Cover Story: A day in the life of a cadet journalist

Tom McNish has been enjoying the experience at his local paper, though he's had some good stories this is his biggest news report.

It’s taken me a while but, after five months of being a cadet journalist at the South Gippsland Sentinel Times, I have finally achieved a cover story.

It was Friday, coming to the end of my 19th week working at the local paper, and I remember the weather forecast: “Today will be the wettest day of the year so far.”

The Sentinel is a weekly publication, going to press on Monday, however advertorial pages are published Friday with a 3pm deadline.

Check out the story here. Who will save us?

My day started with three advertising articles I needed to write, about 300 words apiece. This would take me at least an hour each so, starting at 9am, I was confident I could have them done by the 3pm deadline.

The rain started at 9.30am and, when I was asked to go out to Cape Paterson to check out the ‘Vic Emergency App’ notification that there was ‘flooding’, I wasn’t too keen. #WHEN

On my way out I took the back road to Cape Paterson, a 10-minute drive from Wonthaggi, and, when I entered the seaside town, it was in chaos. #WHERE

What started with 30 minutes of heavy isolated hail, was later recorded to be between 125mm to 175mm of precipitation and was making its way from farmland, across the town and towards the ocean. #WHAT

And what was in that path? About 50 low-lying homes. #WHO

So it was my job to get the story and photos of how people were reacting. #HOW

I parked near some of the worst flooding, spoke to a few residents that were on the street and took photos to display the rapid flow of the water.

“This is the second time in three years this has happened, I’m restoring a motorbike in the shed, it’s flooded and there are parts everywhere,” Peter Blair said from his balcony on Anglers Drive.

Returning to the office, eager to write up the flooding story and move on to my advertorials, my editor showed me Facebook images of the Wonthaggi Life Saving Club and flooding there. “Did you get any reports from the Life Saving Club?” he asked. “No,” I replied heading back out the door.

That’s where my #COVERSTORY started, on my second trip to the cape.
Back I went, a little frustrated but calm and focussed for the second visit.

The surf lifesaving club’s regular volunteers, some familiar with me as a local journalist, informed me of their strife.
“This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve been here for 60 years,” WSLC life member George Scott said.

The destruction of the club was highlighted by the dislocation of the boat ramp that once connected the observation building with the shore.

Damming of water in the central area of the park, blocked by an under-maintained path, caused the eventual outflow to remove large amounts of sand, eroding the support of the boat ramp and adjoining stairs.

This was something that had to be seen to be believed. I asked some concerned locals to be in a photo to give it scale.

Next, I gathered more comment, talking to locals and club members, but time was ticking and I needed to get back to the office.

I completed the advertorials, though a little late, but my editor understood why. 

#MONDAY we publish, always a busy day. I followed up the WSLC story by contacting the president of the club, and his report following the events was the basis of my story.

I also contacted Life Saving Victoria, Bass Coast Shire Council and the local MP Jordan Crugnale for further comment. Check out the story here. Who will save us?

#PUBLISHED Reading the paper Tuesday morning is always exciting, to see your articles in print, what better way to enjoy your coffee? Even better with my first front page.

#FOCUS – however tempting it is to look at stuff on your phone or computer, keep staring at your work instead and it will progress.
#CALL – it’s easy to put off, but calling is the best way to contact people and progress your stories.
#PATIENCE – stress will reach boiling point, your editor isn’t actually an idiot, and is probably doing twice as much work as you. So take a breather (not another coffee) and keep hitting those keys.
#SMILE – it’s hard sometimes but the challenges I have faced in my first six months are definitely something that I’m proud to have conquered.


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