TBI Q&A: Cathy Aronson

'How does your environment affect your work?' "Hugely. My sea view and swims, keep me sane. Neon lights, air conditioning and cubicles is like a Darth Vader force choke on the death star."
In this TBI QnA, Cathy Aronson tries to answer her own questions (harder than it looks, eh Cathy?)


Renee Liang introduces The Big Idea editor Cathy Aronson, who has finally answered the famous TBI QnA, as part of The Big Idea's 10th birthday celebrations.

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What turns on the editor of The Big Idea? In her words, it’s “capturing a thousand words in an image/headline/summary/tweet…” and although she tries to maintain her journo edge, she admits to geeking out in the presence of greatness.

In this TBI QnA, Cathy tries to answer her own questions (harder than it looks, eh Cathy?) The answer to what she would make with a piece of string, a stick and some fabric may surprise you… and you may find her ‘happy place’ intriguing.

Cathy herself is one of those people who are far too charming to turn down. I learnt this when I met her for what was advertised as a casual coffee and left having committed to what is now a four year tenure as a Big Idea contributor.  There is just something about Cathy’s bubbly enthusiasm that is hard to say no to. But then The Big Idea is a good thing to be so enthusiastic about.

As Editor /chief poohbah/website guru/cheerleader/agony auntie at The Big Idea, part of her job is to track down wayward contributors, crack the whip and hold them to their deadlines. (I’m not the only chronically late filer… am I?!)  It is a compliment to Cathy’s skills that not only does she do this in the nicest possible way, but she also manages to make you feel like you are doing her a favour, instead of the other way around.

Over the years, I’ve also glimpsed other aspects of Cathy’s role as editor: she not only avidly proofreads, she also advises on language, style and (this is important) occasionally edits to avoid sticky situations, such as the time I nearly inadvertently called JK Rowling a graffiti artist. The Big Idea website is a big beast and not always the easiest to load stories onto – again, Cathy’s around to save the day, pick up the spat-out dummies and, for the chronically technically challenged, load their stories for them.

On top of that, she also juggles a busy life as a mum, wife and freelance journalist. You can imagine my thrill on discovering another person who seems to be online at the oddest times of the day or night – but no, this is just the reality of fitting your job(s) in around, well, Life. As Cathy says, “balance - in life, love, work and play” – is important.

So what does it take to be the proverbial all things to all people and to keep smiling through it all? Read on…

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

In the middle of the night, when I’m asleep and the only thing disturbing me is my wildest dreams! During the day, when real life projects ignite my wildest dreams!

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Eclectic?!?  I’m hiding from Facebook, so called some good friends and got distracted catching up about randomness, and never worked up to the question to get an answer…..

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Capturing a thousand words in an image/headline/summary/tweet…

I’m constantly humbled by the creative community and contributors on The Big Idea, getting to interview NZ creatives and attempting to share their essence. 

I try to maintain a journo edge and stick to the golden rule of ‘not falling in love with thy subject’, but am known to geek out in the presence of greatness.   The first time this happened was meeting Peter Jackson during LOTR Return of the King premiere. It was my first live online reporting, using a phone! Amazing it’s a decade later and what you could do now – using smarter phones.

On that note, with a greater understanding of the creative industry in NZ, I’d hope to hold my own and have different questions for PJ today?!

How does your environment affect your work?

Hugely.  My sea view and swims keep me sane.  Neon lights, air conditioning and cubicles are as suffocating as a Darth Vader force choke on the death star (unless entertaining sadistically nostalgic Tom Wolfe newsrooms – reminicing with Tokaji and thinking kindly of my master)

If out of my comfort zone will revert to the ‘‘happy place’ in my head ….. yes there is a ride-on wooden pony AND a rainbow sliding, strawberry river surfing sasquatch…(google it!).

Loving the co-spaces, especially TBI HQ at BizDojo, and  edible gardens popping up on patios. (P.S plant mint!)

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

Both. It’s like peeling layer upon layer of an onion, until you cry. But the essential base ingredient for savoury success is worth the tears. Beats instant nutrient destruction by microwave/churnalism.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

I do not know, what I do not know.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

Snorkelling with stingrays at Ti Point 2011! Narrowly missing the great Matheson Bay Orca encounter of 2012.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

The wonderful team, writers, contributors and community on The Big Idea. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true. Every time I feel under pressure – they post the most amazing stuff from weird and wonderful places and timelines.

My gorgeous husband and son. Their love, humour, talent, patience and steely strength is an overwhelmingly blessing ….’you complete me’.

Tell us a bit about your background.

My first published story was a front page high school newspaper about ‘Awesome Alipati wins athletics’ (where is he now?). My first publication was a school yearbook where I played favourites with pics of my friends. My first editorship was a youth group yearbook – with distribution temporarily banned after being accused of drinking at a ‘Christian night club’ (banning was revoked, publication proceeded…it’s a long story).

I’ve tried to avoid sports reporting, conflicts of interests, public drunkenness and other journalism related hazards ever since….. I’ve dabbled in film making and photography, worked as a community news and national daily news reporter and worked for two of NZs biggest websites. All of which only slightly prepared me for The Big Idea.

Tell us a bit about your recent and upcoming projects

Playing my part to inform The Big Idea 2013 upgrade to help the creative community work smarter not harder, making it easier to share and showcase their content. Hopefully this will free up my time to do more quality curating and arts journalism. As part of this we’re working on reviving smART reporting, originally launched after the great FOO camp NZ journalism pow-wow of 2010. Watch this space in 2013!

I also curate the news online for my local independent community newspaper, localmatters.co.nz. It’s refreshing to work with journalists, editors, designers and a sales team who are still hitting the local beat with their feet! As an online editor it helps keep me grounded in the physical reality of community/journalism/publishing.

This summer I'm looking forward to some head space from the daily grind to write an essay/response for Letting Space on audience participation at the Free of Charge science arts installation at Splore.

Tell us about your role at The Big Idea?

Like all of the TBI team, I work part-time, all the time! From the heights of editorial strategy and implementing it, to dealing with spam – it’s all part of the job. The day to day stuff keeps me humble and engaged, the strategy keeps me moving forward. Occasionally I go AWOL and can be found at random events and conferences. Mostly I’m producing and curating (plus living vicariously through) the adventures of TBI contributors and community.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

Indiana Jones in a tutu.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

Magical mystical Pakiri beach, north east-coast New Zealand.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

At the Sawmill Cafe in Leigh. A nice sample of musicians often in the first leg of their tour and up for a gallop and gander. Plus you can buy their CDs, get them signed, and know the money goes to them!

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

An anorexic Barbie with a cool outfit which weaves into a hair wrap...ok that makes more sense when looking at the Barbie on my bookcase!

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Look Up!

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Work smarter not harder!
Stop using cliches and exclamation points and just do it!

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

It’s so simple and yet so huge. Like the world wide web!

What changes have you noticed in journalism/digital media in the past 10 years?

When I ventured into ‘new media’ a decade ago I was a strong advocate of the power of online, community, engagement and breaking the barriers of mainstream media – but not at the expense of journalism and the fourth estate role. I now pine for the once dreaded late shift with the (near extinct) sub-editors and the layers of editors that would scrutinise everything, or complaining because I only had one whole day to do a story. In recent years there has been a revival to fight back for journalism, which is encouraging.

Many of my former colleagues, and recent mentors, linger as ‘self-editors’ in my head. It’s also great how content is automatically critiqued, edited, added to, remixed, remashed and discussed online…so I know not all is lost.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

Balance - in life, love, work and play. Hunting, gathering and curating the quality from the noise. Moving forward, while not forgetting the past. Being careful what you wish for!

Written by

Cathy Aronson

2 Dec 2012


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