September 9, 2013
Tara Meakins is a reporter in Canberra with Radio 2GB. She graduated from Curtin with a Journalism degree in 2010 and moved to Sydney with Radio 2SM before returning to Western Australia and continuing her career in news with Radio 6PR. Earlier this year, Tara joined 2GB’s Canberra bureau and knew she would be intimately involved in the upcoming Federal election campaign. However, little did she realise exactly what that would mean. She spent three weeks on the road with the Tony Abbott campaign before returning to Canberra and then joining Kevin Rudd for the final week of electioneering.
Before the campaigning began, I suppose I was a little bit nervous and apprehensive.
I’d only been in the role for a couple of months. I’m still very new to it all but knowing I would be covering the Federal election, I felt that I’d made a terrific career move.
It’s been absolutely crazy pretty much from the beginning. It’s been tiring both physically and mentally and it’s been occasionally exhausting but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s been really memorable. There have been lots of frantic, stressful moments and you’ve got moments where it’s crazy, it’s busy. Kevin Rudd has this celebrity factor and you have to get used to that.
There have been lots of big, long, long days and working in radio the deadlines are possibly the worst and most demanding of all the media because we have got to put something up for every hour and, of course, it’s a 24/7 operation. I can be doing crosses into programs at 10.30 at night. There’s really no off switch and the days seem to never come to an end. So you’re expected to be on the job almost all of the time.
The way the political parties ‘manage’ the media has been a real eye-opener and it’s been talked about a lot.
The Abbott bus was extremely organised and it was criticised for being so but it was run with military precision. But for us, as journalists, that was a helpful thing because we were told how many hours or minutes we would have to file and when we would be leaving. Of course, it was all very hush on where we would be going but at the same time for us on our deadlines, sometimes we would get on flights and know we would be in the air for our main midday or 6pm bulletins. We would need that precision to know when we would be able to file.
The Rudd camp is extremely disorganised. In my week with them, I’ve been quite shocked at what we’ve experienced. They’re so disorganised, we have missed events or we rush in mid way through or it’s a ‘pool job’ and the rest of us miss out. Mr Rudd’s trying to cram in so much that it often means we can’t all go [to set events] so it’s a pool job more often than not which means we miss out. In radio we need immediacy and we need things to report on as they happen.
The Abbott and Rudd teams are very, very different camps.
When you’re part of the travelling media in an election campaign, you are conscious of being managed and it was really noticeable in the Abbott camp. It was a bit like we were on a school excursion and people were saying it was like Contiki. We were tired and exhausted and they were dragging us around. Mr Abbott’s media organisers treated us a little like children at times. A roll was called and we were given snacks on the bus but I think that’s what you need at times because otherwise it’s too hard to coordinate.
On the Rudd campaign, we’ve never been given a snack and it’s a bit more disorganised and we would appreciate being managed a bit better. There is still all the secrecy, the hidden destinations and events but with Mr Rudd, at least we’re told the night before what the rough plan for the day will be. There’s a lot of miscommunication in the Rudd Camp. Today we thought we were going to Parramatta and we ended up going to Mount Druitt 20 kilometres away. And the way that was explained to us was: “oh that was just a simple mix-up and we got the names wrong”. But I don’t think it was. So, we just sort of miss things and it’s a bit of a mess.
Every night from the Rudd camp we get what’s called a ’drop’ which sets out what the story will be for the next day so basically they’re dictating what we’re going to talk about. They’re giving us a little advance time and opportunity to put together stories for our breakfast shift and to be a bit more organised but it’s basically telling us how to do our jobs. I’m more aware of things like this now as a result of being in the campaign and I’ll look out for it more when the campaign’s over.
My favorite moment on the campaign came two weeks in when Tony Abbott went to the Pilbara and we visited Andrew Forrest’s Cloudbreak Mine. It was just the best day. I think everyone agreed it was the best day. We were in our high-vis gear out there standing in the heat and the red dirt and it was breathtaking. The opportunities and experiences we have had on this campaign have been unreal. I mean the hotels we go to and the places they take us, most people just can’t get to experience. In the first week we were travelling on big RAAF planes, Globemasters and Hercules, and that was just incredible. And we were all just like tourists. We were all taking photos. I stood in the cockpit for a landing into Brisbane which was a life highlight let alone a campaign highlight.
As a reporter, I think this campaign has taught me so much more than I could have learned in an office environment. My ability now to deal with reporting on the road has really improved.
Every day, we are filing from the bus on the road driving down the highway on our way to the next job whereas in an office you’re doing all that on a big computer, cutting up audio on a computer with the right software and, of course, it’s much easier to do. But here we’ve got our iPads and our iPhones and our kits and we’ve got to deal with it here and now.
You just don’t have a choice.
You’ve got to learn to cut up your stories and to file fast.
I’m now writing my stories as the media conference is going and I’m listening out with one ear for possible grabs. You learn how to cope with so much more stress and to time manage so much better than I would have had I stayed in the newsroom.
So I feel this has been such a great learning experience and I’ll now go back to Canberra better prepared and with more experience and able to work much more effectively.