Opinion

Will Colvin – the George Costanza of Australian online journalism – should have quit, not dumped on his colleagues

Tim BurrowesFormer news.com.au night editor Will Colvin has written an article for Sneaky magazine celebrating how little work he used to get away with on the News Corp-owned site. Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes argues that by staying in the job, Colvin denied it to somebody else who needed it more.

It seems to be journo confession month.

daily mail theftA few days ago, James King wrote a spectacularly scathing – and depressing – piece on life inside the Daily Mail’s New York operation. It was a fascinating view from sausage factory, relentlessly recycling other people’s articles to a very tight formula.

And today, Sneaky has published a piece by Will Colvin about how far he would go to avoid doing actual work for news.com.au.

It’s well written, and funny to read. He’d make a good journo if he wasn’t such a shitty colleague.

Although News Corp’s money was good enough to take when he first got a job, he got a new boss he didn’t like, and decided to see how little work he could do.

He became the George Costanza of Australian online journalism.

will colvin sneakyHe’d lock himself in an interview room and chat to mates on Skype for hours. He’d play different bosses off each other, telling each one he was doing work for another. And on night duty, he developed a way of spoofing the appearance of his email so it looked like he was sending it from his desk, rather than opting to “go up the road to Surry Hills, eat drugs and get wasted, and check my phone and the website every 10 minutes to make sure nothing really, really bad had happened in the world like a terrorist attack or something, and then at 2am send the handover from my phone, formatted as if it was from Outlook in the office.”

I’m sure many people will enjoy the confession because it’s sticking it to Rupert Murdoch and to News Corp.

As Colvin puts it: “This story does not really have a point, or a moral, or a grounding in current events. I just want to give my former employers a giant fuck you. Fuck you, News Corp. Fuck you Rupert Murdoch. Fuck you in your dessicated old sausage of a head.”

Usually, the principled move if you feel that way is to not take the job in the first place.

In the eight years or so I’ve been in Australia I must have employed 20 or so journos.

Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but in that time I can only think of one who was really lazy. And he didn’t make it out of probation.

While the money isn’t always great, the job is usually more fun than bunking off would be.

And if you do, then you’re putting more pressure on your colleagues. It must have been a nightmare picking up the pieces on the early shift after Colvin had been on duty.

But there’s a bit of a journo code, so it’s unlikely his unlucky colleagues would have dobbed him in to the management. Which is probably how he got away with it for so long.

And although he has now probably made himself unemployable as a journalist (any potential editor would now find it very hard to trust that he wont bunk off the first time he has a bad day), I suspect that there will also be a wider conversation created about the work ethic of Gen Y journos. Which is going to be very unfair on them. For the record, those around me are the opposite. You’ll find them filing at midnight on their day off, working long days then spending their nights at industry events. Age is not a factor. Work ethic is.

Even so, it could be seen as a bit of a lark, if it wasn’t for the thousands of journo redundancies we’ve seen over the last three years. As it happens, a friend of mine, a very conscientious journalist, was made redundant from a big news organisation just this week. She would very much have liked to keep her job, I’m sure.

Given that when Colvin was getting up to his high jinks, News Corp was at the height of making people redundant, it does feel like the decent thing to do would have been to walk.

Tim Burrowes is content editor of Mumbrella. 

4.50pm update: Will Colvin tells Mumbrella:

A lot of people are saying I should have vacated that position for another journalist, so I should make something clear.

The article I wrote describes a period of about a month. I’d been working my fucking arse off for News, everyone was being made redundant and I was one of the people who was picking up the slack, and then my shifts started being cut down.

The company was in free fall, no one knew what the fuck was going on. These new people were coming in and changing everything and everyone was being sacked.

I started to notice that no one noticed if I stopped working. No one gave a shit if I worked my arse off, and no one gave a shit if I didn’t.

By that point I was working for them, about 15 hours a week, and they’d placed me into a role that hadn’t been what I signed up for.

So I bunked off, in the ways I described, for like seven or eight shifts, and then I quit the company.

Yes, the article I wrote was very hyperbolic. I made it sound like I was worse thanI was, because it’s funnier and a better way of saying ‘fuck you.’

In terms of being lazy, or a shitty colleague, I’m sure my current editor at Sneaky, James Branson, can debunk that. You can also look at the quality of my creative output as a filmmaker and a musician if you want to see how hard I work.

Would it be hard to get a full-time job in the future as a journalist? Obviously! But I work in two other successful careers now, and write for fun, and have no interest in properly entering the industry ever again as long as I live.

Love your work, Mumbrella! And I’m also very flattered by the comparison to George Costanza.

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