Real life features are written chronologically: that is, they start at the marriage proposal and end as the couple are reunited after being jailed for trashing a hotel room on their honeymoon. With this in mind, I will keep this blog chronological.
Like most national hacks, I started out on a weekly newspaper. No dark arts there, no pressure to get exclusives and no blagging, you could think. You’d be wrong.
My first editor thought he was Kelvin MacKenzie. The readership of his newspaper was in the low thousands, if that, but he would throw phones, scream across the office and spike your splash if he was in a bad mood with you. At my interview he appeared charming, throwing my CV in the air on recognising my qualifications and personal knowledge of the local area.
I soon knew the pressure was on to impress him, not to get the news on your patch. If you got on the wrong side of him then even the best story would be spiked: on my first day I saw two reporters reduced to tears at their desks. So began my understanding of modern, money-making journalism.
I worked in a district office in a small town. Old, yellowing newspapers were piled up against walls; moving them would disturb entire eco-systems. I climbed over discarded typewriters to get to the toilet and my window looked out over a chemist’s car park. Any ideas I had of the glamour of being a reporter were soon dashed. Lois Lane didn’t hold her office window open with a plank of wood.
One of my earliest exclusives gave me a real insight into how news worked – and how I was willing to behave to ensure I got the story and silenced the editor. A local football club had burned down in an arson attack. I called them offering my heartfelt sympathy, sharing my outrage at the behaviour of local youths, vowing to help them raise money to rebuild the club from the ashes if they spoke exclusively to me. The call ended, I put the phone down, cheered and punched the air. Job losses, a closed-down community facility and some seriously sad footballers meant little to me, all that mattered was I had the story, stopped our rival newspaper from getting it and so avoided the wrath of my editor.
He said I was “like a rat up a drainpipe” and I felt thrilled at pleasing him; more thrilled than I ever felt if my parents expressed pride.
So, my first few days of in journalism taught me that I was writing for my editor, I was in brutal competition with other reporters and a rat’s ability to get up a drainpipe is to be admired.
I was already on my way to getting my patch’s best, quirkiest and most ridiculous exclusives and soon managed to impress my editor enough to get a pay rise …
Amount of money I have: £95
What I would buy: A microwave because mine smells like it’s about to explode
Number of jobs I’ve applied for: 3
Number of CSI episodes I have watched: 5