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Guy’s World: Goodbye Garden Shed

Come, see the internet journalist in his natural environment

Past the carcasses of plastic toys spurned, through the long grass littered with rusting bicycle parts and discarded sports equipment, and into New Zealand’s most interconnected garden shed. I Download the email then get myself a cup of paint-stripper from the percolator in the house, and set about producing today’s edition of Scoop.

I’m saying “goodbye garden shed” today, after making the humble structure my office for the past two years in the employ of the inimitable founder of Scoop, Alastair Thompson, to take a position at a mainstream news organisation.

At journalism school they said I’d suffer hard-bitten chief reporters, they said I’d need to be hungry, and they armed me with 80wpm shorthand – but they never imagined one of their charges would land in the middle of a suburban war zone. It takes a special kind of journalist to arrive at the office to find it splattered with kiwifruit pulp by the children of the editor, and accept it as normal. It takes a certain mental toughness to work through the artillery experiments of a tearaway fourteen-year-old and his mates. Sure, I jumped three feet out of my chair when I heard a foundation-shaking thud, followed milliseconds later by a potato screaming past the office, but I carried on. That day, I learned how to make a potato bazooka out of PVC pipes, an LPG cylinder and a barbecue lighter. Later, his mum confiscated the LPG cylinder and stashed it under my desk. As Health and Safety Officer, I okayed the procedure, deeming the potential poisoning risk to myself of lesser import than the emotional turmoil of losing a limb to a teenager or the irreparable damage done to already strained neighbourly relations.

Kiwifruit pulp traces

There’s no set-text for Scoop. At polytech they said “put the slug on the top right hand corner of your story”. Here at Scoop HQ, I find snails squashed in the top right hand corner of the shed doorway. There’s a whole bunch of invertebrates that seem to want to share my office. Harmless enough spiders zip around, I get the odd visit from bumblebees, once a cricket sporadically chirped away on my curtain for a day or three before I threw him out. No one means to squash the snails in the door, they’re just too darn slow.

Everyone’s on the web these days

Here at Scoop I’ve been making up the rules as I go along, within the wide-open parameters set by the boss, and in the context of a family home. This means rolling with an editorial policy made on the fly that would leave Rupert Murdoch on the operating table. It means red kidney beans being launched at the windows by side arms constructed from tubes and the fingers of rubber gloves. It means going home early when the editor can’t take it anymore and seeks refuge from warring factions in the shed.

Scoop has also been an immersion in political news like no other. Press releases from every political party in and out of parliament, manifestos from every lobby group, and missives from every cranky netizen who thinks they can run the country better than Helen, all flow through the computer I write this column on.

A PR guru told the editor the shed could be Scoop’s branding edge…
here’s the author in its plush interior

I’ve also taken budget newsgathering on the road, trawling a noisy old digital camera through the corridors of power and into the gutters of activism, while simultaneously taking lo-tech notes. I’ve filed stories by cell phone, Internet café, and from Scoop’s Aro Valley Bureau, AKA my bedroom. I’ve taken fashions and personal grooming into the Prime Minister’s press conferences, and done my best to be inconspicuous. Perversely, I recently found myself at a Green Party press conference in a suit, donned for a job interview later that day, and felt decidedly overdressed. I did feel empowered though, perhaps through finally looking like a political journalist, to pipe up and ask co-leader Rod Donald a question designed to elicit an attack on the media. Bitter at being sidelined in the formation of government through a deal between the Labour/Progressive coalition with Peter Dunne’s United Future for confidence and supply votes, Mr Donald rose to the bait. And he couldn’t resist a sideswipe at Barry Soper as the veteran political editor tripped over microphone wires, leaving the room at this turn in the question line.

But my role, primarily, has been that of a sub-editor. As such, I’ve been allowed to write whatever ridiculous headline comes into my head. I’ve come up against copy that could never be salvaged and learned to just let it go. I’ve discovered that in the case of Scoop, where material comes in from far and wide, it makes more sense to just post it and to hell with style. There’s a wealth of opinion and news published on this site, some of it exceptional, some of it good, some of it out there, and some that should probably have stayed in the authors’ word processors. The secret to reading Scoop is if you don’t like something – don’t read it. Or better still: read it, get outraged, and exercise your right of reply.

Other things I’ve learned at Scoop I could never learn in the mainstream include:
* The Bush Family, their cronies, and the CIA are behind everything sinister in the world;
* Stigmata is real;
* They are telling you lies;
* Bikini pictures always outrate policy releases;
* Yesterday was National Penis Day.

While it is time for me to move on, I leave with a lot to thank Scoop for and the hope and expectation the Scoop continues to stake out its valuable turf in New Zealand’s media. Scoop gave me a shot when it seemed I might be destined for a career in mail delivery. I leave the job infinitely more engaged with the news of New Zealand and the world – all from a shed in Karori.

* Photos by Alastair Thompson.

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