May 27, 2010

When Passion just won't cut it

A young friend of mine has just experienced what I call - the "too much passion syndrome." He's often in front or behind the camera that provides you and I with New Zealand's news. From all accounts he's done his job and he's done it well. Once "off camera" he is quick to revert back to one of the most "upbeat" people I know and that has become his downfall. I am sure that covering some of the more recent horrific news pieces we've heard of lately can't be an easy job but surely, having someone who can spring back from that and go head on into the next job with an equal amount of passion is what News agencies want. Surely. Whatever their reasons, my dear friend is now out of a job. "I'm apparently, just too god damn happy," he said.

The Media industry wants passionate people. It's not something you can learn at Journalist School. You either have it or you don't. The irony is, whilst they realize passion is imperative in linking emotion to the stories told, they also desperately need to rein it in. In reality, it's the advertisers that deem what News we read and even if that story you have is earth shattering and deemed "in the public interest," it will never see the light of day if the advertising department starts to get nervous.

My first ever article must have set a lot of people on their toes. The good thing about that was I had no idea. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. You see, I was never a "real" journalist. I'd never been to any school and I have no idea about how an article was to be formatted let alone the protocol in presenting something for publication. 

In short, my first journalist job was a mistake.

I was sitting in my lounge in London listening to the outbreak of the 1992 Gulf War. I could not believe the powers that be saw War as their only option. On my TV there was 'this man' trying to say something but the voice-over was drowning him out. I caught his name, Tony Benn MP for Chesterfield, and thought... I'm going to call him tomorrow. 

This was my plan: Ring the House of Commons. Ask to speak to Tony Benn. His super snoop secretary will interrogate me, realise I am a nobody, and tell me to bugger off. That was the plan.

This is what happened: I called the House of Commons. Asked to speak with Tony Benn. The phone rang, he picked up, I freaked out, lied about who I was and he agreed to a face-to-face interview the following Monday. To this day, I can still hear myself saying "I work for the Star Herald Morning Dom." 

In hindsight, Tony Benn knew I was a fraudster. But there was a media gag on any anti-war information. Journalists all over Europe were having their print material confiscated and they ended up taking their protest to the streets, to no avail. Maybe Tony thought I'd be dumb enough to submit an article to a New Zealand paper and, in turn, they'd be naive enough to get it published. Funnily enough, that is exactly what happened. 

Six months after the article was published in the Auckland Star, I decided to return to New Zealand for a holiday. At Heathrow airport, they took my ticket and passport, looked at their computer and then asked me to wait while they "checked something." Within minutes, two guys dressed like the Blues Brothers, approached me and asked for me to follow them for 'questioning.' I pissed myself laughing. I think I even bantered with one of the guys and thumped him on the shoulder. "Yeah whatever dude!" I laughed. I was convinced this was some sort of Bloopers and I was buggered if I was going to look like I'd been caught out. 

Needless to say, my humor was completely lost on the pair. I followed them into an office, sat down, and watched as they brought my suitcase in, unpacked it, and flicked on my little poor laptop. It made a horrendously slow beeping sound, more like a groan really, which made B1 take a step back and look nervously at B2.  

"It's just a flat battery," I reassured.

That was the last time I saw my laptop. All my poetry, letters to my mum, and even period due dates, were gone, off to Lala land. It didn't help that my daytime job was at a computer company called KGB Micros (KGB being the initials of the three Directors). It didn't help that I had business cards in my handbag that they siphoned through. And it certainly didn't help that I told them they were from my Russian Spy headquarters.

You see, I was still expecting the camera to come out and for someone to wave a white flag and announce me as one of the hardest people they've tried to pull a prank on. I still believed that when they handcuffed me to board my flight but I must admit, the joke was starting to wear a little thin when B1 accompanied me all the way to San Fransisco. Another seven hours of "talking" there and I was about to admit to any heinous crime. 

"Are you a Saddam sympathiser?"
"I don't think so,"
"What's your business here in the States?"
"Um, it's a stop-over mate, you know, so we don't run out of fuel before New Zealand!"
"Are you trying to be smart?"

B1 accompanied me on the second leg of my journey to New Zealand, by which time I was not only jet-lagged big time but I was real pissed off as well. I'd become annoyed with passengers looking at me as if I was a dangerous criminal in transit and I was still to make the connection that this had anything to do with my article. As the plane came to a stop at Auckland airport, B1 unlocked my handcuffs. I guess he figured I wasn't about to make a run for it - unlike when I was, you know, in mid-air. Where the hell did he expect me to run to?

Passengers started to stand, collect their overhead luggage, and jostle for positioning in the aisle before the inevitable announcement was made: "Would passenger Burns please remain seated." I avoided eye contact with a sweet looking granny who gave me one of those "poor wee thing" expressions, and before I knew it, two of the most handsome New Zealand Customs Officers was standing over my chair.

"Yeah right, look we'll take it from here."
B1 didn't take too kindly to being stripped of his duty."But I have to ensure she sets foot on NZ soil."
The Customs leaned it. "Well what do you think this plane is sitting on, a fucking cloud?"

That was the first and last time I wrote anything remotely connected to politics. Tony Benn did write to me after the article was published. He thanked me for a well written piece which I thought ironic considering I'd merely put quote marks around things he said. He also let me know that his offices are bugged and that he'd learned of my 'little encounter.' Twelve years later, I looked at that article and realised it could be republished and without a single change to the text. Just the headline: History Repeats Itself. Except this time, I don't think New Zealand would be naive enough to publish an article that goes so against the norm. New Zealand's media has evolved, unfortunately, and having an opinion, even a controversial one is a big "no no," as is having passion for the job. 

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