Matt Nippert - auctionable commodity, Auckland

Monday, May 31, 2004

As you'd expect from a herd of hacks, there was a certain amount of drinking, in-jokes and self-congratulation going on at the 2003 Qantas Media Awards. The awards list runs long, 17 awards just for Magazine writing, and a procession of reporting, photography and overall categories as well. Fortunately, the event was well-oiled, the ceremony not allowing for verbose speeches of victory. (Although admittedly this did deny the audience material for gossip like last year.)

The omens for the night weren't good, I've lost heavily at the venue (Sky City) before. And Salient (my lounge, office and canvas last year) didn't win its first nomination. Instead, Little Treasures, a parenting advice magazine took out best trade/professional publication. Since students ain't professionals, and certainly aren't tradesmen, it was a surprising category to be plonked in. (I hear Sarah Barnett, 2004 editor, is planning changes to ensure the magazine wins next year, including promoting letters to the Editor containing frank discussion of student fertility, and a shift to a pastel colour palette.)

Following omens, events conspired to shock. As names, sponsors and teleprompted banter flowed from screens and speakers, there was cued applause and a range of surprising finalists (go Wairoa Star!) and absent names (where, oh where, has the 2002 Daily Newspaper of the Year gone?). It's nice to see your name in print, almost as good seeing it scroll along on powerpoint, but having it read out twice makes up for all those angry letters to the editor when I confused the North Island townlets Foxton and Shannon.

Bestowed titles for 'best general feature' (a piece on Antony Beevor), and junior magazine writer of the year, I won ribbons, paper, a cheque and a weighty bronze feather. There's also a large pile of business cards from editors who happened to hear I'm presently unemployed. (If there's demand, I'll try to find somewhere to host the four articles I submitted in my portfolio, described by judges as "stylish, sparky writing which hits the spot." Salient only launched a website last month - everything I wrote for them last year is off-line, only existing in student memory.)

The official photo will have preserved my look of impish delight at seeing off a couple of talented full-timers from national glossies. The suspicious cigarette stashed behind my ear also made it into the shot - independent media represent! I guess the main point to take from Friday night is the validation of student media as a legitimate source of journalism. There's never going to be consistent quality coming out of campus, but these awards proves there's the potential to compete with - and even to beat - the big, professional, boys.

Shakespeare must have been a man of the people because his plays are riddled with lewd allusions and slapstick toilet humour. Herald staffers (especially the Gandhi-like Simon Collins) were kind enough to share their local haunt, and I think the bard would have approved of the revelry that took place under his name. David Cohen from the NBR (who still reads Salient) made the small student media crowd - myself and Hamish and Holly from Critic - feel very welcome. Even being escorted off the balcony by bouncers with one unnamed Listener staffer over a gardening dispute didn't dull the mood.

A few shout outs are in order, especially since I was cruelly denied time at the lectern. Firstly, and chiefly, my editor last year Michael Appleton. I'd like to think we complemented each other as polar opposites - chalk and cheese. Appleton is very dry, and very white - while I work best matured in port. An employer as encouraging, trusting, and dedicated I doubt I'll find again.

In some ways it's unfortunate Appleton has been lost to journalism, and instead is ensconced in academia. He would have been able to keep John Campbell company during the 2005 election whilst in Helen Clark quarantine.

Allen Walley, the media chief at the Green Party, also needs a prop. Noticing my work long before editors, he allowed to me survive summer doing something more constructive than pouring coffee or data entry.

There are also editors who deserve praise from someone frequently disillusioned with freelancing. Finlay Macdonald - who ran my first freelance piece; Pamela Stirling - for giving me further encouragement and a hug; Guy Somerset at the Dominion Post for feeding me books; and John Gardner at the Herald who helped me form (and even printed) a couple of research-heavy features that were more worthy than sensational.

PS: The results are in for the readers poll, responses collated and acted upon. A clear majority preferred keeping my boots clean, although I did like this advice from one respondent who obviously shares my love of Hunter S:
Load up on booze and stimulants before writing, get a dictaphone, head to the roughest pub within staggering distance, pick fights with foul-mouthed thugs and sheilas and record their obscenities. Then use these, unattributed of course, as the basis of a 4,000 words character assassination.

Seeing as you don't know anything about Ms. Williams I would suggest that you cover all bases so make sure you accuse her of: being in the employ of 'the man', being sexually promiscuous, being sexually inactive, being sexual perverse, being sexually orthodox, being of less than average appearance, being of greater than average weight, being a carrier of or suffer from several embarrassing and contagious infections, being socially inadequate, being ethically unsound, being intellectually below par and being grammatically incorrect (this is especially damning to editors, which is the one thing you do know about her).

Good luck with your response.
Enjoy your tenure Ms Williams - hopefully student media will be as rewarding for you as it's been for me.

UPDATE: While the growth in the New Zealand prison system is worrying, what's happening in the states is simply shocking, this from Cursor:
"The prison system just grows like a weed in the yard," said the head of the Justice Policy Institute, in response to a Justice Department report that America's prison population grew by 2.9 percent last year, to almost 2.1 million inmates, with one of every 75 men -- and about one of eight black men in their 20s -- in jail or prison.