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October 6, 2008

Sitting in media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's chair

By Alex Patrikios

Junior Reporter, Youth Journalism International

Melbourne, AUSTRALIA – It had started as just another work experience placement, and for all my wistful aspirations, I had begun the week prepared to spend four of my five days making coffees and copies.

It would be best, I reasoned, to have low expectations as I embarked on a week at The Herald Sun. That way, I figured, I could only be pleasantly surprised. When I relayed this contention to Mother Dearest, however, she simply scolded me for being so “cynically optimistic.”

Little did I know that, come Friday, I would have played supermodel at a photo-shoot, waxed lyrical with a librarian about tennis, unearthed an 1852 newspaper – complete with an 1852 advertisement for fly spray – and, come Friday, made the dramatic transition from student to CEO. Sort of.

This is, I'm told, where ‘Rupert’ sits. Indeed, atop the 13th floor (something of a Shangri-La; a lofty executive stronghold), I'm relishing the chance to just take in the view. The spire of the Arts Centre teeters in my periphery, and after squinting to clarify, I spy a ballerina posing for a photo-shoot – on the roof of the theatre.

Just another day at the office, I think, reclining back into Mr. Murdoch's padded seat.

Day Two at The Herald Sun didn't exactly read well on paper, and the ominous detail, “1 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Mailroom,” wasn't exactly tickling my pre-emptive fancy.

The mailroom? You never see anyone filing through old postcodes in movies, clad in tailored dress-suits that simply scream ‘journalistic integrity’ and a heady dose of street smarts.

The morning, at least, had been a very interesting exercise, as the three other work experience kids and I ventured out to the printing plant, to see how the paper is put together.

A strange, flighty sort of woman led us around the station, pausing momentarily to place an unwanted hand on my arm and whisper, “That's why we go to school,” whilst casting a disdainful glance at the workers below, who simply stared back, no doubt feeling like animals in a cage. The winding routes of newspapers ran along the enormous roof, and like a Wonka-style vortex of print and press, tied together in a surprisingly organized manner.

But that was before lunch.

After returning from the Southbank foodhall (an uncomfortable mix of suits and schoolkids, all hustled towards the sushi stand) and parting with Gracie, the sprightly Brighton schoolgirl hanging out in Pictorial, I approached the security desk with slightly lagged steps.

“Where are you off to this afternoon?” the kindly receptionist inquires.

“Mailroom, please.”

“Oh.”

Enough said, apparently.

A bright-eyed, bearded chap meets me at the door, and walks me into a room covered in boxes and slips, not to mention a few layaway chip packets. Mentally gearing myself up for a four-hour stint in an overgrown mailbox, I recite the names of the team back to myself in my head.

I shouldn't have bothered, because five minutes later, I've (thankfully) been reassigned.

The mailroom man tells me in the elevator, “We're pretty quiet at the moment, so I'll send you up to Features, and you can go out with one of their people.”

I thank him, and hope my gratitude doesn't seem too genuine. Undoubtedly, the mailroom must be a hub of adrenaline-fueled activity, it’s just that today, I can’t say I’m up for my four hours of lick-and-stamp rounds – or any other day, for that matter.

Meeting a tall woman in the next floor's foyer, I'm told we're off to a film screening, and that I shouldn't bother taking my bag.

Driving out, I make small talk as best as I can, but it becomes pretty obvious that this woman is the kind that would have dressed in an over-size jumper on Casuals Day at school – the same woolen sack, complete with koala motif, three years running.

She's incredibly serious, and for all my charms, the best I can get is a one-sided rise of a smile, nothing more. That's all right though. I sit back and watch the movie.

An hour and a half later, after Kirsten Dunst has exhausted all her willowy vulnerability, and I'm back at the office.

Sitting in Rupert's chair.

Ha.

As quickly as the elevator rises and falls, my fortunes change in the space of a day.

Indeed, if a week is ample time to usurp News Limited’s No. 1 boss, then I think I might just bypass university after all.

 


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