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HomeBook extractsA Life in Journalism and PR: Part 1

A Life in Journalism and PR: Part 1

Book extracts

Geoff Holden is a Life Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, a former journalist and former PR agency head. In his book A Life in Journalism and PR he charts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm, at the same time charting the evolution of South Australia’s print media, lobbying and PR industries. Geoff worked on campaigns including the introduction of decimal currency in Australia, Miss World’s visit to Adelaide, the fluoridation of Adelaide’s water supplies, Mars confectionary’s move into Australia, and more. We’ll regularly publish extracts of Geoff’s book here.


Part one: My days as a journalist

In December, 1950, I became a copy boy and a year later a cadet journalist. This was a time when we had REAL newspapers which reported truthfully, accurately and without exaggeration.

Today if you wish to see a real broadsheet newspaper, reporting factually, the Singapore “Straits Times” is the best example I know.

I started working – the first day from 2 pm to 11pm, the second day from 10am to 6pm, and on the third day from 6pm to 2am. That was to be the pattern of my life in journalism – although once I was awarded my cadetship, an 11 hour break was required between shifts.

As with all cadets at the time, I was given an extensive grounding in reporting in the Magistrates Court and in the Supreme Court, Parliament, police rounds (day and night shifts) as well as in writing briefly, accurately, and on no account to misspell people’s names or to get their initials wrong.

Then I was turned loose in the northern suburbs to report on councils, courts, and anything else I could find to write about. I was also required to undertake assignments the Chief of Staff gave me at the 2pm briefing.

I reported on Parliamentary proceedings, interviewed Ministers and visiting celebrities (including Diana Dors, an English actress and sex goddess of the time).

I believe the on-the-job training conducted by newspapers and the ABC was far superior to the University courses of today. One could call on any senior journalist for advice as well as the cadet counsellor. We were also given a useful book, the Kemsley Manual for Journalism, produced by UK newspaper proprietor, Lord Kemsley. I still have it.

“Back on the newspaper, I worked on what proved to be
the last edition of “The Sunday Advertiser.”

I was given the task of writing news bulletins for radio station 5AD, the city parent of three stations owned by “The Advertiser.” Radio 5AD produced live broadcasts when test cricket was being played in the UK.

It was always embarrassing to bring in the news copy past an audience watching the announcer’s team perform comedy skits. The embarrassment was exacerbated when I was used as a butt for his jokes.

My brother Roger joined “The Advertiser” but was headhunted for the launch of Murdoch’s “quality” national newspaper, “The Australian.” Later he went to the UK and worked on various newspapers.

When Roger decided to return to Australia, a News Ltd. Executive offered him a senior position in Sydney, but he and his family chose Adelaide where he held various positions on “The News” until Murdoch had achieved his ambition of taking over “The Advertiser.” Australian law prevented ownership of both papers.

Roger became the last owner and editor of “The News”, until, like all afternoon newspapers in Australia, it had to be closed despite his efforts.

I worked on the dummy editions of the “Sunday Advertiser”, produced over the three Saturdays before the official launch, and then at various times on the paper itself.

A large number of casual employees were taken on, and one of my most amusing encounters was the occasion I had to teach my former English teacher at Prince Alfred College, the rudiments of sub-editing according to the newspaper’s excellent style book.

There were interesting assignments but there was also the tedium of reporting at the Royal Adelaide Show, (we recorded every prize winner in every competition, from poultry and pigeons, handicrafts to show jumping). Little wonder I found no enjoyment later in life in visiting those halls in which I had spent so much tedious time, although there are some areas of the Show I still enjoy on the rare occasion I attend.

In 1955, I spent five months serving in the Royal Australian Air Force as a National Service recruit, training for airfield defence. At the time the Australian Government was concerned about the warlike intentions of the then Indonesian Government, and we were being trained to defend Australia against an invasion in the north. We were briefed on Dr Soekarno and on Dr Sastroimadjojo, who were considered dangerous threats to this country.

Back on the newspaper, I worked on what proved to be the last edition of “The Sunday Advertiser.” Both the “Mail”and the “Sunday Advertiser” were bleeding financially, and Rupert Murdoch was forced to capitulate (possibly the only time he did), and a jointly owned “Sunday Mail” was then produced, making large profits for each newspaper group until Murdoch gained control of “The Advertiser” many years later.

I was present when all the type for the last page of “The Sunday Advertiser” was in its “forme”. As it was taken away, the compositors crashed their rules, other tools and galley proof holders against every metal surface. This was a traditional custom in every newspaper office when a paper was to cease publication. The Editor, Harry Plumridge, had tears in his eyes.

In the next instalment: reporting in Melbourne, interviewed by two detectives … and the new South East representative.


Author’s note: To the best of my knowledge and ability every reference to any person living or dead, is accurate and truthful. Some events recorded in this autobiography are not in correct chronological order – Geoff Holden