Confessions of a former editor

How
do you cope when you are made a member of the ex-editors’ club? Mike
Lowe, formerly of the Bristol Evening Post, describes the days
following his departure

I HAVE OFTEN wondered what
became of ex-editors, those fabulous beasts who either flew too near to
the sun or never got off the ground in the first place.

The news of their sudden departure would send ripples of curiosity
around the business for a few days but then, usually, silence. True,
the odd one would turn up teaching shorthand in Sri Lanka or ethics in
Uzbekistan. Others would proudly announce the launch of their new PR
agency, consultancy business or free ads magazine (and you feared for
their redundancy money). Some still lurk downtable, enjoying a life of
stress-free subbing on another paper. But most disappeared without
trace.

Perhaps there was a special hostel for them.

Perhaps
it was a bit like the way Camelot looks after big lottery winners.
Perhaps a crack team of outplacement experts, funded by the Society of
Editors, turned up on their doorstep to whisk them away to a secret
hideout where they were weaned off restaurant food, carbon paper and
spikes, were taught to read a newspaper without scribbling all over it
in red pen, and had the intricacies of how to tax, insure and even wash
their own cars explained to them.

And were they then released
back into society, as normal, well-rounded citizens, ready to resume
the realities of life without an expense account and with the ability
to open a tin of corned beef or catch a train without assistance?

Well now I know. I joined the club on 21 June.

I
never expected to become a member. I thought I was sorted for life. Now
I know that sounds cocky (it’s not for nothing that the collective noun
for editors is “an arrogance”) and I can’t honestly rebut the
allegation, but I thought I’d done everything my masters asked of me.

I
had turned my paper around and garnered for it the respect in the
community it had lacked when I first arrived nine long years ago. We’d
gone from a distinctly thin average of 40 pages a day to a bellsand-
whistles, supplement-loaded extravaganza. I pitied the poor paperboys
as they dragged this cornucopia of delights through the streets of
Bristol.

And most of that pagination was advertising-driven, rather than editorial affectation.

When
the pressure came on strong after a run of disastrous circulation
figures, we dug in and worked hard until we were among the
best-performing of the big city dailies. And when the newspaper
equivalent of the Grim Reaper that goes under the name of “Johnston’s
Margins” came looming over the horizon, we swallowed our pride and made
the cuts, losing good friends and good journalists along the way.

But none of that matters now. I’m out. But enough with the whining and self pity.

The
first two days were manic. I couldn’t get decent reception on my mobile
at home unless I stood at the bottom of the garden. By the time I got
there, callers had given up and rung the home phone. I was therefore
reduced to running from house to garden to study with a phone in each
hand as more than 100 calls, texts and emails arrived from friends and
colleagues. (And perhaps more interesting are those who you thought
would call but didn’t.)n It is gratifying in the extreme, but very
awkward.

People don’t really know what to say, so both parties
are reduced to making the right sort of noises. Some Northcliffe
editors were concerned only with one thing: “Did they look after you?”
Understandable self-interest, I think. They could well be next.

The
answer is yes, they did, if anything can compensate for losing your
career at a critical point in your life. But this is regional
newspapers we’re talking about. You can forget the Morganesque millions
which outgoing national editors pocket. I’ve still got a hefty mortgage
to pay off. And after studiously ignoring the issue of pensions for
most of my working life, suddenly a future of old age penury doesn’t
seem very attractive.

The bloke who handles the nasty paperwork for the group is an old friend and former colleague.

“Mike,”
he says, sympathetically, “I’ve always thought that when it happens to
me, I’m going to go off and do something I’ve always wanted to do.”

“That’s great,” I say. “Except I’ve always wanted to be a regional newspaper editor.”

“Aahhh…” comes the reply.

The
body clock has yet to adjust and I’m still rolling out of bed at 5am.
This leads to a desperate search around my part of rural
Gloucestershire for an early supplier of the day’s newspapers.

I’ve
got a dealer The garage down the road that opens at 7.30am is clearly
no use – good God, we’d have started conference by then. The newsagents
in Tetbury are little better. In the end I find myself stalking a
likely-looking TNT lorry along the lanes at dawn. When it draws up
outside an anonymous lock-up garage, I realise that I’ve found the
local wholesaler. At 6.25am. Deep joy – I’ve got a dealer.

Among
the well-wishers have been messages from a number of people suggesting
that I might be interested in a “little project” they’ve been working
on. Some are the usual opportunists who can smell a big cheque a mile
away. Others are far more serious players.

I have to explain that
under the terms of my settlement, I’m subject to a bigger exclusion
zone than the one that accompanied the Falklands task force. For the
next few months at least, anything connected with regional newspaper
publishing is out of the question. I may be able to make the tea on a
free listings giveaway in East Anglia, but that’s about it.

I
therefore turn to the sits vac pages of my excellent local weekly. The
Royal Mail wants a parttime postman, six days a week, mornings only.
You know, for some reason I really fancy it. And then I remember the
Ashes series. No contest.

When the old offices of The Citizen,
Gloucester, were refurbished, I nicked a splendid brass plate off my
office door that read “Private Editor”. It now adorns my study door at
home. My ever-supportive partner was passing by the door tonight and
said: “Of course, that’ll have to come down now.”

You know, for a split second I believed her. That’s how these things mess with your head.

The
presence of the plate represents another era, when editors were lofty
individuals who could hide quietly in their rooms and still go home for
lunch if it suited them. The only time my office door was ever shut was
if someone wandered in with something hideously embarrassing to
discuss. And then the newsroom would spend the rest of the day trying
to find out what it was.

It’s not just the body clock that gets me out of bed at dawn. It’s the bad dreams and moments of blind panic as well.

In
the latest of these, I was at a Northcliffe editors and managing
directors’ conference in one of those soulless hotel meeting rooms
somewhere in the East Midlands. Colin Davison (Northcliffe group
editorial executive) was just approaching the end of a trademark
20-minute question when I looked around me and noticed that everyone in
the room was naked.

Like the tribal markings of Masai warriors,
many torsos carried the scars of a heart bypass operation, the
newspaper industry’s very own badge of honour.

And then up to the
microphone strode a smartlydressed wee Scottish man, who beamed widely
and began to rub his hands in a passable impression of Uriah Heep.

It was then that I awoke in a cold sweat …

The
Ashes might have just started, but the First Test was soon over. Now
where is that application form for the postman’s job again…?

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