Wednesday, 03 July 2013

In the belly of the Tele

Written by

Our intrepid undercover reporter, Ben Pobjie, ventured into the belly of the beast this week. We’re still not sure how he’s going to get out.

‘Shoes.’ I remove my shoes and hand them to the guard, who inspects them closely before handing them back. ‘And belt.’ I give him my belt, which he places in a locker. ‘You can pick it up at the end of the day.’

‘Why?’ I ask.

‘You’ll see,’ he replies darkly.

Already I’m intimidated, and I haven’t even started work on this, my first day undercover at the Daily Telegraph offices. Security here is incredible. Checking my shoes for explosives seems like a fair enough precaution, but when at the third checkpoint I am made to empty my bag and slowly open my lunchbox to prove it doesn’t contain any environmentalist literature, I begin to see just how serious the Tele is about keeping its paper, and its people, both safe and ideologically untainted.

I’ve come here to uncover the workings of a modern tabloid newspaper, to find out just what makes the Tele tick. The job was wangled for me through a labyrinthine series of favours, threats, back-scratching and compromising photos, and I can’t help but tense up as I pass through the final X-ray machine and into the main Tele building. What if I’m discovered? Rumours abound about what happens to those who cross the Telegraph, but nobody has ever lived to confirm or refute them.

Once inside I am escorted to my new desk, just one of thousands on the vast News Floor, and shackled to it with a bright yellow chain. I look to my left, at my new co-worker. He looks back at me with hollow, anguished eyes, and scrawls ‘HELP ME’ across his own face with a black sharpie. What can this mean?

On logging into the Telenet (the Telegraph’s internal employee network), I am immediately given my first assignment via Telemail (the Telegraph’s equivalent of email: like normal email but in a bigger font). My task this morning will be to find a waste of taxpayers’ money and report on it.

I immediately set to work ringing performance artists, and quickly hit paydirt with a young man who has been given a $5000 Arts Council grant to stand in the Opera House forecourt fellating monkeys. An enquiry to the Arts Council as to the public value of this work receives no answer except a curt email informing me that opera today is more popular than ever.

I quickly type out a report on the monkey-fellatio installation, print it, and drop the page into the Taxpayer Tube, a vacuum pipe connected to every desk in the organisation, into which journalists drop tales of government waste to be directed to the Central Waste Bureau, an enormous room deep underground in which the defence of taxpayer funds is coordinated and itemised. After doing so, I feel a strange elation. I look at the motivational memo pinned above my monitor: ‘WE ARE BETTER THAN THEM’. Yes we are, I think to myself. Is this what it’s like to work on tabloids? This divine sense of righteous fire? The realisation that my efforts could result in a small cut to the federal arts budget supplies an almost sexual thrill.

But I’m not here for such small matters: I want to get to the heart of the organisation. I request a toilet break, and am unchained from my desk and fitted with an electric collar timed to deliver a powerful shock if I’m away more than five minutes.

Using my specialised Investigative Journalist Collar-Tampering Kit, I remove the collar behind a water cooler and begin exploring. Following signs marked ‘EDITORIAL’ I dodge stealthily through a maze of corridors and tunnels, only narrowly evading the ex-football stars who roam the halls, banging themselves in the face with their laptops and moaning ‘Time to step up!’ incessantly.

I hide in a cleaner’s bucket and hitch a ride to the fourth floor (the Gossip Floor) where I am shocked by what I find: entertainment reporters writhe naked on the thick shag carpet with minor reality TV celebrities, as servants pour condensed milk over them and the hits of Kylie Minogue blare from the stereo system. I move on quickly, running up a flight of stairs and finding myself in the Photoshop Department. Here a team of dedicated artists work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, finding new and interesting ways to distort the appearance of prominent government figures for the front page. A friendly bunch, they chat to me in exhausted tones about the project they are finishing up, an attempt to place donkey’s ears on Tanya Plibersek that has consumed them for the last six weeks. Eventually I bid them farewell and continue my search for the nerve centre of the newspaper.

Suddenly, danger! Just as I am about to enter a freight elevator that I hope will take me to the editor’s office, I am set upon by a terrifying creature, half-spider, half-vulture, who leaps from a storage closet and begins hitting me over the head with a Samsung Galaxy. I had been warned about this: it is the Dread Stalker of the Halls, Murdoch’s Cerberus, Burnside’s Bane, known to friends as ‘Gemma’.

As the blows rain down upon my head, I try to fight back, but find it difficult, my strength sapped by the creature’s horrifying call: ‘Asylum bludgers!’ it croaks. ‘Luxury detention centres! Play Xbox on our dime!’ I crumble to the floor, helpless against the twin onslaughts of physical violence and populism.

Gemma leans in close and hisses in my ear. ‘Gillard under pressure. Paedophiles walk free.’ Her hot breath burns my cheek and she chuckles softly to herself. Triumphantly, she raises her Galaxy high above her head and shrieks triumphantly, ‘How much per day is it costing you to house a jihadi?’ She brings the tablet down, and then…darkness.

I awake in the office of editor Paul Whittaker. He sits behind a broad desk, made of pure uranium, smiling smugly at me. I attempt to stand up, but I have been tied down. Struggling, I twist my neck to see what I have been tethered to—with mounting horror I realise I have been lashed with heavy ropes to a sleeping Piers Akerman. I feel my body rise and fall with the rhythm of his wheezing breath, and hear him muttering in his sleep about the Heiner Affair and the filthy lyrics in the Triple J Hottest 100. Turning my head in the opposite direction I can see David ‘Penbo’ Penberthy standing in the corner of the office in leathers, lovingly fingering a switchblade.

‘So you found your way in, so-called independent media,’ Whittaker sneers.

I explain that I am just a journalist, like himself, out for a story. He does not take this well.

‘You are no journalist!’ he bellows. ‘Where are your credentials? Where is your Travel liftout?’ He spits violently at me, stands up and points. ‘Do you realise that if we left it up to the likes of you, nobody would even KNOW how many faulty speed cameras there are? If it weren’t for REAL journalists like the ones working here, the average Australian would be COMPLETELY in the dark about how much of their money is being spent on sex changes for Wiccans. And you have the gall to come HERE?’ Whittaker has become agitated, standing on his desk and performing angry high kicks in the air.

‘I want to tell the truth about the Daily Telegraph,’ I say, incredibly bravely.

‘The truth?’ Whittaker smirks. ‘Oh yes…you’ll find the truth. Penbo!’ Penbo strolls forward, brandishing his knife, the fluorescent light gleaming on his greased quiff. ‘Take our guest…to Miranda.

As Penbo cuts through my bonds, almost rousing Akerman, and frogmarches me out the door, I crack. I scream and yell. ‘No! Not Miranda! I know what she does! Anything but Miranda! Please! I’ll be good! I’LL BE GOOD!’

It’s no use. My screaming and loss of control of bodily functions serves only to amuse the Tele bigwigs, as I am dragged out of the office and into the dark unknown, towards…Miranda.

To be continued…

Ben  Pobjie

Ben has not one but TWO hilarious books out now. Surveying the Wreckage and Superchef.

Follow him on twitter @benpobjie