8am: SHIT! The bloody hands-free mobile’s pinged under the passenger seat again. “It’s okay Tel,” I tell myself, “50 years from now I’ll be dead, so mobiles won’t matter then”. Ah, red light. Got it.
“Hello, Western Daily Press newsdesk.”
“Hi Ellie, editor here. Any horrors? Am I being sued by the cross-dressing vicar? Any death threats over the price increase? Anybody not coming in because their third cousin twice removed has got a headache?”
“No Terry,” answers news editor Ellie Campbell, “but you won’t like this. George thinks there’s a cock-up on the crossword.” Oh no, I can feel my blood pressure rise. I give myself marks out of 10 every day, and this one’s started with minus one.
George Frew, features editor. What a gutsy, talented star. Fighting terminal lung cancer, on his fourth bout of chemo, and still at his desk every day.
8.30am: Find George in the smoking room… but that’s George. Cary Grant is the main celebrity legend profile for Saturday’s West Weekend section. I want it pitched on the star’s undying love for his mother, who was once in a Bristol workhouse for the poor.
8.45am: Talk to newsdesk about the day; go through the newspapers; skim through the readers’ letters; autopsy on this morning’s paper… pages four and five have headline clash.
11am: Conference. Twelve execs attend, every section of the day’s “book” is discussed. From Blair’s stance on Iraq to a miner who removed his dead father’s tattooed skin and framed it to hang over the fireplace. Usual suspect yawns. Days are numbered. This is not a bloody Round Table meeting, it’s a business. We are either all on this journey together or we are not!
12.20pm: Mark up the “book”. Pages today, 64. The book is a completely empty, tabloid-size dummy which sits on the lectern, affectionately named The Bridge, a hallowed spot between newsdesk and the backbench. I draw in what subjects I want for spread-overs, page leads and picture do-ups.
Mark up break-outs, comment and analyses, inside blurbs and tops. Slowly the paper is building. Newsdesk and back bench work to lay down and pages begin to be drawn on screen, proofed and pasted in the book as reporters work on breakouts, fact files and breaking news. By the end of the night, completed pages will be in… everyone must look at it, from journalists to messengers. This is our pride and our wage packet!
2.30pm: Work on backbench, rejecting copy, rewriting intros and moving stories in consultation with reporters’ guru, associate editor Peter O’Reilly, choosing colour washes with execs David “Deep Frown” Webb and Dave “Creased Shirts” Edler. Deputy editor Chris Cowley, professor of the Tera System and Robert Redford lookalike in his heyday, sweeps up behind me.
7pm: Futures conference for Friday and Saturday sections and our award-winning magazine. We need to be an award winner again.
8.30pm: Home, after receiving mobile call on breaking Matthew Kelly sex-case arrest. Two cans of Foster’s Export (or was it three?), while waiting for Carol to finish watching Changing Rooms and Home Front on UK Style in the lounge.
9pm: All news and feature pages start to drop from the fax in the hall.
9.30pm: Damn. Ink jet has run out… so has the Fosters. Ten blank pages lie on the floor and more keep coming. Get them sent again. Revise bad-fitting headlines.
10pm: News at Ten … Newsnight. Check calls to desk, making sure everything is covered and find out what the nationals have. Have idea for asylum-seekers spread for the next day.
11.45: Don’t remember.
SPLASH: “TV STAR MATTHEW HELD IN SEX QUIZ.” (Rammed three pars in the first, went up for the next three editions.)
9.30am: Board meeting. Outline plans to drive Western Daily Press even harder over the next three months… promotions, sections, TV coverage, more expansion of unique blend of national and regional news. (Can’t say any more or the Western Morning News in Plymouth may nick my ideas.)
1pm: Get conference brief on sport, features and news. Dislike the new showbiz column ordered from the National Enquirer, reject three items on so-called celebs. Never heard of them.
They send new one… Warren Beatty apparently has background checks on people coming to his home. It took him two days to find out about a plumber before letting him fix a water leak. His £20,000 carpet was ruined. More like it. Go through the lay down of the book to check change of pace… Nothing worse than a rat-a-tat-tat of single pages, which so many provincial newspapers do.
2.30pm: Features meeting. Culture, homes and gardens and West Woman sections to be freshened. Autopsy on headlines, captions, intros and middle class, intelligent, fun coverage.
3pm: Six of us stand looking at the picture of murdered Special Branch officer Stephen Oake’s father. His head was bowed and he sobbed into his handkerchief at the spot where his son died. Heartbreaking, Stephen’s mother too… and then the words of Stephen’s daughter’s card: “To my daddy, I cannot begin to understand the reason of your death. I will always miss you and love you so very much. Loads of kisses. Becki.” Move Becki’s heartache into pages one and three.
3.30pm to 6pm: Same as every other day. Only the stories change… along with the praise and bollockings. (Drive home the motto… every page is page one, everyone on this journey with me will be rewarded. The Western Daily will be the newspaper every good journalist in Britain will want to work for. We will beat the Yorkshire Post this year for Regional Newspaper of the Year award.)
6.30pm: Some mirth on the back bench. Production editor Chris Dowler (former trainee exorcist for the Catholic church) refuses to go for his usual Guinness break because of stalker concern… an elderly gentlemen who appears to keep “brushing” by him on his way to the toilet through the Punchbowl pub bar.
7pm: Picture rolls in of woman police officer hugging machine gun on the streets of Bristol in the glistening rain. Change up. Stephen’s father moves to page one blurb.
8.30pm: Home. (Evening the same as always: Foster’s, faxes, etc… but no Changing Rooms, phew!).
SPLASH: “GUN LAW COMES TO WEST STREETS.”
Off stone 9pm for Saturday paper. Could be nightmare. The faster we go, the greater the danger of literals and other cock-ups. You can produce the best newspaper in the world and the wrong caption on a picture of Cary Grant with a co-star will alienate a reader and leave us all crestfallen. Western Daily Press readers seem to check everything.
8.30am: Only the stories change.
11am: Conference. We’re two-thirds of the way down the list.
Ellie: “Now, you won’t believe this.”
Ed: “What now news ed? West to be hit by killer wave? Hottest day for the last 150 years?”
Ellie gives her famous Mona Lisa smile: “You may have thought rock’n’roll started with Bill Hayley in the Fifties, but no. The first rock band was born in 1883 with the Till Family from Somerset, who apparently wowed fans from London to New York on their stone xylophones and harps.”
Ellie always likes to throw in a musical story. Fun though. Picture editor and “Mac Trickster” John Mills puts his head in his hands. He knows what’s coming. Not easy to find Victorian snaps.
12.25pm: Mark up the book. Onwards and upwards. Same as always… every page is page one.
SPLASH: “PEACE HOPES IN FIRE STRIKE.”
Light is pouring through the bedroom window and there’s a deep pain in my chest. My 14-month-old Boxer puppy is standing on it waiting for his Saturday walk.
10am: Pick up newspaper from my newsagent. No customer anger about price rise. Oh no. Seven-column colour picture of dolphins off the west coast noses off on leopard in small inset. Take Boxer on the Clifton Downs for large intake of fresh air.
Home, building cupboard I have been building for five weeks. Take 12 calls from newsroom. Pub with wife. Back for faxes.
SPLASH: “COUNTRY HOTELS FOR TERRORISTS.”
Same. Only the stories change.
8.30am: Check the overnight picture file in newsroom. Celebrity pictures fail my “no nipple” rules. No gratuitous sex. Leave that to three-in-a-bed “redtops”.
Hosting lunch at the House of Commons for 20 South West MPs with chief executive Alan Goode. Taking associate editor Peter O’Reilly to regale us with tales of his South African days. (Has he really got £2m frozen in a bank account there?)
9.10am: British Rail breakfast train to Paddington has one bacon roll to share between seven of us, irritating beefy Evening Post editor Mike Lowe, wearing his best, shiny Burton’s pin-stripe suit.
5pm: Run through newspaper over mobile from train. Decide to go up on barmy Brussels bureaucrats taking the word island away from our vocabulary.
SPLASH: “EU MUST BE JOKING!”
Here we go again.