James Arbuthnott, cadet at the Campaspe News and Kyabram Free Press

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“I’ve chased car accidents and visited high schools and spoken with people with disabilities facing funding cuts from the government. No two days are the same and it’s always exciting.” James Arbuthnott speaks to Chris De Lutiis.

What was it that made you want to become a journalist?

I always enjoyed reading to get a better understanding of people and the world. I’ve had so many jobs in the past like an asphalt worker, plumber, English teacher and call centre operator, to name a few. I wanted a job where I could read and write all day and pursue what I found interesting and get paid for it.

How did you first break into the industry and what steps have you taken to get to your current position?

My first break was during the specialist reporting unit. I was always trying to write political stories because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But then we did reviewing and I reviewed Bullshit Jobs the book by David Graeber. Denise Ryan-Costello gave us some websites to submit our reviews to and I got a response back from ArtsHub that day. They started sending to my house to review and I could request any new releases I liked the look of. Soon enough I had a big stack!

I also did two media projects as units after I’d stupidly rushed ahead with my major and had lots of units spare before I finished. By the time you’re out of uni your portfolio can be maybe six months old. So I travelled every year between semesters and I did some travel writing for one unit and a heap of book reviews for the other. Because they were two things I enjoyed doing, I think my work looked much better than when I was forcing it in other areas. So, I guess I got into my current position through both my media projects being stories I was proud of and putting them front and centre in my portfolio.

What advice would you give to an aspiring journalist attempting to enter the workforce?

Well what ended up working for me was trying everything but also writing about what I know. I think I’ve annoyed every single editor in Melbourne repeatedly with my submissions. Maybe that’s why I got a job out in the country – because I hadn’t got to annoying them yet. But I’ve had so many setbacks it’s ridiculous.

I also spent too much time applying for unpaid marketing internships where some rich guy wants you to write product descriptions or something. It’s just free labour and it’s not honest. It doesn’t feel good and there’s no reason to do it in my opinion, learning so much about journalism and how to write then throwing it away instantly for what Denise calls “The Dark Arts”. The skills you learn here are worth much more than content or social media marketing.

What are some of the more challenging elements of the job?

JA: Getting peoples’ names right. Seriously, they usually get very upset if you get their title or name wrong. Also, weekly rolling deadlines means I only get about two to three hours’ relief from deadline pressures until it starts again and I’m back into it. Lastly, building knowledge and writing in so many different areas – from politics to education to farming, colour features to obituaries. The most challenging aspects are also the most interesting.

What are some of the ways you cope with the workload and stresses of the job?

JA: Asking my colleagues for help when I need it. Every situation I get into they’ve also been in and a few of them have won awards. The Riverine Herald, which is the masthead above mine, recently won Victorian Media Outlet of the Year. The journalists there are always looking out for me and want the best out of me. I can get better as quickly as I want to and that’s all I want to do – to always be getting better.

Can you list some of the highlights from your experiences so far?

I recently did a story on five guys who bought their local pub to save it going under and that was great to be involved in. Also visiting a dairy farm, cows were everywhere and they’re very curious animals. So suddenly there were around 100 of them cornering me in a paddock. I’ve chased car accidents and visited high schools and spoken with people with disabilities facing funding cuts from the government. No two days are the same and it’s always exciting.

What are some of your career goals and aspirations?

Eventually, I’d like to learn a language and work overseas for a while. Or to just be able to read and have people think “he’s working right now” and not interrupt me.