Sunday, 24 April 2005

I’ve always thought my job is easily understandable, without needing much explanation. After all, in this day and age, we are so inundated with the media that practically everybody grew up at least indirectly knowing someone heavily involved with either journalism, public relations, marketing or television or radio production.

I never thought people who don’t understand the media and what I do, existed. Then again, if they didn’t, why do people like me need to go to university to study communication? How naïve of me.

My job for this 5 week cycle tour had been to develop media relations, ensuring premium media coverage for the entire event. I’m supposed to write up media releases, arrange for press, TV or radio interviews/coverage, provide the latest news, as well as help maintain the website with the webmistress. Pitching the story to the media is not easy work, sometimes repetitive, often lacking recognition, but certainly satisfying.

I’ve always loved doing background work like this. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always told my friends who think I crave the limelight, “I studied Communication, not Theatre Studies.” I’m happy with staying out of the attention, but arranging it so that someone else gets it.

And I’ve been very satisfied with my work so far. We have had numerous coverage by all forms of media. I don’t care that my name hasn’t been mentioned once, or that I haven’t been thanked once. All I need is the knowledge that I’ve done my job, and that my boss knows that too.

Sadly, I’ve come to realise, in the eyes of some people in the team, this usually means that I get taken for a freeloader. Someone tagging along on the trip for a free tour across Australia and for the free food.

Yes, this may be a once in a lifetime experience, but I am perfectly happy with living in the city instead of trudging across the burnt countryside of Australia at 30km/h with only sandwiches for lunch, 5 hours of sleep daily and so far away from creature comforts. I’m not knocking the trip. I’m only expressing my exasperation as to how misunderstood I have been.

My scope of work, to the understanding of some people, has been relegated to simply taking photos for the website and making sure that the details on it are correct. The number of times I’ve been ordered to take certain photos of certain people, the moments when it’s been mentioned, “Oh, Melody has to do some media work – she needs to take photos of the website,” has been incredible.

To top it off, I was once told, not very nicely, to make an immediate phonecall back to the office so that the name of one of the team members can be changed. Yes, I admit that there has been a mistake and it needs to be rectified. But I am stuck in the middle of nowhere without mobile coverage, and in the grand scheme of things, the name is not that important. After all, it’s probably the least visited page in the entire website.

The aim of the website is to get the word out as to what the cyclists are doing, the message they’re bringing to the communities. It’s not about them, much less the support crew. It’s not about how often their family members see their photos on the page – I am certainly not paid to maintain a “Look at me” website. I am paid to ensure the message gets out.

But logic obviously does not work when self-importance comes into play. So a CDMA phone with coverage gets shoved in my face and the demand, “make the phonecall back to work so that the change can be made NOW,” was given. Who cares that I had promised to call back to work when we arrive in the motel later in the day? Who cares that the cyclists are already a kilometre down the road and would need protection from the support cars that are waiting around to ensure that I have made that call?

More ironical the fact that the people making the demands have been calling me Melanie from day one.

Journalism and public relations work seem to be such a misunderstood line of work. I am here to create media interest, not focus on the logistics of the tour. But when we arrive in town and do not know where to go, I get the blame for not organising it properly. When the town mayor comes out to meet the cyclists and I had no idea about it because I wasn’t informed, I get incredulous looks for not recognising him.

Sometimes, I wonder what they think I’m on the trip for when even my knowledge about writing and journalism gets doubted.

When I mentioned in passing that a journalist can conduct a one hour interview with someone and include only parts of the entire conversation and not have to justify himself, I get shocked looks of horror.

Seriously, which journalist in their right frame of mind will include EVERYTHING that is said in an interview? That’s why journalists need to practice their writing and analytical skills, as well as their ability to ask the right questions. Otherwise, why bother hiring a journalist? It would be more cost effective to buy a tape recorder.

I’m not exactly reeling from the shock as to how some people have such limited knowledge, or should I say, absent knowledge as to how the media works. I’m reeling from the anger that despite their minimal knowledge, they deem it their right in life to tell me how I should do my work.

The media does not make firm commitments to cover events. If the pope has died, who would honestly be interested in talking to six cyclists cycling across Australia, an event repeated by different people several times a year?

Yet, when a TV crew or journalist changes their mind about turning up for a photoshoot or an interview, I get snide remarks and doubtful looks. And the person no longer believes me when I say another TV crew will be meeting them in another town.

How does one work in such an environment of distrust and lack of understanding?

Thankfully, this will all end on Wednesday night when I return to Sydney from Mildura.

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