Wonderful training for journalists

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“It was a good place to be as a young reporter because you got to do everything. You got to experience all aspects of the newspaper. Only later on I realised how highly thought of ‘The Ensign’ was.”

When Sonia Gerken started her cadetship at The Ensign, smoking in the newsroom was the norm and hot metal typesetting was still used.

It was a different era, but provided a wonderful training ground.

Mrs Gerken, who is the Gore District Council’s communications manager, said The Ensign provided top training for young journalists.

A string of nationally known names had started their careers at the Gore-based paper.

Greg Turrell and Hayden Jones were two of many.

“They were old-school journos.”

Mrs Gerken started at the paper as a fresh-faced 17-year-old straight out of school some 40 years ago and went on to be chief reporter and chief subeditor.

“In those days you did a three-year cadetship,” Mrs Gerken said.

The paper was a daily and it was printed on site.

Deadline was 1pm and the press rolled about 3pm.

There was a large staff.

Among her tasks were writing up the Country Women’s Institute meetings, the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers reports and the racing column.

The paper featured a children’s page.

“I was Trixie Trout for a while.”

The Ensign was the community’s grapevine.

There were four subeditors and six reporters as well as advertising staff and all those who worked “out the back” on printing and various other tasks.

Morning tea time involved the staff playing cards.

There often was a haze of cigarette smoke in the newsroom.

“I used to smoke.

“It was a totally different environment; it was a great place to work.”

The staff gathered on Fridays after work at Traffers for a weekly debrief and work time was punctuated with plenty of laughter and fun.

While journalists were now told to keep their writing concise, it was a different story then.

It was about writing as much as possible and using a lot of convoluted words, she said.

The Ensign was not only kept busy producing and printing the paper, but also took in other printing work.

“They did a lot of outside printing jobs.”

There was a darkroom upstairs where all the developing of photos for the paper was carried out.

“It was a good place to be as a young reporter because you got to do everything. You got to experience all aspects of the newspaper.”

“Only later on I realised how highly thought of The Ensign was.”

When Mrs Gerken applied for a job in London, the editor, who was a New Zealander, knew all about The Ensign

“A lot of good journalists have come out of there over the years.”

A lot of families had connections with The Ensign. Many were paper-deliverers.