James Morrison on Colin Davison

My
abiding memory of Colin Davison is of a slight man with pepper-grey
sideboards and an intense stare sitting framed against Barnstaple’s
closest equivalent to a picture window. Having asked me how I thought a
degree in archaeology would help in my newfound vocation as a district
reporter on the North Devon Journal, he listened, immobile, while I
drew a fanciful analogy between the act of piecing together societies
from fragments of the past and “digging” for news stories.

As I
sank into my chair, convinced I would be shown the door, to my surprise
he leant forward and praised my “succinct answer”. But, as always with
Colin, there was a sting in the tail. No sooner had I begun to relax
than he was across the room, pouring me a tar-black coffee while
observing: “Very succinct – if rather like post facto justification.”

When
we got round to discussing the practicalities of the job in hand, Colin
was equally contrary. At my interview he seemed unusually forgiving
when I confessed I hadn’t passed my driving test. “We editors ask a
lot,” he mused, reclining in his imitation leather chair. “We expect
you to pay for your own training, and come to us with a full driving
licence and a car. It’s not fair really.”

My offer letter
arrived in the post three days later. It stipulated I had six months to
pass my test if I wanted to keep my job, and would be expected to find
lodgings not in Barnstaple, where all my colleagues lived, but 10 miles
away – in Bideford, the decrepit fishing port at the heart of my
sprawling patch. Colin’s rationale was that, minus a car, I would find
it impossible to “get to grips” with my beat.

Colin’s deeply held
belief in a journalistic version of the Method – the conviction that
reporters should somehow suffer for their patches if they were get the
most out of them – was one of his many old-school traits.

Within
a fortnight of arriving, I was taken aside by the news editor and told
Colin wanted my ponytail to go (okay, I owe him for that one).

For
all his idiosyncrasies, Colin was an unusually thoughtful, even
cerebral, editor during his forays on the factory floor. And, like all
the best journalists, his news judgment was seldom wrong.

James Morrison is a freelance journalist and NCTJ lecturer, and former arts and media correspondent of The Independent on Sunday

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