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It goes back a long way

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Tagged: / Posted: 11 April 2009

Many of the things which Nick attributes to news gathering as being the result of a contraction of sources, such as the death of news agencies and the disappearance of regional titles, had been accepted practice long before this process of contraction happened.

As a trainee on the Yorkshire Post in the early seventies I was always mystified how a local freelance always seemed to get better quotes on stories that myself. There they were, every time, a real soundbite before the word soundbite became common currency. Finally I asked him if he had some kind of special access to people. No, he didn't. All he did was do the copper or the local councillor a favour and polish up his quote or suggest to him something he might like to have said. 'They even say look Jim you know what I want to say, you can write it better than I can say it'. And there I was fiercely learning to write 100 words a minute shorthand to pass the training exam.

The news editor's advice was always 'gild the lilly'. And 'make bricks with straw'. When I took him at his word and out of frustration with the whole profession decided to write a story as a pastiche of a news story, full of drama, cliches and of course my newly learned technique of polished quotes I was astonished to find the story flying from the news desk to the subs with a cry of give this man a by-line (which in those days was pretty hard to get). So what I had really written out of anger and despair and as a private joke to myself won me the recognition I had sought though not through any of the precepts I was being taught were 'essential journalism'.

Also if Nick thinks the Mail and its cast of social psychopaths is new, think again. Working for The Mail is no different to any news room back in the seventies. They were places of constant abuse, derision and insult. That same news editor's favourite phrase was 'there are more holes in this story than my cat could piss in it'. That was him being helpful.

Corrupt relationships between journalists and politicians? Again it was common. A friend of mine was sacked for his coverage of a Women's Institute meeting where he gave a quote the Mayor's wife claimed she said to another woman. A piddling error. But in this town nobody was allowed to write any story about the local council other than the municipal reporter. She was the only person ever sent to report its meetings. The reason was simple, the cosy relationship between the newspaper and the town's leaders was not to disturbed by nosey and niave trainees. When I tell you the town was Doncaster you will realise nothing has changed in thirty years. Doncaster being a somewhat corrupt municipality.

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