Locked up! Report on reporting from the budget front line

LOCK up.

With little knowledge of how a budget from the Federal Government is handed down, I put my hand up to converge on Canberra with 600 or so other journalists and analysts for the 2014 budget media lock-up to see what this new government would propose in its first year in office.

With six hours to read through stacks of budget documents, the task was a little daunting and preparation was the key to news coverage by APN, publisher of The Observer.

In the hour before our impending lock-up, we had to wait in a small area that shrunk with every journalist, designer, analyst, camera person and photographer who signed in.

We were disconnected to the world.

All mobile phones and tablets were left behind or given to officials.

We were like sheep in a pen, filing along to pick up blue calico bags with our four main budget documents (books in their own right), and shown to our allocated room to set up our laptops.

To put it into context, APN had four journalists and one designer who were in a room of about 30 AAP journalists.

Highlighters, post-it notes and the "find" function on a PDF became my best friend as I sifted through the documents, looking out for "odd" figures or funding that had completely disappeared.

A toilet stop here, a coffee refill there, and the constant distraction of overhearing what the other media groups were doing broke my concentration.

There were also moments when I went to reach for a phone that wasn't there, the need to take a photo to show where I was or Facebook my mates about something funny I saw - like the pop-up Maxfactor-sponsored make-up area for TV reporters to get a touch-up before going on air.

When we got the final hour warning, excitement fluttered in the knowledge I had several strong stories and I watched as they were placed on a two-page spread.

We all jostled out when the time was up, running past Clive Palmer giving an off-the-cuff interview to a journalist.

We had to run back to the APN office to re-connect and send off the pages, before heading out for a well-deserved celebration that it was over...until the next budget.

Topics:  federal budget 2014 journalism mara pattison-sowden opinion the observer

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