail in the coffin for old media but, somewhat paradoxically, a much-needed shot in the arm for journalism and the growing ranks of underemployed media professionals.
My issue with content marketing is not so much the crumbling of the church-state separation between journalists and the corporations effectively paying their wages (that division has long been more honoured in the breach than the observance in the mainstream media) but simply the eye-glazingly unimaginative nature of the content commissioned. (A typical brief: widget manufacturer X wants three 500 word articles on: ‘Why widget manufacturer X makes the best widgets’, ‘Why your life is empty and meaningless without a widget’ and ‘Exciting new developments in the world of widgetry’.)
Excitingly, the good people at NRMA have launched a website – live4.com.au – that’s foregoes the hard sell and supplies “a broad range of celebrity blogs, features and interviews” as well as covering “sport, travel, entertainment, technology and car reviews”. It’s quality content that writers are paid for producing but which the reading public can access for free. I wrote a couple of things for it last year and they published a piece I had a lot of fun writing in the hours leading up to the recent non-challenge for the Labor Party leadership.
I encourage all three readers of this blog to check it out and, if they’re a struggling media worker, to enquire about contributing to it.

1612924-3x2-940x627Never thought I’d be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones, Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici and, sadly, I’m not. But just like the aforementioned respectable journalists, I am now having my work featured on the national broadcaster, in the shape of a series of op-eds The Drum website has published in recent weeks. Thus far I’ve outed Rhonda as a female sex tourist and Ketut a rent boy, argued that the path to victory for Tony Abbott at the next election lies in becoming Australia’s answer to Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham and, today, provided an insider account of the wilds of Western Sydney. The most exciting aspect of writing for the ABC has been the erudition of the personal abuse I’ve received from anonymous posters, far superior to the feedback provided by critics when I’ve written opinion pieces for News Ltd or Fairfax. “By the stars, what tosh” (from will_r) and “Talk about a load of irrational, unsubstantiated tripe devoid of logic or historical accuracy!” (rob1966) are personal favourites.

Five years ago today I was best man at my best friend from university’s wedding. He was then working at Fairfax and there was a large contingent of SMH staff in attendance. This was in the days prior to the mass penetration of smart phones and before iPads even existed but, nonetheless, by around 8.30pm the news had filtered through to the assembled guests that, after almost 12 years in power, John Howard had been replaced by Kevin Rudd. Maybe it would have occurred anyway but from that point on there was much imbibing of Champagne and joyous dancing. I’m not sure there will be much dancing or Champagne quaffing going on among the thinning ranks of Labor’s true believers today given their party’s inability to renovate let alone dismantle much of the policy architecture Howard put in place over the last half a decade, something I wrote about in this op-ed, which was published in the Fairfax mastheads yesterday.

When young media graduates, their eyes shining with hope, ask me what life is like as a journalist, I tell them they can look forward to donating their labour for free to a large corporation for 6-12 months on the off-chance they then might – just might – score themselves a $35K job working 60 hours a week alongside a collection of drama queens, dipsomaniacs and degenerates. Then, should they be the kind of high-functioning sociopath who combines a patina of surface charm with the ability to unhesitatingly hurl friend and foe alike under the bus in order to clamber up the greasy pole, they will possibly advance to a mid-level or even senior position. Of course, even if they manage that, they’ll still be hurled on the scrapheap around the age of 40 or whenever some new publisher/CEO wants to impress their superiors by being seen to engage in a bloody reign of ‘new broom’ terror. Of course, that was in the good old days before the internet reamed journalism’s business model – things are somewhat more challenging nowadays.
That said, the life of a jobbing hack is not entirely bereft of the glamour so commonly associated with working in the meedja. After about a decade toiling away you might just, for example, score a travel writing gig that involves getting paid to spend a week exploring the five-star side of a tropical island such Mauritius, courtesy of the good people at Signature Travel and Lifestyle magazine.

An article I wrote on Australia’s burgeoning organic wine industry for Austrade has just gone live on the website. Got to speak to the men behind Tamburlaine and Bay Wines, as well as a woman who makes a good living  supplying eco-friendly Australian plonk to customers all over the world via an internet storefront. Tragically, I wasn’t given any free product to sample myself but many of the organic wine boosters I spoke to assured me you can consume buckets of the stuff without having to having to endure the kind of ill-effects that typically result from overindulging in chemical-heavy mainstream wines.