Letters of the week 18.11.05

Yes, those were the days From: Norman Luck Subject: Old hacks I was
employed on the Daily Express for 32 years as: a reporter, foreign
“fireman” working in more than 40 countries and latterly editor of the
special investigations department, before taking a five-figure
severance deal in 1996.

As a veteran “hack” and life member of
the NUJ, may I take issue with the young regional journalist who set
out to ridicule life in Fleet Street 30 to 40 years ago? He has a lot
to learn and would be envious of the memories I have of life as a
journalist from the moment I left school at 16 to the day I left at 56
– with welldeserved fat wedge in the bank to show for my lifetime

He makes graphic reference to rose bushes. Using his
chosen vernacular, we all know what these voracious plants produce when
inadvertently stumbled upon – a slight lesion under the skin described
as a pr**k – and if I do wear one as a head adornment, he has certainly
collided with mine.

His rantings demonstrate a total naivety and
gross ignorance of fact – a facet of his career which I suggest he
rectifies before he is let loose on the great British public.

grew up in the ranks of the Daily Express – the Manchester United of
Fleet Street where reporters were handpicked for talent and the
circulation was FOUR MILLION PLUS! They were exciting days with huge
budgets for foreign travel – times when you left home in the morning
and did not know which country you would be in that night.

In the
days before “new technology”, reporters were reporters and not rewrite
men. We went out of the office to find and research the news and work
out the best way of getting the revelations back to the office before
stringent deadlines.

In the modern newsroom are row upon row of
computer screens manned by spotty young men and women honing the words
of others received via agency, handouts and other electronic means.

reporters rarely leave the office for major assignments because
proprietors can now pocket the £5,000-£10,000 spent in the past on
sending a reporter/ photographer abroad in favour of employing local
eyewitnesses by phone or receiving email accounts.

Norman Luck
Reporter of the Year 1982 for world scoop on Michael Fagan Anonymity
might be best From: Revel Barker Subject: The way it is now ● 9.30am:
Arrive at office with large latte and bottle of mineral water.

Spend morning typing own name on top of PA copy and press releases.

● Noon: Retrieve salad from (otherwise empty) briefcase.

● 1pm: Report to news editor that two “old hacks” have sneaked out to the pub, again.

● 2pm: Meet at espresso machine to compare earrings with other “journo” guys.

3pm: Intercept “old hack” on his way to the Smoking Room and ask him
for phone numbers of his contacts. You’d love to have numbers for
Buckingham Palace and Downing Street in your BlackBerry, when you buy

● 4pm: Newsdesk assigns you a story (to be done over the
phone)n so you ask an “old hack” whether he knows a number for Scotland
Yard. When he asks whether you need anybody in particular, you tell him
you mean the Press Bureau.

● 5pm: Stare blankly at “old hack”

reading the screen over your shoulder, tells you how to spell
Messerschmitt, and that things do not “rise up”, they merely rise.

5.30pm: Read this morning’s edition of (your own) paper. Cut out your
PA rewrites of yesterday from the file copies to show your Mum when you
get home.

● 6pm: Go home.

● 7.30pm: Meet your “old” college pals in trendy wine bar and talk at length about your romantic life as “a journalist”.

9pm: Watch TV documentary based on 30-year-old cuttings and wonder how
on earth they did all that research, but don’t care, really.

● And so to bed.

Ah, that’s the way to do it.

As for “a regional journalist who wishes to remain anonymous”… he almost certainly will.

the grumpy old men happy From: Steve Wood Subject: Red Socked Twats I
have been a fan of the Grey Cardigan (and resolved to maintain my Press
Gazette subscription) since I read his 7 October comment about the
tyranny of RSTs – the Red Socked Twats among national newspaper
designers. I recall that among the higher ranks of these types, the
socks tended to be complemented by red braces.

As a lifelong sub
and sometime picture editor who moved via a picture desk to one of the
early editorial art desks, I must have been among the first to mutter
“Look at the emperor – he’s naked” when highly paid art directors and
art editors began to exercise their power from comfy offices. “Work out
there on the editorial floor? Me? An artiste du crayon among people
with O Levels in English language? My dear, some of them use Helvetica!”

All you got for the temerity of questioning a setting measure was a dismissive suggestion that you go back below stairs.

is astonishing how these people and their retinue of illiterate
easelpilots achieved such power and gulled editors into believing that
presentation was more important than content.

How many thousands
of man-hours did they waste filling in all the letters in traced-out
headlines when all the chief sub needed was space for three lines of 72
across four?

I remember one of these wankers declaring that our
layouts would be “…alternating layers of light and dark chocolate,
oozing through a Venetian blind”. Talk about pass the sickbag.

extraordinary thing is that the firm establishment of the Apple/
QuarkXPress system has failed, on most titles, to restore design
control to the people who should have it – Cardigan’s “genuine
newspapermen who have a natural talent for typography and shape”. The
great editors realised that a sub-editor with design ability could be
more valuable than an “artist” with apostrophobia and lower-case

Yes, there is a role for art desks, but it is not to act as enforcers for nancyboys and mad women.

news that Piers Morgan has grabbed Press Gazette. Please take the
applause of thousands who were becoming tired of the mag’s increasingly
prissy content and presentation. Cardigan’s column is the best read for
us grumpy old men.

Minutes after ripping off the poly wrapper,
the house echoes to shouts of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” like a home secretary
humping an American publishing executive.

Yes, it’s all about
content. Perhaps Grey Cardigan should take over PG’s design and
subbing… Steve Wood Wild Oaks Upper Hartfield East Sussex Need for ABC
registration is unfair From: Lord Kilclooney Subject: ABC registered
titles in Northern Ireland Following the Press Gazette report (23
September) that the County Down Spectator and Newtownards Spectator had
been excluded by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, David Alexander, MD
of Spectator Newspapers, confirmed in a letter to Press Gazette (11
November) that the County Down Spectator is an ABC registered title.

course, Press Gazette was almost correct, because Spectator titles were
not listed in the latest ABC figures for the period ended 30 June 2005.

Newspapers only submits figures once a year rather than every six
months. This is a practice that all weekly papers could follow to
reduce costs, as it is approved by the ABC.

Irrespective of
Spectator Newspapers, the fact remains that the majority of weekly
titles in Northern Ireland are non-ABC registered and so it would be
unfair for the Government to decide that ABC registration must be a
requirement to qualify for Government advertising.

No monopoly should be created.

There should be a choice. In the Republic of Ireland, either ABC or Readeship Survey are an accepted standard.

Kilclooney Member of NI Assembly for Strangford List omitted a giant of
journalism From: Alistair Syme Subject: Sir Henry Morton Stanley David
Randall’s article “Why can’t we produce more greats like these?” was
certainly thought-provoking, as all such “greatest” lists are, and he
made some valid points about the training of journalists (Press
Gazette, 11 November).

Perhaps it might have helped to bridge the
transatlantic divide if his 10 greatest reporters (there were actually
13, so what happened to checking?)n had included Sir Henry Morton

Born illegitimate as John Rowlands in Denbigh, North
Wales, he ran away to sea and wound up as the star overseas reporter
for James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald, covering the Abyssinian War
and sending news of victory to the US papers a whole day before the
battle was reportet in London.

He was working for the Herald when
he famously found Dr David Livingstone and for the Herald and The Daily
Telegraph when he followed the River Congo from its source to the sea.

was a giant of the Victorian Age – an era not exactly short of giants –
and a bigger name than any of David Randall’s top 13.

Syme editor Denbighshire Free Press The real price of recognition From:
Derek Bellis Subject: Fame deferred I was flattered to receive a letter
saying my small freelance agency had been “identified as an
organisation to be considered for an accolade at the Daily Post
Achievement Wales Awards 2005″.

However, when I was invited to
complete an application form, I was put off by the emphasis on the
“summary of financial achievements”.

I was bound to explain that
newspaper freelance news journalism was rare in commerce in that the
customer, not the writer, normally fixed the fee.

Satisfaction, rather than financial reward, had to be the motivation because some fees had not risen in a decade.

spared the feelings of the sponsors by not pointing out that their own
page-lead rate has stayed at £15 (yes, £15!) for at least 10 years.

Should I have been surprised when I later received a letter saying I had not been nominated for an award “on this occasion”?

However, I’ve received an invitation to the gala dinner at Bangor University.

I could sit with the great and the good at £75 (plus VAT) per seat. And I could even book an entire table.

I’m not going. It would need more than a page lead in the Daily Post even to reach the starter!

good to know that Trinity backs awards to “ambassadors for business in
Wales”. If the Welsh Globe succeeds, perhaps it will be among next
year’s recipients, despite Trinity’s reported mission to ensure that it
“ceases publication in the shortest possible time”.

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