Friday, August 30, 2013

Citizen but crazy

(Note 27/11/13)
I used this post as a starting point and wrote a new piece that was published at The Kings Tribune

UPDATED 3/9/13

A couple of weeks ago I received a direct message on twitter from Margo Kingston (@margokingston) asking if I would like to report from Corangamite for the Federal election as a citizen journalist. I was incredibly excited and flattered. I had become a little disengaged from politics after the removal of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister and this seemed like a way to get back into it.

It's been a fun and consuming project. I've met more of the candidates in my electorate than I ever had previously and gained a respect for them all; major party candidates and smaller party candidates. They're all in it with good and genuine intentions. They're wanting to make our country good and that's inspiring.

So far I've interviewed 4 candidates, The Greens' Lloyd Davies (link), The Australian Sex Party's Jayden Millard (link) and the Palmer United Party's (who was dis-endorsed by the party 4 days after my interview and is now an independent) Buddy Rojek (link) and The ALP's Darren Cheeseman (link).

I was incredibly nervous for the first interview. I'd never done anything like this before and felt a little out of my depth, but Lloyd was so lovely and our chat was quite natural and informal. After I stopped recording we sat and chatted for another half hour. We'd met in a quiet space of the Belmont library. My next interview was with Jayden and we met at the Grovedale Pub. Teeing up a time and place had been a little tricky as he studies in Melbourne. I wondered if my phone would record well with the background noise of a pub but it was fine. Jayden talks fast! Transcribing his interview was hard work :) I was noticing a trend though. He was passionate about his beliefs and why he was standing for election, as Lloyd had been.

After publishing my opening piece for @nofibs I had been informed of a Candidates forum on Climate Change in Torquay so I made arrangements to attend. This was another first for me; attending a pre-election forum. By this stage more candidates had announced for Corangamite. I think we were up to 7 and I was wondering if I'd get to them all.

Buddy Rojek had made his presence known on Twitter and Facebook. His posts were random and difficult to follow and I wondered if his social media strategy was sound. I attempted to contact him via Twitter to tee up a time before the forum in Torquay. As it turns out a flyer hit the news about his election night party and he was front page news in the Geelong Advertiser on the day of the forum.(link) I could tell he was being sought by media outlets and wondered if my interview with him would go ahead. I took my 14 year old daughter with me to the forum. It was interesting and a chance for her to see democracy in action and to appreciate the privilege we have of living in a country like Australia where people can disagree, yet discuss things civilly. One attendee at the forum stood up and commented that he had recently returned from Africa where the idea of a panel of candidates for election sitting alongside each other discussing political matters was almost inconceivable. It was a sobering reminder of how fortunate we are.

At the conclusion of the forum I approached Buddy. He told me he was having a media blackout but I managed to convince him to chat to me. he wanted me to agree to not publish my recording but then at the conclusion of the interview said he was fine with it and I could publish anything. When my piece was published he was thrilled. I guess we all see things differently.

I decided to go along to the Geelong Advertiser debate between Darren Cheeseman and Sarah Henderson. Talk about immersing myself in this election. When I was able to confirm that I could organise my kids and their activities and actually make the debate (5pm on a week night was a tricky time-slot ..I wonder who thought of that? Obviously not a parent) I then contacted Darren Cheeseman's office to see if I could interview him post-debate. I need to maximise my time. if I'm at an event I may as well kill two birds with one stone. The media adviser was non committal. When I arrived at the debate I spotted up the media guy and approached him. I'd met him at an event at my kids school so I knew who he was. He was still a little unsure but I was hopeful. I introduced myself to Sarah and told her I would approach her office next week to organise a time for a brief interview. I didn't get an enthusiastic reply but we'll see what happens.

The debate was fiery. Sarah seemed to make some quite personal comments about Darren in a derogatory way, suggesting he was not respected. At one stage the audience collectively gasped. Darren played a pretty straight bat, targeting Abbott rather than Sarah herself. Sarah frequently wanted an additional say after her time was up and the crowd got a little agitated when this happened more than once. She is a strong media performer and speaks clearly and strongly. Her years as an ABC journalist have helped her in this regard. The Geelong Advertiser report on the debate is here and my tweets from the night are here

After the debate the media adviser approached me to see if I wanted the interview with Darren straight away. It was a pleasant surprise to not have to fight for it. We stood to one side of the hall and I recorded the interview for about 15 minutes. I was conscious of a crowd milling behind me, people eager to put their concerns to him and when I finalised the chat and asked one of them to take a photo I left him to his constituents. 

The first thing I had noticed about Darren up close was that he looked exhausted  His eyes were quite red. He was enthusiastic and fighting as a Labor person desperate to retain his seat. But I suddenly realised the toll an election campaign must take on people and their families. Sure they're doing it by choice but gee what a tough slog. He'd been up since dawn to attend a rally with the Prime Minister and then campaigned all day with the PM, which I imagine is quite stressful with all the bigwig media trailing behind, then a fiery debate and an interview with a citizen journo. This was then followed by chats with some voters whose issue means so much to them that they turn up in person to put it to their local member. I thought of his wife and young kids, and all the partners and kids and parents and friends of the other candidates.

I don't think Jayden will mind me saying this, but after I recorded his interview and we chatted informally while we finished our drinks, he commented on the support he is receiving from his family and friends, and he got quite emotional. It made me emotional too. It's so easy to judge politicians, or the people who want to be politicians, but they're human. Putting themselves out there requires a thick skin and strong support. Everyone has an opinion and it seems some will say it to your face, some will say it from behind a keyboard. I respect them all enormously.

So, when nominees for the election closed it turned out Corangamite had 12 candidates. 12! I knew I was never going to get to them all. I'm still keen to interview Sarah Henderson, but between finishing up at work (2 weeks to go), getting to parent teacher interviews, school dances, my nephews birthday, hockey finals and celebrating Father's day...I'm not sure when. I've been playing tag with her office, calling when I see her car there. I hope i get the opportunity. I've tried to be fair and independent when conducting my interviews, and generally publish them as a transcript rather than an opinion piece.

After I got home from work the other day and was sitting on my couch I saw a post on Facebook featuring a picture of a guy out the front of Sarah's office with a sign saying 'Tony Abbott is a tool'. I'd seen pictures of him elsewhere so I asked my friend if he was there right now. He was. I thought for about 30 seconds and then decided, What the heck. I jumped in the car and headed up to her office. I asked him if I could have a chat about his protest. I came home and wrote it up and sent it into nofibs. (link) It was up within about an hour or so. It was a bit heady. It was just a minor human interest story but I felt invigorated by the experience of seeing a story opportunity, acting on it, following through and writing it up and then seeing it in print. It was different to the interviews with the candidates and I'm glad I did it.

I also wrote up a story following the 2nd Leaders debate about undecided voters. I had experimented with surveying my Facebook friends by asking if they had decided how they were voting. That story is here. I guess it's totally out there that I'm a politics nerd... I'm pretty sure that not everyone in my life knew that before. I didn't keep it a secret, I just didn't advertise it. It's been weird to have that side of me out there to all the various groups I interact with.

I think I'll look back on this election in such a different way to others. It's been such a unique experience and has given me a far greater insight into how things happen. I hope I get that interview with Sarah. I'd like to chat to the other candidates too but my schedule will probably work against me. I also want to write up a story about the Climate Change Forum at Torquay. 

Take the time to meet or read about all the candidates standing in your electorate. You can bet they're all good people trying to do what they think is best.

I finally managed to get an interview with the Liberal Party's Sarah Henderson (link) After phone calls and emails she finally contacted me via phone and although I had offered to meet her somewhere along her campaign trail she suggested she was too busy one week out from the election and didn't think it would work while she was meeting voters. I then offered to record an interview over the phone and that is what we did. Given I'd just got home from a working bee at my kids school and was covered in sweat and grime it probably worked out best that I could conduct the interview in the privacy of  my own home with no vision :) 

I was keen to focus some of my questions on policy that distinguishes the Liberal Party from the Labor party and these included Direct Action (Climate Change), Paid Parental Leave (PPL) and the NBN. Unfortunately she still managed to refer to Labor in her replies in those three areas. I was even accused of having a negative tone to my questions. That stung a little but I honestly think I was just trying to extract detail about policy.

I managed to get interviews with the two major party candidates likely to fight it out for the seat so I'm pleased with that. As I told her before recording the interview. i wasn't planning on writing an opinion piece but publishing the transcript so it was her words. I hope my pieces on @nofibs have been of some use to the people of Corangamite, but even if they haven't I've enjoyed doing them and they've helped me decide my vote.


  1. Yes, pollies are people too, and others often forget that the person under there has real feelings. In a seat such as Corangamite with 12 candidates you're going to see a good cross-section.

    Great experience for you, Michelle. I'm sure you've done a fine job. You haven't changed your name yet to Lois Lane, I see.


  2. Well done Michelle, what a sterling job. Maybe we'll see more of this, the rise of a citizen journalist who doesn't carry the baggage of so many journos who seem to have lost their way. I follow you on Twitter @RobbiePHannan and we've had a few conversations. I too have been revealing a side to me that many didn't know I had, although my interest in politics is of a much more recent date. I'm pretty sure I've driven my fb friends to distraction so I've been concentrating on Twitter. I've had an essay in swirling around in my head now for weeks and would like to get it down and in a blog like this, could you point me to a website that will help me set it up? It's now or never and although the polls don't look good I can't leave it without putting my reasons forward. My fb friends know who I support but I doubt that they know why.