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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Living under a rock

I've been in the process of moving house - to a place with no internet access - while spending a busy week producing the Fieldays Exhibitor, an annual publication created by Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) students and distributed to exhibitors at the Fieldays agricultural show out at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton.

Between the 12-hour days, long commutes in the dark and paucity of connectivity at my new part-time home, I've barely been online for the past 10 days. I've also barely picked up a newspaper, haven't been able to find National Radio (a preferred source of news) on the dial and haven't watched television (haven't got round to buying a connector for the aerial).

I feel like I've been living under a rock. Can't say I like being that disconnected from the world. So it's nice to be back online while I'm on the road for a few days.

I've managed to get a little bit of connectivity going at my new place, via a Vodafone vodem - a dongle which you plug into a USB port on any desktop or laptop anywhere and get whatever connectivity's available - 3G in the cities, 2G in the hinterlands. It comes with an outrageously overpriced and unneccessarily complicated data plan, of course - that's telcos for you (masters of grasping obfuscation) - but it scores pretty highly for convenience if you're someone who spends a lot of time on the road and works out of different offices.

It only musters 2G at my place in the hinterlands so it's slow - fine if you only do one thing at a time. That's not my style, but it is what it is, at least for now. On the upside, there's a fabulous beach just down the road and lots of trees and birds. It's all about priorities, after all.

Anyway, back to the Exhibitor. It's a terrific publication that runs daily for four days during the Fieldays each year. Wintec journalism students take over a mobile newsroom and spend four days scaring up stories from the 1,000 exhibitors and more than 130,000 visitors to the event, the biggest of its kind in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, I had a team of five very capable design students – all third-year students of the Bachelor of Media Arts - on the production desk putting together between 8 and 16 colour pages a day, with copy and images often flowing in 15-60 minutes before deadline – very much like any other daily newspaper in the world.

It was great fun laying out pages again and working with such a young, motivated team who, despite having no newspaper layout experience, took direction incredibly well, soaked up information like sponges and produced a pretty tidy looking product.

It was a nice reminder of what I loved about being a chief sub-editor (on the Business section of the UK’s Daily Telegraph) - intense work, layout puzzles to solve, juggling a thousand thoughts and things-which-must-be-done-before-deadline - and what I didn’t love (long hours, tired brain). It’s hard work making newspapers, but singularly enjoyable.

So where’s the website for the Exhibitor? Still on the draftboard I’m afraid. For reasons outside our control we were in danger of doing two things badly rather than one thing well. So we opted to do one thing well. Next year will be a different story.

In fact, next semester Wintec is launching a digital journalism paper which aims to arm students with tools for multimedia storytelling, researching stories online, working collaboratively and distributing information and stories online. I'm really looking forward to seeing it take shape and I hope to write more about it in a couple of weeks.