Monday, 3 September
I don’t much care for Mondays. It’s the day we have to start imposing order on the week, mapping the contours of the magazine’s boast: ‘All you need to know about everything that matters”. Since Thursday we’ve been digging through the entrails of the daily press, the four deputy editors and me, trying to discern a shape to the news, looking out for the best this, the best that, the most interesting article, the funniest cartoon – and jotting down the references.
It’s like truffle hunting: you search through the mulch of newsprint and every so often alight on something pungent: this week, Marcus Berkman in The Independent marvelling at the arrested development of British films; a weird statistic from the LA Times (apparently women who have their breasts surgically enhanced are three times more likely to commit suicide than those who don’t); and so on. Each of us reads a minimum of two newspapers a day and scale them thoroughly, looking for hand-holds, for what might go where. I used to love reading papers: now they’re a mountainous chore.
The four deputy editors (having finished their tour of the Monday papers) shuffle into my office. Remember that pudding and Winston Churchill? ‘Take it away,’he memorably told the waiter, ‘it has no theme”. This week is like that pudding. The papers have been promiscuous, casting their gaze all over the place, and that makes our job of constructing an argument from the contrasting views of their commentators all the harder.
The two main stories? Probably, much the same as last week: quitting Basra, and Brown’s ‘new politics”. We run through the potential topics and where we think they’ll lie in the magazine – and the researchers, who sit in for the meeting, take down the ‘references’before heading for the photocopier. Soon a large folder of topic-related references is plonked on each of our desks: the business of writing begins.
Tuesday, 4 September
Nasty day, Tuesday. Too much going on, too many deadlines to meet. I won’t get out of the office until 9.30pm, which is quite usual, especially with key members of staff away. And right now we’re handicapped by the absence of the editor herself, who has slunk off to have a baby. Mine, as it happens (Caroline Law is also Mrs O’Grady).
The first order of business is the meeting to decide the cover illustration. That’s tricky, since the cartoon must be humorous, or at least engaging, yet not belittle the seriousness of the issue. Also the various illustrators we employ have different strengths: some better at caricature; some more ‘painterly’et cetera. On top of which, the publishing side of the operation has told us the cover needs to be more attention-grabbing to boost our growing newsstand presence (hitherto our lifeblood has been in subscriptions). That means the focus should be on a single figure (‘tableaux’are now taboo) and that that figure should be looking out at the reader. This week, to illustrate the withdrawal from Basra, we decide the single figure should be a little Iraqi boy waving goodbye.
As Tuesday unfolds, the demands on one’s time proliferate. The publisher wants to know if we can fit in another double-page advertising spread; job applicants want to fix up meetings; the designer of the Week’s website wants a word; and, of course, there’s the big decision that confronts office workers everywhere: when to take the plunge and look at the sodding e-mails – the letters of complaint, the requests for information, the dates for your diary – all requiring an answer. I take a cautionary cue from Pandora. Best not to look.
And, of course, throughout the day, those pages keep landing on my desk to be edited.
Wednesday , 5 September
Press day, the last day of The Week’s week. Spirits are lifting. The end is in sight. I’m delighted to see there’s been no significant breaking news overnight. So we can stick with our main stories and won’t need to fiddle too much with the international news stories I edited last night.
Fiddling and editing. I doubt there’s any magazine anywhere that is quite so fiddlesomely edited as The Week. Because everything in the mag is bite-sized, every bite has to be tasty and of a consistent flavour. So editing is a painstaking business of polishing paragraphs, and the line between editing and subbing virtually disappears.
Nearly there now. I’ve still got to write our ‘Controversy of the The Week’on the prison strike (must remember to get in that great detail about the governors making sandwiches for the inmates); and I have to think up something to say for the Editor’s letter. And then â€¦ freedom.
Thursday & Friday, 6 & 7 September
Nice days, allowing pause for breath. Decisions have to be made on what topics to cover for the ‘leisure’pages (we’re doing ‘eco fashions’this week on the consumer page) and on best foreign and American articles. Letters and emails have to be answered. Why do so many of the people who write in suspect us of running a conspiracy against them and their beliefs? Here’s a monarchist who thinks we’re pursuing a vendetta against Prince Charles’s wife because we referred to her as Camilla Parker Bowles. I try to explain it was an unfortunate error, the ‘bad Week for’item having been included in haste at the end of the day and not properly checked. I doubt he’ll believe me: people are too attached to conspiracies to believe in cock-ups.
And finally – the best part of working at The Week: deciding with the picture editor which of the luscious entries sent in by estate agents around the country should be included in our Best Properties pages. God, I love property porn.