REAL AUSTRALIA

A journey shared: journalist Joanne McCarthy and her loyal sidekick Lloyd

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by ACM executive editor James Joyce.

LEFT: Lloyd the dog does a meerkat in 2011 for his fancy picture byline co-starring journalist and columnist Joanne McCarthy. RIGHT: Lloyd being just as cute but less of a meerkat, seated on Joanne's lap.

LEFT: Lloyd the dog does a meerkat in 2011 for his fancy picture byline co-starring journalist and columnist Joanne McCarthy. RIGHT: Lloyd being just as cute but less of a meerkat, seated on Joanne's lap.

A long time ago in a former job far, far away, I asked journalist Joanne McCarthy to pose for a nice portrait photograph to accompany a weekly slice-of-life column she was writing in the Newcastle Herald.

Joanne had the sort of no-nonsense questions and, um, frank feedback you'd expect from a journalist who didn't need a fancy picture byline in the newspaper to be able to do her job thanks very much.

Anyhoo, the photo we ended up using for Joanne's new-look column in the newspaper's new-look weekend section showed her being expertly upstaged by her most excellent best friend, Lloyd the dog.

Lloyd was doing his meerkat impression.

STAR: Lloyd the dog does his meerkat trick. Also pictured is journalist and columnist, Joanne McCarthy.

STAR: Lloyd the dog does his meerkat trick. Also pictured is journalist and columnist, Joanne McCarthy.

This was not the usual portrait of a newspaper columnist. But, of course, then as now, we're not talking about your usual newspaper columnist. The expression on Joanne's face says all you need to know about why this photo was the pick.

Thesedays, Joanne's weekly ruminations and observations on family, politics, people who use leaf-blowers and life's other exasperations and joys are carried in print and online by many of Australian Community Media's mastheads across the country.

At the weekend, Joanne wrote another column featuring Lloyd. He's previously starred in such memorable episodes as the one where Lloyd makes the world OK, the one with the vet bill for the constipation, the one where he's a grumpy old man and the one with the dementia diagnosis.

More in a moment on Joanne's update at the weekend. But first, here's the column she wrote way back in March 2011 about her trusty sidekick Lloyd, his first photo shoot for the newspaper and their debut as an adorable duo in a fancy picture byline:

Hold the cheese, please

"FOR some time now, concerned readers have written to the Newcastle Herald about a subject that's had them, well, concerned.

No. I'm not talking about the fig trees. And not the rail line. Also, and in no particular order, not the future of the Knights, the Jets, the state of Swansea bridge, climate change, Kristina Keneally's hairdo, a carbon tax or even the price of milk.

No, they've written to ask if the newspaper is produced by a happy band of disembodied heads, or I'm guessing someone's done something like that because otherwise I have no idea why I'm appearing today, complete with limbs, as part of the revamped, fully organic, low-fat, high-fibre, new look H2 Review.

As for the dog doing the meerkat impression, we'll get to that in a minute.

Years ago, newspapers weren't even written by identified journalists. Articles just appeared in slabs without photographs or bylines (the "by Joanne McCarthy" or "by Fred Blog" line that appears above stories).

Gradually - and don't ask me when or why - journalists' names began to appear.

Then some bright spark had the idea of sticking journalists' headshots above articles, and then another bright spark thought the experience of reading a newspaper column might be enhanced by knowing the columnist had the regulation number of arms and legs to go with the head.

That bright spark could well have gone on to bigger and better things, like running a multinational bank or something.

Anyway, whatever the reason, full-body photographs with columns became a worldwide media trend, possibly linked to other trends that sweep the globe for no apparent reason - like saddling your car with frangipani or "Magic Happens" stickers, or becoming a Justin Bieber fan.

'You could well see me with a stuffed parrot on my shoulder, wearing a muumuu on the back of a motorbike.'

Who knows? But I blame Mia Freedman for the full-body situation you see today. Once Mia started appearing with her arms and legs and sporting different outfits, the likes of Greg Ray and I didn't stand a chance. Readers would demand to see our feet.

The first indication of change came in an email from the deputy editor a week or so ago.

As part of the H2 revamp we needed to organise a time for a photographer to come to my house to take photos of me "in a variety of different tops/outfits" and in "different moods", he suggested.

I emailed back that . . .

Well, actually, I can't repeat what I emailed back because the Herald is a respectable newspaper that prefers not to offend its readers, especially over breakfast. Let's just say there was only one prevailing mood in the response.

But the photographer came and the shots were taken.

Which brings us to my dog, Lloyd, doing his meerkat impression.

The one good thing about newspaper columnists appearing with their limbs for no apparent reason is that it opens the creative door. If I can appear with my hands and feet, then why not with my dog doing his only known trick?

A conversation on the subject would go something like this:

Puzzled Herald reader: "I like the new look H2 Review, but why is your dog in the picture?"

Me: "Because he kept sitting at my feet, I'd already tripped over him twice and taken him outside a dozen times, and I gave up."

Puzzled Herald reader: "Why is he doing a meerkat impression?"

Me: "He can't do penguin."

Maybe we're seeing the start of another global media trend in the Herald today - columnists appearing with their pets for no apparent reason.

But why stop at pets?

In coming weeks you could well see me with a stuffed parrot on my shoulder, wearing a muumuu on the back of a motorbike, or reclining on a chaise lounge being fed peeled grapes by a brace of hairy coalminers.

Pretty soon we'll have an interactive thing happening. Readers will be asked to make requests.

"Could Joanne appear in a hat this week?" "Could Greg wear that nice blue T-shirt again?"

At which point I think we'll both give the game away.

And if I'm sounding like a grump about all this there's a reason.

A new American study known as the Longevity Project has found grumpier people outlive cheerful people.

The 90-year study of 1500 Americans found cranky old men tended to outlive their cheery spouses and colleagues, if only because they took fewer risks and lived more sheltered lives.

While optimism and good cheer helped people through short-term problems, the grumps in the study were still alive while their cheery mates had succumbed to their cheery excesses, researchers Leslie Martin and Howard Friedman found.

"Cheery people had an attitude that things would turn out OK so they took risks, and sometimes things didn't turn out OK," Martin said.

The study also found that owning a pet contributed to general well-being but had no impact on living longer. Being upstaged by your pet can make you grumpy, though."

And so, to this week's column by Joanne McCarthy. You can read it here.

I'm sure I'm not alone in my appreciation for Joanne's generosity in sharing Lloyd with us over the years. Thank you, Jo. And thank you, Lloyd.

James Joyce

Executive Editor, Australian Community Media

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