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About A Week: Eric Shackle - A Very Special Journalist

Eric Shackle is probably the oldest reporter at work in the electronic media. At the age of 87 he's chasing stories with the enthusiasm of someone 50 years his junior then writing them in an easy-to-read style honed by six decades of journalistic experience.

Eric, who has written for some of the world's greatest newspapers, is now a pioneer of electronic journalism. He was born in Chingford, which was formerly in Essex, England, but is now part of Greater London.

He attended South Chingford School before winning a scholarship to Bancroft's School, Woodford Green, but soon after taking it up, migrated Down Under in 1929 with his parents and younger sister, who now lives in New Zealand.

Eric began a long career in journalism and public relations as a copyboy on the Christchurch (New Zealand) Press in 1935, and two years later, aged 17, left the family home for Australia, where he has lived ever since.

Besides regularly writing stories for one of the Web’s leading on-line newspapers, OhmyNews International and writing and producing his widely read e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/, Eric contributes a weekly column to Open Writing. Here he is interviwed by Open Writing editor Peter Hinchliffe.

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Eric, you’re a youthful 87, the oldest reporter contributing to OhmyNews. You run your own Web site, The World's First Multi-National eBook www.bdb.co.za/shackle. You are a columnist with a daily Web magazine Open Writing www.openwriting.com You have contributed articles to many other Web sites. How did it all begin?

My very first story was a sci-fi piece published by the Sydney Sunday Sun when I was an 11-year-old schoolboy in 1930. To my huge delight I was awarded a Blue Certificate.

My second published story was a sub-editorial in The Press (Chistchurch, New Zealand) in 1935, when I was a 16-year-old journalism cadet.

Do you recall your first encounter with the Net?

One day in 1999, just after I'd bought my first computer, my son Ian forwarded to me an email quoting this long and very clever anagram:

The question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Anagram: In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

I wanted to discover its origin, and my search led me to two anagram websites, http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/two_geniuses.htm one called Anagram Genius run by William Tunstall-Pedoe in the UK, and one in the US called Internet Anagram Server, run by someone called Anu Garg.

I discovered that I could re-arrange the letters of the words ANAGRAM GENIUS to show that his NAME IS ANU GARG. I sent an email to Anu telling him of this confusing statement. We exchanged further emails, found we shared a great interest in anagrams and the English language, and eventually Anu invited me to become copy editor of his global newsletter A Word A Day, http://wordsmith.org/awad/ which he sends five days a week to more than 600,000 subscribers worldwide.

By the way, that clever Hamlet anagram was the work of Cory Calhoun, when he was a post-graduate student at a US university.

What led you to choose journalism as a career?

When I left high school at 15, I had no idea of what I wanted to do. My father arranged for a psychologist to give me an aptitude test. He reported that I had the manual dexterity of a four-year-old child, which has not improved over the years. He also said that because of my knowledge of words, I should consider a career in journalism or the law. I'm glad I chose the former.

What story are you most proud of?

A story recalling the wartime memories http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/macarthur.htm of my beloved wife Jerry, written shortly before her death on May 1, 2005. Had she survived until this year, we would be celebrating our diamond (60th) wedding anniversary on July 12.

Have you ever made a classic howler which appeared in print?

I sure have. In a careless moment, I mistakenly referred to Eric Catman (the correct spelling was Cartman) having been killed each week and then returned to life in the TV cartoon comedy South Park, when in fact it was Kenny (as in, 'Oh, my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!').

I wrote it when I was guest columnist http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/catman.htm of "A Word A Day" for one week (July 2001).

For 24 hours, my inbox was swamped with emails, with a message every two minutes at the peak, from as far away as Tokyo, Japan. Moral: check and recheck everything you write.

If you were just starting out what career would you choose?

Journalism, with emphasis on eletronic media.

How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?

Far too many. I suppose I'd average four or five hours a day, but if I'm researching and writing what I think is an interesting story, I'm inclined to forget the clock until the job's done.

How do you “find’’ your stories. Are you a methodical surfer?

Whenever I read or hear about a quirky news item that interests or amuses me, I wonder if I could find an unusual angle by searching the Internet or emailing those involved. Then I add the subject to my lengthy list of Google News Alerts, which keep me updated.

You recently wrote a story for OhmyNews about the oldest blogger in the world http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?article_class=10&no=341010&rel_no=1 that you have been able to discover. Could you tell us briefly about her?

Maria Amelia is a charming, 95-year-old Spanish grandmother, who writes interesting blogs in her native tongue. Interviewing her was quite a problem, until Liz Parry, editor of Spain's largest English-language newspaper, SUR-in-English, kindly translated my questions into Spanish, and Maria Amelia's responses into English.

And is it your intention to still be writing stories when you are 95?

Dunno. Man proposes, God disposes.

How do you spend your time when you’re not on the Net? I believe you enjoy a glass of good Australian beer?

Like many journos, I'm blessed with an unquenchable thirst. I prefer beer to any other beverage. I've recently written stories about Lizard beers http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/lizards.htm and Dog beers http://www.bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/dog_beers.htm The phrases flat out like a lizard, and hair of the dog spring to mind.

Do you think that blogging and being an international Net journalist helps you to stay young?

I agree with Canada's oldest blogger, Donald Crowdis, who wrote on February 1:

I am impressed beyond words (well, almost) by the arrival of this form of communication called the blog, which, at the very least, equals the invention of the printing press. Read that, and remember that it is coming from one (me) who is regarded (by me and others) as glum and difficult where words are concerned, and generally not inclined to be effusive.

Blogs are wonderful. Vanity is served at once. If you don't listen, it is your fault. Also, by the very nature of the medium, your audience sorts itself out. Readers don't pay anything, so they really can't complain. Anyone can join in, rebut, whatever -- surely this is democracy, whatever that is, at its most lively and pushy. In the realm of human communication, blogs seem to me to be the atomic units that transistors are in the world of digital devices that surround us.

Does it still give you a thrill to see your stories in OhmyNews, knowing they are being read all over the world?

Yes, it gives me the same feeling as in my youth, when the newspaper office would shake to its foundations and you'd hear the roar of the oldtime rotary presses churning out thousands of copies of your front-page story.

No timber-and-ink newspaper in the world can offer such a worldwide readership as OhmyNews.. I enjoy being able to write WHAT I like WHEN I like, instead of being told to write about something of little interest to me and having to meet a looming deadline.

At some date in the future what story would you most like to write?

My First 100 Years as a Compulsive Writer.


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