The Grey Cardigan: 10 November 2006

Having just this evening stepped off the plane from Paris (a comfortable afternoon arrival time home ruined by a bit of fog and the Seventh Circle of Hell that is check-in at Charles de Gaulle) I sit at my computer about to write a column for what might well already be a non-existent publication.

My phone calls go unanswered, the editor of this mighty organ presumably — and understandably — by now asleep under a table at the Society of Editors' Conference in Glasgow. And who can blame him?

It's a curious position to be in. Mine, not the editor's. Maybe I shouldn't bother; I should just get back downstairs and start catch-up with The Sopranos on Sky+, even if midnight does approach. But I've never missed a deadline yet and I can't bring myself to miss this one — even if it doesn't exist.

With the end possibly in sight, I suppose I now have time to ponder the importance of Press Gazette to the industry; or, more importantly, to the men and women who still love the great game that drags us from our beds through the torment of the two-bottle hangover just to see if we can fashion a heading that would make the man on the Clapham omnibus nod and smile.

I'm not sure that the gilded beasts of what was once Fleet Street wholly understand the role that Press Gazette — or UKPG to give it its Sunday name — plays out in the sticks. When you're subbing shite on the Bacup Bugle for £12K a year, and you put together a beautifully designed spread of the annual Darkie Burning ceremony only to have some fool of a recalcitrant editor dismiss it as too clever by half, where do you go to regroup?

Simple — you take refuge in the pages of Press Gazette. There we are all equal: the whining national editor and the underpaid weekly sub. It's a badge of belonging. Once you have a copy in your hand you become part of that brotherhood that bonds all journalists together.

In my day, once you got to be chief sub you were accorded a free company subscription to Press Gazette — along with the luxury of that third lunchtime pint and first dibs on the tea trolley teacakes. Once you'd digested your copy (and cut out all the interesting jobs) you'd pass it down the line. By Thursday it might have reached Sport, where the slack-jawed wastrels would gaze in awe at exotic opportunities in Bermuda and Dubai before returning to subbing the local darts league tables.

OK, admittedly these days the jobs ads have migrated to HoldTheFrontPage — a disaster of the previous management's own making once some idiot decided that £1,000 for a quarter page was a sensible rate. (Incidentally, is it only me who thinks that Mr Rusbridger was being disingenuous when he suggested that Press Gazette need only exist online when his own tree-killing Guardian Media supplement clocked in at 26 newsprint pages this week?)

But herein still lies the information, the news and the gossip: the latest NUJ ammo to help you give management a hard time; the latest revolutionary newsroom layout that has us old hands nodding sagely while muttering about Westminster Press pods; the splendid Schadenfreude of other people's cock-ups; and the glorious, guttersnipe gossip, illustrating the fact that you might be on half a million a year and enjoy audiences at Number 10, but if you screw up in public then Dog, or its modern-day alter ego, will be there to chew your leg off.

So is it too idealistic to think that the industry itself might want to preserve this social glue? Who knows? If it has any respect for history and tradition then it certainly should. Alas, these are not good times for speculative investment, however trifling in the grand scale of things.

Still, let us hope that enough important people recognise the significance of this publication, or this column will, astonishingly, have failed to outlive the latest marriage of Liz-fucking-Jones. Quite remarkable.

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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