I only started writing this blog about a week ago. I didn’t think I’d have to use it quite so soon to mark the passing of a writing great.
But so I find myself writing about Tony Ciprian in the past tense. He was 82 and unwell, so we can’t exactly call it a shock. What is a shock though is the immense gap I now feel in my professional career as a result of his passing. Countless other New Zealand journalists who worked with him will feel the same.
Cippo, as we called him, was unashamedly old school. Gruff, no-nonsense, often a right royal pain-in-the-backside… but extraordinarily gifted in his ability to write – particularly for television – and to pass on that knowledge to young journalists.
Imagine me, an 18-year-old nobody walking into the TV3 newsroom in Auckland for my first day of work experience back in 1998. Armed with bullet-proof/misguided confidence in myself, I’d managed to convince the Director of News Mark Jennings he should give me a shot on his team, despite having zero experience or qualifications. For whatever reason he agreed. And so I walked in that day with dreams of learning from the greats. Perhaps I’d even get to make them coffee!
But Mark knew I liked sport, so he sent me out to Eden Park with a cameraman to get some match footage of a domestic cricket match. I came back to the office that afternoon, having duly shot-listed everything the cameraman had filmed, and thought my work was done.
But instead of sitting me down quietly in a corner to think about how lucky I was, Mark introduced me to Cippo. He told him I had the cricket footage and that we should put together a match report for the news that night.
What must Cippo have thought? I never asked him, but it was probably something like “Skinny little teenage runt, no experience, and here’s the boss telling me to do something news-worthy with him. Are you f**king kidding?!”
To be honest, that day is a bit of a blur. But with Cippo’s guidance I somehow put together a report that night. With a slightly shaky voice and a very strong Kiwi accent, I became “Kamahl Santamaria, 3 News” that day, and stayed as such for the next three years.
In those three years, Tony Ciprian gave me the kind of grounding I think every journalist should have. He taught me the basics… how to write succinct and snappy scripts… how to avoid cliches (which in sports reporting is an art in itself)… how to be accurate and efficient… basically, how to do my job properly.
He also taught me the kind of rules I find myself repeating to other journalists today:
“You pronounce it KILO-METRE, not kill-OMM-itter!”
“He won the final set to take out the match? Where did he take it out to… dinner?”
“If you ever start a report with ‘Meet so-and-so’ I will kick your arse Santamaria…”
It could be arduous at times. Cippo was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t stand for any nonsense. If you disappointed Cippo, you knew it. And believe me, you never wanted to disappoint the guy. Not necessarily because he’d tear you a new one if he was in the wrong mood, but because his approval really meant something. What he didn’t know about journalism wasn’t worth knowing… so just imagine if you managed to impress a man of that stature?
I’m 16 years into my career now, and increasingly I wish all young journalists had a Cippo to start them off on the right track. For years I’ve seen them coming into newsrooms without a clue, just like I did, but believing they’re ready for the big league. They need someone to tell them that while they’ve just gotten themselves a journalism degree and have landed a great job, they actually know nothing about how the real game works… and that they need to sit down, shut up, and learn from someone who’s been around the traps.
That’s what Cippo did with me and so many other New Zealand journalists. He moulded and guided and shaped us – sometimes without us even realising – and turned us into half-decent reporters. We all still use the basics which Cippo taught us. They hold us in good stead. They keep us honest. They remind us of how we should be doing our jobs.
At age 20 I was producing nightly sports bulletins for TV3 News. For someone of that age to be doing that job was rare, and it only came about because of what I learnt from Tony Ciprian.
At one stage, veteran TV3 reporter Bob McNeil started calling me Mini Cippo. It was a good joke and the nickname stuck (along with a few others) but in truth, it was an honour to be given such a ‘title’.
Go well, Cippo. I’m sorry we didn’t keep in touch more in your later years. If we had, I would have simply said ‘thank you’, you grumpy old bastard.
I would not be where I am today without you.