MORNING conference is a far more leisurely affair in these days of one-edition, overnight printing. Instead of the ticking clock, the quick decisions and the mad, adrenalin-fuelled rush toward first edition deadline, there’s now time for careful consideration. And that is not always A Good Thing. Well certainly not for the Nervous Nigels – the name under which our ever-changing News Editors go.
At a basic level, News Editors are simply salespeople. They have a commodity – news – which they want me to buy. Then we can all go home happy. Unfortunately I can be a demanding customer, particularly if I think that the product they are selling isn’t up to scratch.
Today’s Nervous Nigel is young, keen and comparatively new. He has also made the big mistake of thinking he is cleverer than me. He knows that the story at the top of his list is short of facts and quotes, so he’s buried his front page banker in second spot, even though it is equally flimsy. And so the game begins.
I open with a few desultory questions about story one, quickly establishing that it’s a bag of shite that isn’t fit to grace the pages of a parish magazine. Nervous Nigel is magnanimous in defeat and swiftly moves on to story two.
Poker players call it The Tell – the giveaway fidget that means their opponent is bluffing and, like poker players, editors and chief subs need to learn the signs that a story is not all it seems to be. Some Nervous Nigels won’t look you in the eye when they’re spinning you a line. Others shuffle their papers, erupt in nervous coughs or start to blush. One chap – now a regional newspaper editor – could never get away with anything because the minute he strayed from the absolute truth his ears would turn bright red. He may as well have had a flashing neon sign reading ‘Liar’ attached to his head.
Today’s Nervous Nigel is a blinker. As soon as I start asking difficult questions, he starts winking and twitching like an electrocuted epileptic. Quotes don’t stand up, assumptions abound, basic facts are missing and no, actually we haven’t yet got the picture. So I give the smartarse a grade three kicking, leaving him just this side of tears.
We rip through the rest of his list, salvaging a Page 5 lead, and I send him away to come up with something completely new that’s worthy of the front. On the way out of my office he glances up at the clock on the wall. It’s ticking again. The adrenalin is pumping. Happy days.
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