I TAKE THE Gold Coast train to Brisbane airport, the plane to Melbourne, the sky bus to Southern Cross Station, the train to Seymour, and the bus to Wangaratta train station. Wayne Jansson leads me to his battered old car and drives me to the hamlet of St James in north east Victoria. It’s November, 2013 and the dust from the recent election has settled. A late frost has killed the canola oil crop, and the farmers who couldn’t afford to let the crop rot as fertiliser for next year have rolled it up into hay. The cherry trees look good.
Wayne says his mum Glenys and step father Mark will host my stay because he lives in a ramshackle rental a few miles past St James. They moved from Goulburn twelve years ago after buying the post office. Wayne was a Sydney photographer and one of the stage crew at the Sydney Opera House before moving to Indi ten years ago after a work injury.
He says he knew early on in the digital revolution that it would shape the future so he taught himself how to build, maintain and administer websites. Wayne has enough clients to get by, just, supplemented with some professional photography, but he’s shy and doesn’t like selling himself. Like me. And he’s reclusive. Like me.
Wayne joined Twitter early and became a Twitter warrior, a left wing, political junkie regular on its hard-core #Auspol hashtag. But face to face he’s an observer. He doesn’t impose himself and he takes his time. He ended up reporting for No Fibs fulltime after thinking he’d just dip his toe in to see what happened. And he’s found it hard to get back to work since the intensity of covering the Indi campaign for No Fibs ended two months ago. Me too. Journalism as a mask, gives you confidence.
We sit in the kitchen of an old wooden home Glenys and Mark renovated from the stumps up and extended with the help of a Croatian builder who never stops drinking and never gets drunk. I tell them Wayne was one of my star citizen journalist reporters during the election – curious, sceptical, persistent and committed. Glenys shows me her local paper The Moira Independent, a monthly 14-page newsletter she’s edited and published for many years. It runs in the family.
Had they read his work?
“No, we didn’t need to. We heard it all as it happened around this table.”
In the beginning
After a fine meal and good conversation, I lie in bed with my computer working out how I got here.
Yes, there was the May 20 Facebook message from Sarah Capper, an old friend I’d met online through Webdiary ten years ago, who now edits the online magazine Sheilas for the Victorian Women’s Trust. (I later learn that a Voice for Indi founder Alana Johnson is on the VWT board.)
“You see ‘Candidate to lead vision’ in the Border Mail? A new community candidate for Indi is taking on Sophie Mirabella.”
I checked the Voice for Indi website and loved its grassroots engagement and the involvement of young people so I followed independent candidate Cathy McGowan and asked her for a piece. She said yes, but I’d heard no more by June 6 when I got an email from a Twitter follower:
“There’s a grassroots political campaign brewing in Victoria that you may find interesting. Sophie Mirabella is the Member for Indi… It’s not exactly a marginal seat as she won by 59.19 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in the 2010 election. However, there is a movement afoot to unseat her, if not at this election, then the one after, by means of grassroots action in the community. Among its aims is to become a case study for grassroots community engagement. They want to get someone elected in the mould of Tony Windsor – from an agricultural background who would appeal to the (mainly) conservative voters of the electorate – and have endorsed an independent candidate called Cathy McGowan in the upcoming federal election. They aim to get her elected by engaging with people in the electorate, i.e. actually talking to them! In local household events, in people’s lounge rooms, by door knocking etc. The reason I know about the campaign is because my sister is involved in it.”
After a break from Twitter, in despair at broken record political reporting I’d posted a column on 7 June called ‘@NoFibs New Directions’ foreshadowing a project asking citizens to report democracy’s dance in the seat where they lived. I’d tweeted “I’m on the prowl for citizens who would like to report regularly on what’s happening on the ground in the seat where they live. Interested?”
And I chased up Cathy, and on 8 June she emailed a piece that did not sing:
“I need to confess that I am not the author. While I do have lots of skills, writing about myself is a challenge, so I asked one of the ‘young people’ on my team to give a hand. The author is Cam Klose and he is a key member of the ‘Indi Expats’… a group of young people from Indi currently living in Melbourne who are managing the social media and campaign communication strategies. This is our first ‘shared’ writing piece and we are very interested in your reactions – have we covered off on the main topics – are there other things you’d be interested in knowing? Let us know.”
I was taken aback by her candour and openness. And trust. I replied to Cathy:
“Well this is interesting. The content is fascinating but it reads a bit too much like a press release for maximum impact I reckon. Idea – the writer, Cam, tells the story from his angle of vision. How he got involved, the process, interviewing you. I would LOVE to know more about the expats group too. So, my feedback is that the content is great, it just needs to be grounded in the voice of the writer. I would also like links to the report, relevant twitter handles, your website.
Regards, and good luck – what an adventure this will be.”
“Great feedback, thanks Margo – will get onto this very promptly and get back to you… ‘Interesting’ is a good word for what we are trying to do. Some mornings I wake up terrified… yet the community response has been so strong we know we are doing a good thing.”
On June 10 No Fibs published her media adviser Cambell Klose in Chasing involved democracy in Indi: @indigocathy v @SMirabellaMP, which I now see it as the opener to No Fibs grassroots coverage of more than twenty seats during the election by volunteer real estate agents, public servants, teachers, musicians, consultants, retirees, students and current and former journalists. They covered safe seats and marginals, city and country, and showed how disengaged most citizens were on the ground. Except for Indi.
Cathy’s Twitter momentum began on June 30, more than a month before the election was called, when Tony Windsor said on Insiders:
“Sophie Mirabella – she wins the nasty prize. I know there’s an excellent independent running down there… so, people of Indi, just have a look at your representative and see how much better you could do.”
It intensified on August 7 when Crikey reported a leaked email from a Sophie staffer warning Liberals they were being outgunned.
Indi locals began joining Twitter to tweet pictures of orange campaigners on the road across the electorate, and McGowan used Twitter to retweet them and announce events and press conferences. Her campaign seemed see-through, spontaneous, very positive and ultra-inclusive. I was enthralled.
#IndiVotes is born
To ensure easy access to Indi action so I could keep up and retweet to my followers, I tweeted Indi’s Twitter-active candidates Podesta, O’Connor, McGowan and Labor’s campaign manager Zuvele Leschen to seek consensus on a hashtag. Wayne pressed for #IndiVotes and all agreed, as did Border Mail Indi reporter, Natalie Kotsios. The Wangaratta Chronicle and other local media joined in, and I tweeted in the occasional mainstream media story.
#IndiVotes became Twitter’s news and views feed for journos, locals, Indi expats and interested Tweeps across Australia, and at Wayne’s request No Fibs publisher Tony Yegles added the #IndiVotes feed to our website so people who weren’t on Twitter had access. At Indi’s first big candidates’ forum in Wodonga, broadcast live on ABC radio, the #Indivotes hashtag was displayed up front on a big screen.
To my surprise and enormous pleasure, the Border Mail and other local media began retweeting No Fibs.
As a former big media insider now citizen journalist, writer and editor, I loved the collaboration of mainstream media, indie media, local and national tweeps. Real-time reporting.
Powerful. Exciting. And so transparent anything could happen.