Lipstick on your colleague

IF
you’re single then you may not want reminding that next Monday is
Valentine’s Day. Unless, of course, you think the elusive love of your
life could be just across the newsdesk. Perhaps you already while away
those slow news days fantasising about what might happen after
deadline. Even superheroes aren’t exempt – just look at Superman’s
crush on Lois Lane. But is it ever a good idea to take a relationship
out of the workplace and into the bedroom?

Nearly a quarter of
journalists meet their longterm partner at work and another 26 per cent
have admitted to having a work-based affair, according to a recent
survey conducted for Mediabuddies.com by market research firm VAR
International. Given a hack’s lifestyle, long uncertain hours and the
adrenaline- driven environment of the deadline, it seems only natural
after all that work, some play should follow.

LBC 97.3’s morning
phone-in presenter, James O’Brien, thinks journalist liaisons are
inevitable. He met his wife Lucy, GMTV correspondent, at the Daily
Express when he worked on the gossip column and she was a graduate
trainee.

“Who else are you going to meet?” he says. “Either the
people you interview or other journalists. I was working 20 hours a
day. Working with someone gives you an excuse to be in social
situations without having to ask them out on a date. That way I could
manoeuvre myself to be next to her in the pub.”

However, as James acknowledges there can be pitfalls.

If you do make an ill-judged pass at someone you have to be prepared to face them when sober every day.

Mary
Balfour is MD of dating agencies Drawing Down the Moon and Only Lunch,
whose client base includes a substantial number of media types. She
believes there are many reasons why it’s a good idea to avoid
relationships at work. Balfour suggests colleagues can be critical,
implying promotions are a result of sleeping with someone in the
office. There’s also the embarrassment factor if fooling around with a
colleague doesn’t work out, and there’s the knockon effect it could
have on other people.

However, Balfour acknowledges journalists
tend to be like-minded, which helps to explain why they’re often drawn
to each other. She says: “Journalists can be bored with someone who
comes from a quieter life. They’re looking for a partner who’s
stimulating and demanding, a bit of a challenge, who won’t take them
for granted.

“Although they meet lots of people they use flattery
to obtain information, sometimes being quite direct or critical, which
can be difficult. The job necessitates going from one person to the
next, so there’s no continuity in building up relationships with
people, which can be a problem.”

Having lots in common might not
be grounds for taking things a step further. In a cut-throat industry,
where competition is fierce, it is worth bearing in mind that the
desire to further your career could put a strain on a perfect
partnership.

Ex- Mirror news editor David Leigh confesses it
wasn’t all plain sailing for him and his wife, who both now work for
Splash news and pictures agency in the US. He met former Sun news
editor Sue Thompson while they were both on The Argus in Brighton. He
was a reporter in the Worthing district office and Thompson, a trainee,
was sent to help out.

“When you’re a journalist you’re working
round the clock and you mix in the same circles. Sue and I got together
after a few months. Initially we kept it fairly quiet but there was an
understanding there – we both started on The Argus, then began shifting.

We were very keen, wanted to get to Fleet Street and had similar ambitions,” he says.

So
much so that the pair ended up news editing Britain’s two biggest rival
tabloids, a source for marital discord if ever there was one. Leigh
agrees there were often conflicts: “We’d be on duty at weekends,
bidding for the same stories – she’d be on the upstairs phone and I’d
be on the downstairs one talking to our respective reporters. If she
got the story I wouldn’t be best pleased and vice versa. There were
times when it was difficult but work’s work and you have to be
professional about it.”

Friendly competition

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of friendly competition in the hunt
for an exclusive, even when the competition is the love of your life,
according to Karen Bamford.

Bamford met husband Vince at their local police station when both
were fledgling reporters for rival local papers, The Crawley Observer
and The Crawley News. On one occasion both were sent out to cover a
murder for which they knew the rough vicinity but not the exact
location. Bamford admits that when she found blood on the pavement she
tried to block it from Vince’s view. At one point the pair ended up
applying for the same job as deputy editor of the Crawley News.
Although Vince got the job Karen wasn’t too resentful. “By then we were
living together so I was just glad of the extra money!” she laughs.

The
couple, married for 10 years, got together after a boozy night out but
Karen maintains neither would have proceeded if they hadn’t thought it
would lead to something special. “I’ve seen too many office romances go
wrong – don’t do it unless you know it’s right. We’d only been together
for a week and I knew I wanted to marry Vince.

“The only time our
relationship became an issue was when I went for the Crawley editor’s
job. Vince had helped set up a rival weekly and there were questions at
work of pillow talk. We made an agreement not to take each other’s
secrets back to the office.”

The onus on maintaining
professionalism is great in theory but no doubt infinitely harder to
put in to practice. Tammy Butt, deputy editor of In Style magazine
warns against compromising work ethics.

Tammy met husband John
Perry, publisher of Front magazine, when the pair worked on Loaded –
she was features director and he was acting editor.

She recalls:
“When I was at More! it was something of a feather in your cap to pull
someone from Loaded, a lot of the boys were popular on shoots. I
fancied John and he was single, but I thought it was inappropriate. The
fact he was the boss at Loaded made it a bit tacky and page three.”
Fortunately not everyone at Loaded had the same outlook as romance
blossomed there for fellow writer Piers Townley, currently deputy
editor of Ink Publishing and his partner Tammy Iley, now publisher of
NME. They met while working on a Loaded beach tour feature. Although
both worked in the same building Piers had no qualms about dating her.

“I
didn’t think it would affect my career and we worked on different
floors – there are 26, so you can go months without seeing anybody,” he
says.

It wasn’t until Butt and Perry, who had become firm
friends, left IPC, that they became an item. Butt maintains work
brought them together, their romance blossomed during their conception
of what went on to become the now-defunct fashion and lifestyle
magazine, Jaunt .

By the time they got the financial backing to
launch the publication, which Butt refers to as the “love over the
kitchen table”, she believes the fact they were together was irrelevant.

“It
didn’t make one iota of difference.We both respect what the other does
– which was attractive in itself. Don’t sacrifice your life partner
because you work together but I think you need to be sure. I’ve seen
flings end in tears.”

The last thing you want is being forced to
hide under your desk, in an attempt to avoid a showdown the morning
after a long day has inadvertently turned into an even longer night.
With the added pressures of working in close proximity, boundaries and
expectations can blur, which is why Mary Balfour urges caution: “Don’t
develop the relationship too quickly until you’re absolutely certain.
Take it slowly and don’t sleep with someone until you know there’s a
future in it,” she warns.

In that case it may be best to keep
trysts quiet to avoid unnecessary angst. Companies have been known to
frown heavily on relationships in the workplace.

Press Gazette ‘s former chief reporter Jean Morgan met her late husband Phil at the South Wales Echo.

At
the time the newspaper adhered to a strictly enforced no couples
policy. But the Morgans decided that honesty about their relationship
was the way forward and, in the end, the company made an exception to
the rule. Their relationship even got Jean a job. When she accompanied
Phil on a trip to London for a job interview, the interviewer asked
what his wife would do. After hearing she’d have to look for work he
called her in, interviewed her and both were taken on.

Times have
changed. Jane Barnes, deputy editor of Sun Woman , who met her fiancé,
a Sun backbencher, while working at News International, concedes there
are lots of couples at The Sun .

“Our relationship was never a
secret, although the newsdesk were the last to find out. We went on
holiday to Australia for two weeks – I don’t know where everyone
thought we were!” says Barnes. “I got loads of stick from the guys on
the newsdesk – for about a day. It gets forgotten. There are more
interesting things going on than who’s going out with who.”

Uncertain hours

Canon David Meara of St Brides Church in Fleet Street would vouch
for the fact that marriage between journalists is not uncommon, having
married 11 journalist couples over the past four years alone. He
believes in the past the profession put a great strain on relationships
but working practices have changed. The old Fleet Street culture of
spending hours in the pub, then rolling home, is not as prevalent as it
once was, he says.

Yet workloads can still be demanding. “Any career where you work
long and uncertain hours makes it difficult to have any continuing
social life, especially when weekends get eaten into. For example,
foreign news journalists go off, have stints away, adjust to life back
home then have to leave again – it’s an odd form of existence,” he
comments.

The implication is that your partner can understand the
pressures of the journalism if they also work in it. Whereas others may
be suspicious if their partners are called away at short notice,
wondering what they might be getting up to, fellow hacks understand the
need to cover a breaking news story and accept being called away at any
moment is part and parcel of being a journalist. Granted there’s always
the chance of romance turning sour, but in a profession that prides
itself in revealing the truth maybe taking a few risks of the heart
isn’t such a bad thing.

And if you still think working in the
same office makes romance too close for comfort or you haven’t got the
bottle to make your move face to face, take a leaf out of Dan Townend’s
book. Do it over the phone. The deputy news editor of the Daily Express
met his wife, freelance Lucy Elkins, while he was on the Daily Mail
news desk. She pushed a story his way and got a byline, fairly unusual
for freelances – though he claims not to have given her special
treatment.

When she called with another story they arranged to meet up.

His
response when she asked how she’d recognise him was: “I’ll be the ugly
one at the bar”. He says: “I lowered her expectations and it melted her
heart.”

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