I think a neighbour’s cat has left half a mouse at my front door: word of my poverty is spreading. I fear what the local toms will do on realising how bored I am and I wonder how one tells a cat your tree-climbing days are behind you.
I’ve a week ahead with absolutely nothing to do. This used to be a dangerous situation to be in. Nothing to do meant no stories, nothing to do meant an angry editor, nothing to do meant attending the editorial meeting with no ideas: nothing to do could mean being out on your ear for, well, have nothing to do.
I wonder if this is what led reporters on the Billericay Gazette to write an unpleasant story attacking a respectable teacher for her personal social networking comments. The story is about a celebrated teacher who swore on Twitter, with comments like, “How easily I slip into the default mode of lazy slut.” I find her comments particularly unshocking as I sit here, in a HP sauce-stained T-shirt and jogging bottoms, with a brew, a bacon butty and no plans.
The teacher didn’t swear at pupils or parents but in personal comments to friends as many of us do on a daily basis without expecting to make the news. [Post edited due to correction – and bit of an insult – from the newspaper in question.]
I began to wonder about the “worst” thing I’d done as an eager and brutal young hack. I will say again that we often write for our editors, we do things to keep our jobs, to stop being bullied but perhaps this seems lame: especially as Murdoch pays out a few million for seemingly routinely hacked phones.
I don’t think my lowest ebb was the standard taking of family photo albums to ensure no one else could have them, or the casual fibs that one could keep the harder hacks at bay if trusted as the only reporter to cover the story, or even occasionally making things up.
Perhaps it was being chased from a hospital, having snuck into the chapel to interview nurses grieving over the tragic death of a colleague. With only a few generic quotes about how much she’d be missed me and the photographer had grown desperate but soon found ourselves shame-faced and mortified, sitting silently in the car. Mind you, we were still wondering where to get the story.
Perhaps it was traipsing village streets to get someone, anyone, to talk to me about the tragic death of a schoolboy. I’d already checked the estate agent window to put a price on his parents’ house, had a few comments from neighbours using the words “kept themselves to themselves” and could describe the view from the school gates. I needed more.
When I spotted the local church I thought a quote from the priest would be perfect and easy to get. I’d not heard the reporters gathered in the pub mention anything about him so also thought I could have an exclusive quote. If I was really lucky this lad was in the choir and there’ be pictures too.
I walked up the path, as solemnly as one can when excited about getting a great quote and matching photos, and knocked on his door. I waited. I could see movement behind the stained glass window; a shuffling, a shooing and then footsteps towards the door.
“Hello I’m a reporter, I wanted to talk to you abou- ”
Before I could finish my sentence the priest had whistled, mumbled something, then stepped aside while his dog ran down the hall towards me. I span and fled, hack mac flying behind me, back down the path towards the gate. I’ve never been athletic but managed to outrun the mutt. In fact, when I turned around it was a mutt and not the Rottweiler I’d been picturing. I was shamed-faced and humiliated again but now had a long walk back to the car.
As ambition waned and wisdom grew, I calmed down: most hacks do. They start to stand up to bullying editors, realising the boss knew they had an ice-cube in Hell’s chance of getting the story in the first place. It takes confidence, professionalism, experience and a genuine understanding of journalism to stand up to editors – some of whom lack all these qualities. Trainees aren’t always getting the confidence-boost they need from adequate training these days – they even go unpaid on internships. So long as journalists work in fear they will produce tacky journalism to please tacky editors and proprietors.
Then, if they’re really unlucky, they find themselves unemployed and on the scrapheap watching the news, wishing they were in the middle of the action instead of on the settee with another brew in hand.
They find themselves reminiscing – and wondering if the Dean of St Paul’s has a dog.
Amount of money I have: £2.25 till tomorrow
Other money I have: I found 25 Euros, $10 and some obscure foreign currency
Job applications to be completed this week, so far: 2