Diary Of A Disabled Journalist: Good Writing Process vs Cheap News

Every writer has their own particular approach to the craft, and if we are all to be honest with ourselves, even the most seasoned of us would probably admit to changing up the process several times along the way.

It’s a variable thing process – some writers can easily open up a word document and start scribing without anything other than an idea. Others will have to put a lot more into the preparation side in order to even begin writing something worth reading.

I don’t refer to myself as a ‘seasoned writer’ by any stretch, but having said that, I often forget that I have been doing this semi-professionally for well over a decade now and nearly half a decade as a journalist/reporter/columnist for a large variety of online/print mainstream media.

To me, writing process is all about setting. The delivery of a good article or blog is all about nailing that setting.

As a freelancer, my home is typically my office. If it’s not my home, probably a press box somewhere.

Given that, I’ve naturally experimented with different places of writing but one thing remains key, the less distraction the better. That’s an obvious conclusion to reach, but within distraction is also noise, and the elimination isn’t so much the actual physical distraction (like your cat jumping onto the table when working at home for instance) as it is about the noise part.

For example, I can write with a little bit of background noise, low beat music for instance, but I can’t even begin to find the concentration to write even a sentence if loud direct noise is in the room, like television audio or loud conversation.

Being a journalist and having to meet deadlines teaches the need for speed when it comes to writing. But it also teaches about detail, working out just what to leave in a story and what can be taken out, understanding the particular narrative or ‘angle’ the article is taking.

Quite often, in fact for some of the best articles and blogs I’ve ever written, that formula has evolved during the actual writing of the piece where I’ve enabled myself to relax and let the story tell itself. The basic idea is there, that gets me started, but it’s that state of relax and deep concentration where there is literally nothing between my thoughts and the document that is truly representative of the best moments in writing.

As a journalist, seasoned blogger, and passionate writer, I’ve also learnt that it’s vital to understand one very real reality.

That reality is simple, the reader (that’s you reading this) will likely decide within seconds whether they’re liking what you’ve written or not. We live in an age where information, news, and the reaction is being delivered more quickly than it ever has before and in a huge variety of ways.

As a writer, your readers have hundreds of different options ready and waiting for their attention, so if you want to be truly good at this thing, you’d better learn that your craft isn’t actually about trying to reach and convince absolutely all of them.

Good writing has the ability to do is engage, inform and challenge. It’s not about re-publishing the same old rubbish message over and over again, it’s about developing a truly detailed account of your thinking and/or the facts and this can only be done with effort and skill.

Call be a bit jaded, but I believe that half the reason why a lot of mainstream media outlets get the flack they do is because their content isn’t crafted as much around quality as it is about the time factor, i.e being the first or the most informed on a story versus how that’s actually written and presented.

But, and it’s a big but, mainstream media is also a business and like a lot of businesses it looks to provide the biggest bang for its buck, often with a diminishing amount of resource.

For example, it’s cheaper to pay a fresh faced journalist fresh out of university to go out and tell the big stories with nothing more than a notepad and laptop than it is to invest the time into really digging into the facts, cultivate good reliable sources, and most importantly, have the freedom to be able to tell good stories.

Many journalists are terrified of screwing up, something that is fuelled by the constant reminder of how lucky they are to call themselves a professional in this business, that they won’t seek greater challenges within their particular beat.

That’s why so many all in media scrums that rugby journalist will be well custom to are often described as ‘theatre’ by some of the veterans in our business, because it’s often not about anything other than being sure to ask a question so there is something to write about – regardless of how bad many of those questions often are because they’re thrown out without any real thought.

Being a blogger for over a decade before entering this business is something I will cherish forever because it gave me time to understand how process truly impacts on the final piece. It’s also given me plenty of room to fail, and yes writers, you will fail numerous times along the way toward a career in writing.

The bad articles are the ones written without thought and are designed in no way other than to join the constant void of information. The good articles are written with thought, and as a writer, my advice would be to ensure that you spend as much time looking and thinking about your craft (and it’s potential impact on the reader) during and before putting pen to paper.

That, in my opinion, is a little bit of what you need to do in order to be a good writer (if one can ever be called such).

Reporting on rugby from a wheelchair

As one of the rare wheelchair-bound members of New Zealand’s rugby media pack, it’s been an interesting experience thus far and on a few examples I’ve had to “drive my way in” to get those all-important quotes on record.

The key is that I be up front and honest about the disability and access requirements right from the start. Not to my fellow reporters, but to the media managers.

I do this when I inquire about an interview possibility, attend a game, and especially filling out application forms for accreditation. Questions like “is the venue wheelchair accessible?” and “will my support worker be able to attend with me?” are some of the ones I ask.

Ahead of my first year covering Super Rugby as part of the accredited media, I had the conversation with a media manager about all this. They told me to fill out two application forms, but the prior conversation had been important just to establish why I needed a support worker with me in the media room at all times. The reason for someone being there isn’t just so they “can get into the game for free” as one person put it, but it’s because I actually need someone (who is paid by me) to help me with getting things in and out of my bag, et cetera.

In general, other reporters have always been greatly welcoming and inclusive toward me.

I’ve had some people jokingly say that I “played the wheelchair card” to get media access with rugby teams. Me stating my access issues, or the need for a support worker to attend with me, is just a necessity so that I can perform to my very best ability.

Most media rooms I’ve seen are accessible to wheelchairs, but there have been examples of venues that can’t stake the same claim.

One such example of this is Rotorua International Stadium. The Chiefs had shifted one of their home games to this venue in 2015. I signalled my interest to work at the game, but after a few inquiries I learnt that the media room was not wheelchair accessible. I thought that would be that and I’d be working on my laptop from home. Then I got a phone call, and it was the Chiefs media manager who told me that they were going to setup a table for me on the field.

“On the field!”, I thought. So there I was, field side with my laptop setup for the Chiefs match in 2015. I’ll never forget seeing Augustine Pulu dive over the try line right in front of me that night, not the only moment that I almost forgot I was there to work as a journalist, not a fan.

It gets a little bit different when it comes to covering International rugby though.

First time in a media scrum with All Blacks captain Kieran Read; I was pushed to the back, ironically after starting out near the front after the media manager had given me earlier warning of the interviews beginning. Reporters pushed their way past me, microphones and cameras all but blurred my vision of the All Black skipper. Thankfully, one reporter noticed my difficulty and kindly said he would send through his audio so that I could get on with writing my story.

The restrictions about bringing a support worker in are also slightly trickier. As I eluded to earlier, it’s very important that I have the conversation with the media managers involved beforehand.

Looking outside of the reporting work; I certainly think that a lot can be done to improve the match experience for disabled patrons. Not just physically disabled, but also those who are visually impaired. I know a man who is partially sighted and he struggles getting to and from his seat. He pays hundreds of dollars a year paying a yearly membership – and while he enjoys the games themselves – the experience before and after is often less than pleasant. It would also help if the accessible seating for wheelchair users at games was situated in a way that vision of the field wouldn’t be impaired when others in the crowd stand up as a try is scored.