Over 30? Don’t bother applying for this job…

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.46.03 AMI saw this job ad recently for an online group that caters for seniors—that is, people aged 60 and older. The ad made it very clear that no one from the demographic for which they cater need apply: the successful candidate, it said, would be a social media ‘native’, but would have ‘A love for the not-quite older generations’.

It reminded me of a conversation a TV sitcom family might have about how to deal with an elderly relative at a celebration: ‘Just sit dear old grandad in the corner with a party-hat on; he won’t know the difference’.

There are so many things that are wrong with this ad. Don’t even get me started on the grammar—but that’s for a different post.

Firstly, it’s illegal in Australia to discriminate against job-seekers on the basis of age. Of course, actual selection of candidates based on age goes on all the time, albeit surreptitiously. But you’re definitely not allowed to advertise a job of this nature and specify age. By saying they are looking for a digital ‘native’, the company is specifying it wants someone younger than around 30. Actually, by specifying ‘social media’ native, they’re probably meaning someone in their very early 20s.

There is one positive aspect to age-discriminatory advertising: it means people who are 30+ will know not to bother applying for this job. Otherwise, as this company caters specifically for ‘older’ people, it could expect to get quite a number of mature-age applicants, believing that perhaps such a company would appreciate that digital ability is not about age but technological dexterity.

For a site that advertises itself as championing people remaining active in their 60s, this is poor form and a proof that they don’t really believe in their audience. They could sure do with someone who is a good editor, by the way: I took a look at their website and the stories were full of grammatical and typographical errors in every paragraph (as their ad was).

There seems to be a general belief, particularly among the young themselves, that you can only be really good at using new technology if you were brought up with it. Imagine if we applied that to other fields.

For example, P.D. James, who died in 2014 aged 94, started writing in her mid-30s, but didn’t work full-time as a writer until she retired from the civil service in the UK when she was 60. She was born in 1920, before radio and TV broadcasting started. In 2009, aged 89, she was a guest-editor at BBC Radio 4 in the UK, and she interviewed the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson. She was so good, the show’s host, Evan Davis, said she should have a permanent job on the show.

The late Steve Jobs was 50 when he released the first iPhone. Did anyone try to tell him he was too old to be doing such things, and that because he wasn’t a ‘digital native’, he wouldn’t be any good at them? Using the above company’s mentality, if Jobs had applied for his own job, he wouldn’t have got it, purely on the basis of age.

Here’s something else to think about when you advertise that a job will go to a digital native: more than half the people in the world still do not have access to the internet. Australia has immigrants from many different countries, including young adults who came from countries in which they were not brought up with digital technology. Should they be precluded from applying for jobs that require use of technology, because they were not exposed to it as children?

As I often say to young people, ‘Your age group only uses this new technology, but my age group and several before it actually invented it’. (I did not make up this sentiment—I read it somewhere and appropriated it). Many young people I know are quite good at using social media. But not all. Some tell me they don’t particularly like it, and many admit they’re not that knowledgeable about it, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar app or medium.

It is true that demographics show that a greater percentage of younger people than older people use new technology, particularly social media. But that doesn’t mean older people can’t use technology. And just because some can’t or won’t use it, doesn’t mean all of them lack these skills. You shouldn’t be precluded from a job because of what someone else can’t do.

I know also that many mature adults would like to use more social media, but most social media use is recreational: it’s about play, entertainment and fun. And unfortunately, most adults are time-poor, particularly those who are middle-aged or older. They might have a 10-hour+ work day including a commute, have to care for children and perhaps elderly parents as well, have to pay a mortgage and provide a living for themselves and their dependents. Finding time to play on social media is increasingly difficult.
Ironically though, the fastest-growing group of new gamers in Australia is the over-50s, according to Digital Australia 2016, and 49% of Australians in this age group play computer or video games.

On the other hand, young people can also be discriminated against because of their age. When I was just 22, I became the assistant editor of a big rural newspaper where I had been working as a reporter. The editor had been promoted to a higher managerial position, and another older reporter was promoted to editor, even though I’d been effectively doing the job for the last six months. The owner said he would have liked to have made me editor, and he knew I could do the job: the only reason I was made assistant editor instead was that I was too young. People would not accept someone my age as editor, he said.

I am very much against ‘youth rates’ that Australia and some other countries have, too, unless a young person is unable to do the same job as an adult-rate person. I think it’s exploitative.

My point is this: if you are an employer in the field of communications, try not to have pre-conceived notions of who might or might not be able to do the job you are advertising. Choose the person who is right for the job as if you could not see them: not by age, looks or other incidentals. Choose by aptitude, enthusiasm, and the ability to relate to the audience you are aiming to reach.

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The 1940s media technology nothing can better

Radio

There is an adage that says, don’t try to reinvent the wheel: that is, if an invention is perfect, leave it be. One of these perfect inventions, I believe, is the transistor radio. That’s because

  • It is light and portable, and you can buy one small enough to fit in a pocket;
  • The battery lasts for months, perhaps years, depending how much you use it;
  • It always works, as long as you’re in range of radio waves. No electricity, recharging, modem or internet capability needed;
  • When the weather is very hot or very cold, it still works;
  • You can do other things while you’re listening to the radio—you can drive, garden, cook, whatever;
  • There’s a world of entertainment for everyone, young, old and in between, and broadcasts available in almost every language. There are music of all types, dramas, news, advice shows, arts shows, science shows, chat and talkback.

In fact, radio was the world’s first live interactive media. When talkback started in the 1960s, the law in Australia had to be changed, because it was illegal to record phone calls, and radio stations needed a slight delay so they could censor inappropriate callers.

When I was about 9, my parents bought me my first transistor radio. It was a palm-sized red one with silver buttons. Back then, my favourite show was the children’s story request program on Sundays, starting at 6am.

In those days, also, I can remember my grandparents still had a ‘radiogram’ that was a big piece of cabineted furniture, in a polished wood that my grandmother would put a vase of flowers and family pictures in silver frames on top of. They called this piece of furniture the ‘wireless’, and it used valve technology rather than transistor technology. No doubt they thought the radiogram a superior being to the transistor, which was invented in 1947.

When I was a teenager living in Auckland, New Zealand, the soundtrack to my life was the cool music on Radio Hauraki, so called because it had started as a pirate station broadcasting from a boat out in the Hauraki Gulf from 1966-70.

By the time I was listening to Radio Hauraki, it was many years after those pirate days, and it was well established as a legal land-based station. But it still had that edge of being rebellious and even a bit dangerous, with Kevin “Blackie” Black (1943-2013) the coolest of all DJs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Imagine my excitement when, as a young newspaper reporter in the 1980s, I actually got to interview the great Blackie himself at his house.

These days, of course, you will tell me that radio has been modernised and that I should stream it over the internet using an app on my phone. Yes, I can do that. But somehow it’s not the same: it eats my phone battery charge, for a start.

And I rarely listen to the radio for the music these days, because I can download any song I like and play it whenever.

But in today’s new environment of music on demand, something has been lost. I remember how, as a 14-year-old, I used to sit eagerly by the radio, finger poised on the red ‘record’ button of my cassette player, ready for when a favourite song happened to be played. It felt like winning a raffle when a song you’d been waiting for actually came on.

I still like a transistor radio. My current one is a retro-styled powder blue, which I did an ink and watercolour painting of, as you can see above.

I’m getting another one soon, a digital pocket-sized number. But essentially, it’s the same perfect invention even in the 21st century: simple, easy to use, strong, and lasts forever.

Long ago interviews #2: the celebrity who cared

 

There's my interview with Tim Ferguson for Don't Forget Your Toothbrush. You can just see it on the upper left of this collage of stories I did for TV Week in the 1990s

There’s my interview with Tim Ferguson for Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. You can just see it on the upper left of this collage of stories I did for TV Week in the 1990s

You know when you’re miserable with a cold, but you either can’t take the day off work, or you have something so important to do, you couldn’t possibly stay home unless you were unconscious?

Through much of the 1990s, I worked as a journalist for TV Week magazine, which was then Australia’s highest selling entertainment weekly. One day, I had an interview scheduled with Tim Ferguson, a comedy star who had been part of the very famous and edgy group The Doug Anthony All Stars, which had toured nationally and internationally and had appeared regularly on TV.

DAAS had broken up, but Ferguson now had his own quirky game show series, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. Modeled on the hit British show of the same name, it involved cheesy games and random travel destinations. Here’s a picture from the very kitsch launch party at Channel 9. I’m the one in the middle. Ferguson, smart man, does not appear in this photo.

Toothbrush-1995Anyway, in conjunction with the launch of this show, on another day I was to do an interview with Ferguson. This particular day, I had a heavy head cold, but we needed the interview for the next edition, and I couldn’t really get out of it. So I struggled on.

The interview was difficult: the cold was at its peak, and I had to keep leaving the room to blow my nose and cough. This was mortifying for me, such is the vanity of youth. I was rarely ill and saw it as a failing on my part. If only I’d known then what I know now about what Ferguson himself was going through privately.

Now, most celebrities, if you turn up with a cold, will look horrified, because they don’t want to catch it themselves. Witness the reaction of Katy Perry to Australian interviewer Jackie Frank when Frank reveals she has a cold (“Are you *gulp* contagious?”):

Ferguson, however, was different. “You poor thing,” he said. “I think you need Lemsip.”

He couldn’t believe I had no idea what this was. For the record, it’s a concoction of lemon-flavoured medication you add hot water to and drink. (This is not product placement, by the way, but it still does exist!).

Anyway, later that day, a package arrived for me: it was a packet of Lemsip and a cartoon by Ferguson that I still have, of me trying to do an interview with a cold. Well, I know I still have it somewhere. Unfortunately, with our recent move, lots of things whose whereabouts I thought I knew are not where I thought they were. Well, if I find it, I will update this post.

Little did I know back in 1995 that just the year before, Ferguson had been diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis), and of course had a huge upheaval in his life at the time because of it, including having to break up the fabulous group DAAS, because their touring and stage performances were too physically demanding. Beside what he was going through, my silly little cold seems just an embarrassment.

Ferguson kept the condition to himself and didn’t reveal it publicly until about 2010. But in his typical way, he has made the best of it, writing, lecturing and speaking, and even making light of his condition, performing a one-man show about life with MS called Carry A Big Stick. You can read more about his inspiring story here.

So thanks, Tim Ferguson: besides your talent and tenacity, you are officially the nicest, most empathetic celebrity I ever interviewed.

What price a newspaper?

newsI saw a pile of local newspapers when I was at the supermarket on Saturday. They weren’t free: they wanted 40c for a copy, the cover announced.

As I’m new to the area, I thought perhaps the local rag or ‘two-minute silence’ as we used to call such publications, would be a good source of community information.

Then when I saw the price, I hummed and hahed, and finally decided not to buy one. As I walked away, I realised how ridiculous that was. It was only 40 cents! I pay 10 times that for a coffee without baulking (well, I do baulk at it, actually, but that’s what you have to pay).

Today, I went back to the supermarket to buy the Berwick News. As a former print-media journalist, my profession for more than 20 years, I feel I should support old-fashioned newspapers, even in their dying days.

Unfortunately, there were no copies left. And the joke’s on me: the assistant informed me that those copies were going free, because they were left over from earlier in the week, when they were sold at the nearby news agent. Today I went to the news agent and got one: also free, though I’d happily have paid.

I know most community newspapers are run by big media chains, but they’re still important. The other night, in my street, there was some sort of emergency, with sirens and evacuation loud speakers, after midnight. I asked on the newspaper’s website if anyone knew what had happened. Someone from the paper has replied and is looking into it.

I met an old friend at a party recently who used to work with me on a national magazine in the 1990s. The magazine moved interstate, then she was out of the workforce for a few years as a full-time mother. Then, about seven years ago, she started looking for a job again. She found one as a sub-editor at a local paper, and loves it.

“I think we make a real difference in the community,” she says. “Everyone in the office cares about the paper, and it’s so nice working in the same suburb I live in.” She’s been promoted, too, and is now chief sub-editor.

It was a heart-warming story. Here’s cheers to all the journos I know who have reinvented themselves, retrained, or found work on a different sort of publication than they once imagined themselves working on. It’s a difficult terrain out there for our profession at the moment. You have to take what you can get: but sometimes, what you get turns out to be surprisingly OK.

Oh, and if you see a local paper for just a few cents, do buy one.

Where are they now? Aussie stars of 1994

Through much of the 1990s, except for four years in Thailand, I worked for TV Week, which was then Australia’s biggest selling entertainment magazine (more than 500,000 copies a week). We also ran the TV Week Logie Awards (“the Logies”), which were, and still are, screened on Channel 9.

The Logies—named after the Scottish inventor of the TV set, John Logie Baird—were a big deal in those days, akin to the Emmys in the US. The televised live event was always one of the highest-rating shows of the year.

Of course, it is an invitation-only event, and in those days, we TV Week reporters received our own invitation and entered via the red carpet like anyone else. (Unlike the stars, however, we had to return to the office about midnight and write our stories. Later though, we were able to return to the all-night parties, and we got a hotel room each thrown in).

Logies

When I moved house recently, I found my invitation to the 1994 Logies, pictured above. It’s poster sized, came in a tube (which I still store it in) and featured illustrations of some of the top stars of the day.

It’s interesting, 20 years on, to see their younger selves and to reflect on the industry. Some of them are, sadly, no longer with us, including the irreplaceable actor Ruth Cracknell (left, next to my name), who I had the pleasure of interviewing about that time and who won the peer-voted award that year for Most Outstanding Actress. She died in 2002, aged 76.

The other who has gone is Graeme “Shirley” Strachan (bottom, third from right), lead singer of the 1970s group Skyhooks, who had become a lifestyle-show host. He was killed in 2001 at the aged of 49 when the helicopter he was flying crashed on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

There are many in this poster whose careers kicked on and who are still involved in the media or entertainment industries, I’m pleased to say: Garry McDonald, (Most Outstanding Actor), John Farnham, Georgie Parker, Wendy Harmer, Andrew Denton, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, Gary Sweet and Sonia Todd (Most Popular Actor and Actress, respectively, for Police Rescue), Red Symons, Melissa George (Most Popular New Talent), Libbi Gorr (as Elle McFeast), Ernie Dingo, Rob Sitch, Natalie Imbruglia. Cricketer Shane Warne, then aged 25, is there in his hey-day, too.

Ray Martin (centre right) not only hosted the show, he won statuettes for Most Popular Light Entertainment Personality and the big one, the Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television. He won many Logies, but he once told me every single one of them was precious to him and he loved winning them.

At centre left is Daryl Somers, host of the long-running show Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which ran for 27 years before being cancelled in 1999. Somers and the show made a short-lived comeback in 2010.

There are others there who we thought were big stars at the time but who perform only occasionally now or who have gone on to other things: Kimberley Davies, Dieter Brummer, Bruce Samazan, Scott Michaelson.

There are a few glaring omissions: It’s extraordinary that Bert Newton isn’t pictured. One of the best known Australian entertainers, then as now, he had hosted the show 18 times, including the year before.

The other omission is the great actor Bud Tingwall (1923-2009), who was inducted into the TV Week Logies Hall of Fame that year.

Long-Ago Interviews: Lord Jeffrey Archer, author

In a previous career, I was a journalist who specialised in writing about the entertainment industry, celebrities, books and authors. I did this from the 1980s until 2008, when I became a university lecturer in media studies and journalism. In this series, “Long Ago Interviews”, I want to share some anecdotes from some of my more memorable interview subjects.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, I was books editor at the Sunday Star newspaper in New Zealand (now the Sunday Star Times). I had moved back to the big city, where I was brought up, after paying my dues from the age of 17 working at rural newspapers at Waipukurau in Hawke’s Bay and Warkworth, north of Auckland. I was still only in my early 20s when I became books editor of this major newspaper, but in those days, because we started so young, we were quite accomplished by age 23 or 24.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview

Books editor

When I say I was books editor, this was an extra duty. I was primarily employed as the TV-page writer/editor, and before that the arts writer/editor of the Auckland Star Monday to Saturday. When the new Sunday edition was being planned, I sent the Editor—the big man upstairs who we lowly reporters barely ever saw—a proposal for a books page in the Sunday Star, because management had asked for ideas from staff and were prepared to give everyone a go. My proposal for a weekly books page was accepted, but it was additional to my role as arts editor then, later, TV editor. They paid me an extra $50 a week, but as all book lovers would know, it wasn’t about the money. I would be thrilled with anticipation every day as boxes of new books were delivered from publishers hoping to get a mention on the page.

Each week, as well as reviews by myself and other journalists happy to grab a free book (they got paid for reviews too, by the way), I wrote a news story about the book industry and did an interview with an author. It was a broadsheet newspaper, so there was lots of room.

As you can imagine, I was very busy, basically doing two jobs. As TV editor, every day I had to write a page of interviews and stories about local TV, and I also had to type out the program guide with witty comments! On Saturdays, I produced a TV lift-out. Then Sunday was thrown into the mix, though I’m not sure now if it was a dedicated TV page or just a news story or two.

“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him”

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

One of the interviews I remember vividly from this time was with the British author, Jeffrey Archer (now Lord Archer, but back then, plain old “Mr”). Before I write further, let me say I do not agree with his politics at all, and I wouldn’t comment on his private life, of which there are many versions (for an interesting article on truth versus fiction in his life, click here). Nevertheless, I have to say he was a most charming interviewee, humorous and talkative. In addition, he is one of only a very few among hundreds of authors I have interviewed who sent me a personally signed letter  after the interview, thanking me for my time. I still have that letter.

Jeffrey Archer was extremely famous in the 1980s, and few authors could match his sales. He is perhaps best known for Kane And Abel, of which a 30th anniversary edition was released last year, and which alone has sold 37 million copies, according to Archer himself on his blog. I’ve read several of his books and enjoyed them immensely.

Anyway, Archer’s publishing company’s publicist had called me to set up an interview time, assuming I would go to his hotel. When I said that I was actually too busy to go out to an interview that day and that Mr Archer would have to come to the Star building to see me, the publicist was aghast:
“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him,” she said.

I said that unfortunately, then, I would have to pass on the interview. She then got back to me with the exciting news that the author would indeed go to the journalist.

He duly arrived. I met him in the foyer, and up the rickety elevator we went in the ancient but quaint Auckland Star building, to an interview room on the editorial floor. He was with a young male assistant, who I prefer to think of as a sort of manservant (and I’ll tell you why in a moment).

Now, when I say interview room, think monk’s cellar. These rooms were just cubbyholes, really, with only a small table and a couple of chairs inside. Nothing on the drab grey walls, rather musty smelling, no windows. They were like interview rooms you see in those old hard-boiled cop movies. Nevertheless, I got him a bad cup of instant coffee in a paper cup and away we went.

Ask a rude question…

In the 1980s, young people still mostly lived by a lot of rules about how to behave in company and, especially, to have respect for their elders. You did not talk about money, religion or politics, as a rule, and you never asked a woman over 30 her age. But as journalists, we had to forget these rules, and we used to have to ask what I saw as tough questions, which you always kept until last. For Jeffrey Archer, the tough question I had to ask was, “How much money do you earn from your writing?”

He laughed and told me he had no idea. I don’t believe that for a moment, but he qualified it with some good material for my story. This is not the exact quotation, as unfortunately, I no longer have the clipping, but he answered something like this: “Let’s just put it this way. I have enough money to go anywhere I want to and to buy anything I want without having to check if there is enough money in my bank account.” He told me he had Louis Vuitton luggage, which was very impressive. He also told me that the sole reason he had started writing his first novel, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, was because he desperately needed money to stop himself going bankrupt.

One’s manservant has the pen

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch.

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch

Another thing that has changed in journalism is that, in those days, you would never ask a celebrity for their autograph if you were a professional reporter. You would never show that you were “star struck”. This is the one time I broke the rules: I asked Jeffrey Archer if he would sign my paperback review copy of his book First Among Equals, which was what he was in New Zealand to publicise. He agreed, then held up his right arm with palm outstretched. Immediately, the “manservant” took a pen from his pocket and placed it in Archer’s hand. Archer signed the book, and handed the pen back to the assistant. I still have that signed paperback: you can see Archer’s signature and find out what happened to my copy of the book here.

I say “manservant”, because in New Zealand, we had nowhere like as rigid or apparent a class system as existed in England. No one else I knew or had interviewed had ever had someone else to carry their pen for them, including the then-Prime Minister, David Lange, who I met at the Beehive (as the Parliament Buildings executive area is known) in Wellington in the 1980s. Well, whatever the real reason the assistant had the pen, it makes a good story and is something that has stuck in my memory all these years.

How do you interview a hitman?

The news that one of Australia’s most notorious underworld figures, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, 58, died of liver cancer today, has prompted me to reflect on a series of interviews I did with him 10 years ago.

At the time, and then known as Caron James,  I was Melbourne Editor of Woman’s Day magazine. The story was to be about his wedding to childhood sweetheart Margaret.

At first, I was reluctant to do the interview. My editor asked me if I would like a body guard! I declined, saying it wasn’t that I was in any way scared, just that I had problems with the ethics of doing such a story.

Anyway, I did do it. I met Read and Margaret at his favourite pub in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood.  He was personable and insisted on buying me a gin and tonic. Carefully, I called him “Mark”.

My interview with Mark Brandon "Chopper Read' and his wife, Margaret, in 2003.

My interview with Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read and his wife, Margaret (centre), in 2003.

“Aww, call me Chopper,” he said, “Everyone else does.”

I turned to his wife and said, “Margaret, do you call him Chopper?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “I call him Mark.” So Mark it was.

This was a true love story. Margaret had met Mark in a fish and chip shop when they were teenagers, before he turned to crime. They went out for a while, but separated. But she always loved him. She waited for him for decades, never marrying anyone else or having children. Margaret lived a blameless life, working hard and buying a little house for herself. But she never forgot her first love.

Finally, in her 40s, they got back together again, after he had married (then divorced) another woman in Tasmania and had a child, Charlie. Mark and Margaret had their own baby, Roy, in 2003 when she was 43.

After the Collingwood pub interview, I met them several more times, attending the launch of one of his books and even going to their house to see their baby. I witnessed Mark as a tender father and loving husband, and it was hard to reconcile that image with the more commonly known one, the violent criminal who spent 23 years in jail, during which he cut off his own ears.

His life of crime was covered in the 2000 movie Chopper, starring the excellent Eric Bana, which in turn helped take Bana from Australian comedian to big-ticket Hollywood movie star.

I guess, at the end of the day, you have to give Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read credit for being rehabilitated, for joining society as a writer, artist, performer. Cynics would have a lot of criticisms.

Tonight, though, I feel sorry for Margaret, who has lost a man, a husband, the father of her only child, rather than the mediatised “former hitman” and later “colourful character” as the media depicts him.

Position vacant: journalist. (Journalists need not apply)

I came across a job advertised online this week in which a website for sports fans was seeking a journalist to write for it. Read on, though, and you are told the successful candidate “WON’T have any professional journalism experience or qualifications” (my emphasis).

Yet, in another paragraph, it says the successful candidate is  probably already doing this journalism in their “free time”. If you get the job, you will “Write articles, generate discussion, host forums and use the…platform to grow your online following and generate copious amounts of discussion around a topic we all love. SPORT.”

To me, all those things constitute journalism in some of its many and varied forms today. What they really mean is that you must never have been paid to write. Pity if you’ve had to make a living in the meantime—but I digress.

The great irony is that this job pays—not much, but $10,000-$20,000 a year “OTE” (which, as I’ve discovered after seeing it in several job ads, means “on target earnings”, traditionally used for sales positions as a guide for what the company thinks you might be able to make).

Given that you’re never to have been paid for any journalism, wouldn’t the first story you wrote for the sports website actually then preclude you from continuing with the job? Anyway, it would disqualify you from getting another such job, since you are now a professional journalist.

I agree that in the digital world, you don’t necessarily have to have trained and been paid as a journalist or to have formal qualifications in journalism to practise journalism. There are many great aspects of citizen journalism that I like—and certainly, it cannot be ignored.

But I wonder what it is about journalists or people who have studied journalism that this company so dreads? They have a very old fashioned idea of what a journalist is or is not: these days, the term “journalist” has a very broad application, and can’t be easily delineated.

And what is “professional journalism”? For example, if you write a blog and you get free tickets to a concert, or a free book or meal for review, technically, you are being paid for writing. Does that mean a blogger who has accepted one freebie couldn’t apply for the aforementioned job?

What nonsense.

Journalists are among the most adaptable people I know. If the job requires them to write like a fan, they’ll write like a fan. You CAN be a sports fan…and one of those dratted  journalists, too, amazingly.

I, Robot or, “Danger, Will Robinson! (“Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!)

The Space-Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969.

The Space Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969, and bought for my brother.

When I was a kid, robots were all the rage. Before the digital age, before the time of personal computers, they had a kind of mystique about them.

This was encouraged by the romanticisation of robots on screen as either heroes or villains. The loyal bodyguard-type robot in the 1960s series Lost in Space, which I saw in endless repeats in the 1970s, was endearing and long-suffering, as Dr Smith referred to him variously as a “Neanderthal ninny”, a “blithering booby”,  a “nickel-plated Nincompoop”, a “tintinnabulating tin can” and many more sensational insults (you can see more of them here).

On the other hand, the robot-like daleks in Dr Who were just about the scariest things ever to me as a child. This is one of the earliest TV series I remember—and I didn’t even watch it. In fact, I refused to watch it with Dad, so horrified was I by it and everything about it—even the opening music. In the middle of the night, I sometimes awoke, imagining a dalek was coming to get me, screaming “Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!” as it came inescapably closer. Interestingly, although the daleks appeared to be robots, they were actually supposed to be cyborgs, that is a biological entity enclosed by a protective metal shell. Whatever—to me, they were robots.

Then there was the demonic H.A.L. 9000 in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose any more. Goodbye”), which I didn’t see until the 1980s. Today in 2013, H.A.L.’s most chilling lines are featured on a phone app I have.

We imagined, in the 1970s, that by the year 2000, real robots would be attending to our every need. Robot servants would be cooking and cleaning for us, so we were free to go off to school or work in our personal flying car. Blame The Jetsons for that one!

I was reminded of “the robot age” of the mid-to-late 20th century yesterday, when I visited my mother. I happened to go into her spare room, where she stores toys from her three children’s youths. I spotted the robot pictured above, and it brought back memories of long ago. This one belonged to my late brother Phillip, and came complete with flashing lights and battery-powered action.

While researching this story, I came across The Old Robots Web Site, dedicated to the first wave of robotics. It includes an impressive array of “educational and personal robots” from the 1940s-90s, which you can see here. On this website, I discovered that the robot at my mum’s house is a Space Robo from 1969, made in Japan by Tomy, and part of the “Lighted Magic Dial” series.

We were living in England then, but Dad had been on a business trip to New York, and I think it was probably there that he bought the Space Robo, which is now, apparently, a rare collector’s item. I wish we had kept the box!

Taboo? The topic young men won’t talk about

ImageIn one of the university tutorial classes I teach, we had the best discussion this week of the unit so far: the students were engaged, presented different viewpoints, and listened to what others had to say.
Yet, it was, in some ways, the most disappointing tutorial I have ever taught.
Why? Well, of the five men in the class, only one attended. Yet, 9 out of 10 of the women attended.

The topic was gender in the media. It was a look at both historical progression and current challenges.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the men in the class were absent: they have had excellent attendance rates every week until now.

Students must attend 75% of tutorials, thus some choose which ones they will miss. Eighty per cent of the  young men in the class chose this one.

I don’t know for sure if they were absent because of the topic, but if that is the case, I suspect it could be for one or a combination of these reasons:
a) They think gender equality is women’s business;
b) The topic bores them;
c) They believe the media is already equal, or that, in fact, women have it better;
d) They don’t care;
e) They find talk about feminism intimidating.
I don’t blame them: at the beginning of adulthood, young people are largely a product of what they have observed and learned through childhood.

This made me think about the reason we have so far to go in the media to give men and women an equal voice, to give female journalists the same opportunities to take leading roles as male journalists, and to achieve equal pay across the genders.

It will take both sexes to achieve gender equality, and we desperately need to engage young men in conversations about it, particularly in learning environments such as at university . But how can  we do that? How can we encourage young men to take an interest and to become advocates of equality instead of the status quo?