I am happy and sad this week as journalist Jennifer Bennett moves on from Sydney local paper the Wentworth Courier to the Campus Review. Happy because she’s a friend with a new gig and she’ll now be employed reporting on my sector. Sad because it brings to an end one of my favourite examples of someone using Twitter as a platform for journalism.
Since I started following her on Twitter some time in 2009, I have very much enjoyed Jen’s live-tweeting of Woollahra Municipal Council meetings. It’s easy for some to see council meetings as a form of entry-level purgatory for journos starting out. But Jen managed to make Woollahra’s meetings entertaining even for people not in the Council’s domain.
Jen’s style was the thing that caused many to tune into her council tweets. For those not in the know Woollahra takes in some well-heeled parts of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. Jen’s faintly absurdist take on the councillors, the complaints of bolshy-bourgie residents, planning shit-fights etcetera appealed because of its sense of humour, and occasionally its air of comic resignation. She managed to impart this while still giving an accurate account of events which do, after all, affect people’s lives. And she did it in addition to her necessarily straighter reports in the newspaper, without diminishing the value of either version. Somehow her satirical framing of the meetings showed them to be simultaneously the parish pump affairs that they are and a worthwhile (if exasperating) example of democracy at work.
Talk about journalism and social media often involves lots of buzzwords and bullshit, not least from my some members of profession. Jen’s work at the council showed that actually, the most appealing on-Twitter journalism embodies some basic virtues. Economical writing, a sharp mind, a good basic knowledge of one’s beat, a sense of humour and a desire to share stories are elements of journalistic craft that are still relevant. The possession of these may not sort out the buisiness model but it should ensure people will read what you have to say.
Other new journos assigned to apparentlly unpromising rounds should take note.
Best of luck with the new job, Jen.