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From Wars To Living Rooms: Four Decades On The Front Line Of News

One summer afternoon, long ago in a small town far from here, I met a radio news director.

He was in a fluster.

He mistook me for a job applicant and not wanting to correct him, I did my best to answer his questions.

He hired me.

I was 17 years old, cleaning rat cages for a living at an animal laboratory. Being a journalist had never occurred to me. I wasn’t quite sure what they did and I couldn’t have named three government ministers. But the news director’s folly was my opportunity. I had nothing to lose.

Two weeks later, on February 12, 1979, I reported for duty in a fresh, pale yellow corduroy suit. I completed my look with the straggly beginnings of a moustache that I hoped would make me look older.

The radio station’s 13 reporters covered all the news they could find in a town of 300,000 people. All smoked. Scripts were hammered out on Adler or Imperial desk typewriters, the letters clattering and jumping onto strips of low-grade paper, which were then checked and taken into the studio to be read out over the air.

Forty years on, what is interesting is not how much the job has changed but how much it hasn’t.

What’s going on? Who does this hurt? What is a flurry over nothing? What is a real shift?

Every day I collaborate with bright, funny, completely engaged people discussing everything from suburban rail lines to global politics. We talk to people. Chase down yarns. Dig into documents.

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Try to break stories.

The pleasures are unchanging. Meeting people and getting a feel for them. Learning how power works and who it works for. Writing a story. I still feel flat if I end a day with nothing written.

And I still thump the keyboard as if trying to pound every letter onto paper. Forty years brings a little perspective. We face unquestionable threats: a warming planet, competition for resources, geopolitical rivalries when everyone seems to have the bomb.

But my father survived Nazi occupation. I have interviewed men who lived through the Somme. Our challenges today are not beyond our powers to meet them. If we’re smart. If we keep an eye to history. If we read them right.

Journalism itself is under threat because the financial models are breaking. No small town newsroom employs reporters by the dozen any more. That is not coming back. Future rat-cage cleaners will have to find some other path.

But there are signs people are catching on to the value of smart, reliable news.

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When official information is so little trusted, when so many lunatics are out there shouting, it is worth paying a little for independent eyes.

Forty years of adult life will teach you plenty no matter what you are doing. But journalism is unrivalled for letting us see every level of humanity, under every kind of stress, anywhere in the world.

Journalism has taken me to wars and rebellions, to natural disasters and suburban lounge rooms.

I have met presidents and prime ministers, killers and rogues. Whether they were celebrities or murderers I have met no-one who wasn’t human, woven out of character and scar tissue in their own particular way.

We are closer to each other than we imagine.

Thanks for watching. There is plenty more to do.

Hugh Riminton is National Affairs Editor at 10 News First.

His work has received numerous awards in Australia and overseas.