We were anonymous. I never had a byline in my early years in journalism. No one did. The most you could hope for was to have something like, "By a special correspondent" at the top of your story. That meant you had joined the top rank of reporters. Some famous correspondents became known for their work during the Second World War or for their coverage of major international events but you usually had to know who was covering what to be able to identify a "special correspondent".
This didn’t worry us when we were young cadets. We were simply thrilled to be employed by a newspaper. We hung on the words of senior reporters who had stories to tell about murders or earthquakes or some foreign country they had visited.
The normal shift for reporters on The New Zealand Herald was 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. but most of us wandered into the reporters’ room around noon or earlier, partly in the hope there would be a breaking news story to which we would be assigned and partly because we just loved the atmosphere.
Often Jack Baragwanath, a large, ebullient, red-faced extrovert, who drove a spiffy, open-top sports car and was the first person I ever saw smoking with a cigaret holder, would be perched on the edge of the desk of the Chief of Staff, Noel Chappell, as the latter was making last minute additions to the assignment book. Noel was tall and thin, with sunken cheeks and the general appearance of a man who was suffering from some terrible debilitating disease, although he was perfectly healthy. He would give a resigned half-smile as we gathered around to listen to Bags, who was Deputy Chief Of Staff and the most senior reporter, holding forth on all manner of topics with the assured air of someone whose written words in the newspaper were treated as gospel.
We loved them both.
I don’t know exactly when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. It was sometime in my teens as I was reading my way through Ernest Hemingway’s books. In my second-to-last year at Auckland Grammar I knew I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and a writer of books.