Australian Regional Media raised more than $2 million for victims of the Boxing Day tsunami through its fundraising campaign.
Australian Regional Media raised more than $2 million for victims of the Boxing Day tsunami through its fundraising campaign. Kevin Farmer

30 years on and news is still a daily miracle

THREE decades ago today I walked into the Sunshine Coast Daily newsroom, dressed in a grey suit with a thin red tie, ready to take on the world as a cadet reporter.

I had hair, was a lot slimmer, and passionately believed journalism offered a unique opportunity to change the world by promoting the good and exposing the evil.

I remember marvelling at the daily miracle of getting a newspaper out.

Back then we had green Atex text screens, no mobile phones and we often wondered how journalists could have operated without those new-fangled fax machines.

Our photographers had pagers to be contacted and we probably found most of our best stories in pubs talking to cops at the end of long days.

Our compositors - the whizzes who made up our pages - were just starting to use typesetting computers.

But the technology was so slow that it was often quicker for a skilled compositor to cut in changes to the page on deadline then reprint it.

Fast forward 30 years, and the daily miracle is not only getting a paper out - but also running a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, an Instagram account, video production, photo galleries and interactives, while continually monitoring what our readers want through Chartbeat and Google Analytics.

But at the heart of it all, the craft is still about good story telling.

In 30 years, I've been privileged to cover some amazing stories and met people who have changed me and my outlook on life.

Visiting Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day tsunami as part of a campaign which saw our company - through its readers - raise more than $2 million - was one of the proudest periods of my career.

I remember vividly covering the fight against the Sunshine Motorway tolls, the murder and rape of Noosa schoolgirl Sian Kingi, the search for Daniel Morcombe's killer, the sieges, armed robberies, fires, floods and far too many fatal crashes on the Bruce Highway.

Our coverage of the death of Steve Irwin, which impacted around the world, was particularly poignant.

As an editor, I am particularly proud of the work the Sunshine Coast Daily - and particularly veteran journalist Bill Hoffman - did in exposing Peter Slipper's obscene spending.

We made a difference in our campaign against delays for the $2 billion Kawana Hospital project, where our staff even joined marches in the street.

When then Kevin Rudd announced $700 million for the Cooroy to Curra highway upgrade, he read from a Sunshine Coast Daily editorial demanding action.

It followed a series of stories, one of which won a Walkley award, on a deadly road surface which resulted in life-saving changes.

Mark Furler covering the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Coolum.
Mark Furler covering the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Coolum.

Personally, I was honoured to be chosen as the only regional journalist to meet the Queen in Brisbane during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Coolum in 2002.

Some of those memories came back as last night, Australian Regional Media held its annual awards in which honours were handed out for our best reporters, photographers, designers, headline writers, editors and newspaper teams.

As young and not so young journalists took to the podium to receive their awards, I was reminded again of the reasons many journalists enter this field.

It's certainly not for the fame or fortune, nor public adoration.

Queen arrives at CHOGM
Queen arrives at CHOGM

Despite what the keyboard warriors might think on social media, journalism is a tough business.

The hours can be long and relentless, especially in the 24/7 age of online news.

Digital producers who might start at 6am, can be doing storm updates at night from their home computer at 10pm.

Photographers in our smaller towns can be covering a fatality at 1am then be at a local function at 9am that day.

Our best reporters, who are trying to uncover stuff that mayors and MPs don't want exposed, can be shunned and ridiculed, even subjected to threats of physical harm, for their efforts.

But each day they return because they believe in what they are doing.

They believe they can make a difference.

After 30 years, I know they are right.

Mark Furler is Australian Regional Media's group digital editor. He has been a journalist based on the Sunshine Coast for 30 years.