Voice of Real Australia: Could all this distance be bringing us closer?

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by ACM group editor Kathy Sharpe.

Oh, the old days ... Photo: Shutterstock

Oh, the old days ... Photo: Shutterstock

The first time I walked into a newspaper office, this is what I saw.

Staff running back and forth, shouting and swearing. Phones ringing off the hook, the foyer crowded with people jostling to place a classified, or to lodge the netball results or pleading to see the editor about some urgent matter.

The old building seemed to be crumbling around all the people who were crammed into it; the journalists bashing on typewriters, the photographers darting in and out behind the black darkroom curtain. Men and women lined the paste up bench, cutting the long paper columns of type, growling at each other to hurry up.

It was dirty, loud, raw and chaotic, and I couldn't wait to be part of it.

This story will resonate with many journalists - people like me whose only useful skills are talking, writing, questioning, arguing and thinking. People like us can find our career home at a country newspaper.

Of course today's newsrooms are much more subdued and polite.

And just lately, all our worlds have gone a little quieter.

In ACM our reporters are scattered all over the countryside, but at the moment we are not physically out there gathering stories face to face. The technology allows us to publish this way, and our trust in each other ensures we will make this work.

Our workplace is not alone in adjusting to Working From Home, nowadays known as WFH. But I've noticed an unexpected consequence. In some ways this sudden distancing has the power to bring us closer.

Now we can see our colleagues in their native habitats, with their unbrushed hair, kids fighting in the background and pets demanding attention. There's something about it that feels very personal and our already healthy camaraderie feels stronger than ever.

We do what we can to keep each other's spirits up. We share funny memes and photos of our lunch. We introduce our new "co-workers", pets and children. Hidden talents emerge; like journalist Alex Darling from the Wimmera Mail Times, who played us all a tune.

We are sharing photos of the view outside our windows, a snapshot of the wide brown land from west to east, north to south. Like this from journalist Sammy Campbell who works at Mt Isa's North West Star, getting out for a horse ride in her lunch hour.

Some are working from busy share houses in regional towns or from family homes with kids putting their Vegemite fingers on the keyboard. Suddenly, little faces are peering into our video meetings.

Journalist at The Senior, Samara Ross, had her laptop hijacked by nine-month-old Clem, who has that "don't talk to me, I'm on deadline" look on his face.

Michelle Smith from the Ballarat Courier is pictured here with some of the friends who populate her new work space.

This week I was holding a virtual news meeting in Western Australia, and one of the journalists came on screen holding a duck. Here's Emma Kirk from the Busselton-Dunsborough Mail, with "Rocketman", and Emma's other co-worker for the day, niece Charlotte.

Right now I feel so proud of our journalists and the way they have not let distance dim their desire to maintain connection with their co-workers, and connection with their communities. No matter what the future throws at us, some things are unbreakable.

Kathy Sharpe,

ACM group editor

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