In the aftermath of the National Enquirer debacle, is working across ‘the Pond’ all it’s cracked up to be? Colin Crummy finds out from some who know
IF RECENT news from the US is anything to go by, America has had it with British journalists.
Management at the National Enquirer has sacked Paul Field and most of the British staff hired under his editorship are moving on. Felix Dennis is, according to rumours circulating in New York, about to abandon his magazine empire there. But as some are departing, others have moved in: last year’s big splashes included Richard Desmond’s OK! launch and London-based Big Pictures photo agency opening an LA office.
America is still, then, an attractive proposition for British employers and working for a UK media concern is probably the most advisable way of getting established in the US. Your eligibility for a work permit will most likely be based on your particular employment and your employer will have to complete a standard labour certification request.
A green card, for permanent residence, can take several years to obtain. You may need to organise your own work permit if you aren’t authorised to work for a specific employer.
When it comes to working in American newsrooms, British journalists have found distinct cultural differences. Annette Witheridge arrived in New York as a News of the World reporter and noticed that her use of shorthand was considered a "novelty", as the skill isn’t included on most journalism courses in the US. She also says that reporters don’t clean up quotes as they would in the UK; and sub-editors "don’t really exist".
"They’re called copy editors and seem to concentrate on headlines, which explains how confused, badly written stories constantly appear in the US papers," she says.
Fact checking is routine in US news offices — and after New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was discovered to have concocted countrywide stories from his Brooklyn apartment, it’s no surprise to discover that this is even more rigorous.
Tanith Carey, who started as US editor for the Daily Mirror, says it’s the biggest adjustment she had to make when entering the American workplace.
"The amount of checking and re-checking of stories that goes on to make sure every single fact is 100 per cent accurate is something they take that very, very seriously on US publications," she says. In magazines it’s not unusual for reporters to file full transcripts with complete sourcing, which story editors then write up and research departments check.
Witheridge, who set up Big Apple News with the Mirror’s long-time New York correspondent, Allan Hall, says that British journalists are often amazed at how interested Americans are in them, as much as the story itself.
"Making the news is an occupational hazard in the States. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read articles in provincial papers about the ‘international interest’
in their area. That’s American journalese for a pack of British hacks waving chequebooks. You have to be really careful — otherwise you’ll find yourself quoted in the local ‘bugle’ alongside a grainy photo they snatched when you weren’t looking."
Carey says her experience on publications such as Star magazine and the National Enquirer taught her that American journalism isn’t just Sex and the City’s Carrie trotting out a 1,000 word piece while dressed in a tutu.
"I imagined fleets of Sarah Jessica Parker lookalikes tottering round in Manolos," she says.
"In fact, the dress code is much more laid back. As a woman, you look overdressed in a skirt and a jacket."
Also, if you think you can impress with your Englishman in New York turn, forget it. "Everyone in the UK is impressed you are working in New York.
No one in NY is remotely impressed you are British.
There are too many of us for it to be considered a novelty," Carey adds.
A move abroad can be an unsettling business and Witheridge says American bureaucracy is legendary.
"America loves red tape. Try renting an apartment without a bank account or social security number. It took months for me to obtain both. When it came to finding somewhere to live, I had to empty out my savings to put down a three-month security deposit, rather than the usual month," she says.
Carey agrees that the major challenge in big US cities like New York is the rental market. "As a newcomer you are seen as fresh meat by landlords and brokers, who charge crippling fees just to find you somewhere to live. They show absolutely no mercy."
There are compensations for working in the States. "It’s the charisma of the place — and actually living there rather than just visiting," says Carey. "It’s going out onto the street every morning and being hit in the face with the feeling of ‘Wow, I actually live in the coolest city on Earth’. It sounds corny, but that euphoria never wears off, no matter how long you are there."