When David Ward started at The Guardian in 1974, he was one of 95 journalists manning the paper’s Manchester newsroom on Deansgate in the heart of the city.
Now as he prepares to leave the paper and reflects on almost 35 years of court cases, colour pieces and theatre reviews, he is one of the paper’s two full-time news reporters in the city.
Ward has applied for voluntary redundancy but is waiting for official confirmation, and looks set to close the door on a career that began on the Whitley Bay Guardian via the Swindon Advertiser and Newcastle Journal and three decades at The Guardian.
He considers himself primarily a feature writer, and was a features sub on The Guardian for more than 10 years, but he has reported on some of the very biggest stories, including the Manchester GP Harold Shipman and the Jamie Bulger murder.
Ward believes that the shift of national newspapers’ agendas southwards in the past 30 years is part of an inevitable shift south rather than editors ignoring northern cities and towns.
‘The whole thing has contracted, but that’s as much to do with newspaper economics and as much to with the centre of Britain as economics,’he says. ‘The technology which allows you to edit a newspaper from a telephone box means it’s all gone to London. It’s just that I went the other way.
But Ward regrets that the reporters who race north to cover gangland shootings or grizzly courts cases, disappear again before they get the chance really know and fairly report on the area.
‘Yes, you can write crime stories, major news stories when it’s a murder or nasty court case, but one of things we’ve tried to do is just simply reflect the region and tell other people in other parts of the country what it’s like being here,’he says.
The online revolution, led by papers like The Guardian, that has seen reporters filing for print and web editions has changed the role of a regional correspondent, according to Ward.
When 10-year-old Liverpool boy Rhys Jones was murdered last August, Ward was on the scene soon after. After an hour his news desk asked for 400 words, ‘a bit of colour to add to agency stuff”, for a Guardian Unlimited story.
‘But all the time you are doing that you are twitching a bit about not being out on the streets finding out what’s happening,’he says. ‘I would have quite liked to explore that and see how many deadlines you get in a day.”
Ward is to do part-time media work for the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, affirming a life-long interest in the arts, and doesn’t rule out returning to journalism in the future.
Would he if given the chance, start his career in journalism again? The game, for Ward, has not changed all that much since he started. ‘I think the basic joy of the job is meeting people and making order out of chaos,’he says.
‘You have to try within a limited time to discover as much of the truth as you can, and that’s an intellectual challenge that never dies.’