Friday, February 25, 2011

Prostituting the newspaper industry



If prostution is the oldest career in the world, re-posting is the blogisphere's equivalent. I fear I am drifting into online ho-dom, but at least I'm admitting this is a re-post. And I don't need to because nobody read my posts or commented on them in the winter of 2010. And I'm ashamed to admit I made one post in the whole of February. Forgive me father. I have re-posted.

Newspapers in the 21st Century barely resemble the place I was first introduced to when I worked on my local paper at school.

The Citizen in Gloucester used to be crammed into offices down a narrow Medieval lane. On the upper floor the journalists bashed out copy on bulky typewriters the size of modern photocopiers and chain smoked in murky corners.

Below them the 'inkies' toiled away in a mini print works. By 2 p.m. all the court copy, minor crime and council material had been transformed, by a mysterious process from messy and double typed pieces of paper sprewed from the hukling typewriters into newspapers that rolled out by 3.30 p.m.

I never understood how handing over a piece of toilet paper full of copious xxs and crossings out, could be translated into legible copy.

By 4 p.m. I was on the bus home, clutching a copy, with page 4 prominently displayed in the hope fellow passengers would pick up on my by-line.

It's one of the fallacies of rookie journalists that members of the public actually care who writes a story. In reality you could use the by-line "Adolph Hitler" and few would pick up on it. A couple might pick up on that to be fair, but not Hugh Jass, for example.

By the time I took a journalism diploma the industry was already changing. Although we showed up in Cardiff with our typewriters, which would be left in a drop zone in the middle of the "Woodie" pub during extensive after course drinking sessions, an online newsroom arrived half way through the course.

A heavy night at Cardiff didn't normally involve waking up with a woman you didn't know; more likely a strange typewriter.

Many a dual was fought over a man who woke up with another man's typewriter.

When the course "newsroom" became automated, for a couple of weeks I found it almost impossible to write copy directly onto a computer. I missed those tiny pieces of paper that meant stories were segmented up into their constituent parts. But finally the small blue typewriter was abandoned in favor of new technology.

Some time earlier modern technology had hit the industry like a digita tsunami. In great secrecy media mogul Rupert Murdoch had moved his London papers to a vast East End compound in Wapping, dispensing with hundreds of 'inkies' in the process sparking a virtual siege by the trade unions.

The industry was becoming a lot cleaner and a good deal more clinical.

Still the characters from the old days lingered on.

One of them was Alan Carr, a formidable former sub (or copy) editor on the Daily Mirror, who had been hired to teach on our course.

Carr had a face that was made for East End pubs. Pitted and gaunt with dark eye sockets Carr conjured up images of darts, overflowing ash trays and the collective mutter when the last orders bell was rung.

Carr was the guy you didn't want editing your copy. Except here he was taking home all of our pathetic, fledgling efforts at news.

Unlike the other tutors Alan didn't shield us from the withering intolerance of Fleet Street. Copy was returned with so much red pen on it, it was difficult to read the original words.

If you had "boring, boring, boring" written on your story, you breathed a sigh of relief.

One of my friends had a story on a golf game returned with: "What a load of balls" written on the top.

When the course tutors posed as emergency service works on the end of the phone, the two words: "Fireman Carr" were enough to send the reporter into a fit of paralysis and to leave the conversation without getting details of the fire. Carr would occasionally break from character and burst through the door like Nicholson in The Shining to scream: "Ain't you going to ask about the fire then?"

I knew Carr was losing it to some extent when he presented a lecture on measuring copy with a ruler. I may not be the most techni-savvy reporter, but even I realized you could probably do that on the computer.

Eventually his contract wasn't renewed. Some of the women on the course took exception to Carr. The time when he said they should smoke because everyone in the newsroom would be dragging on a cigarette seemed to be the turning point.

"Smoke, smoke...you've got to fecking smoke, aint ya."

When I started work on a newspaper Carr lived nearby and he would call me occasionally. Although he put the fear of God into people I missed him in a way. He represented the industry back in the days when Britney Spears' fashion faux pars did not a story make.

Carr wouldn't last five minutes in today's politically correct newspaper world. I can imagine him waving his ruler around and yelling: "What the fack is Twitter?"

But in a world when we can spend eight hours lost in the depths of the internet and not talk to any colleagues before we head home, characters are welcome.

And I can still hear his voice now when I write certain things that wouldn't pass the Carr test.

"Emerge. You don't emerge. How does a person emerge into something?"

And if, like me, you have been in newspapers for too long, you begin to wonder if you will ever be able to emerge as a viable member of the human race. Rather I fear that one morning I will look in the mirror and Carr's mocking features will stare back at me.

15 comments:

  1. David- no need for contrition here. So many of us bloggers never go back to look at old posts, it's almost not necessary to disclose your piece as a re-post! But it's the honest thing to do, especially since you could be easily found out. ;)
    Anyway- I'm glad you did re-post. This is a great piece. The school newspaper part brought back memories.
    And your spot on about what's taken for journalism today. Too much coverage of messed up performers. And frankly, too much coverage of news at it's "emerging" without, necessarily, having all the facts.
    Enjoyed this immensely. :)

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  2. I still read my local paper everyday at lunch time at work.

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  3. i think it's okay to re-post, especially if you didn't have many readers at the time it was originally posted. plus, on days of too much busy or too much brain dead, it keeps things from getting too sleepy around your blog.
    i always wanted to work for a newspaper. and you painted such a quaint picture of the olden/golden days of journalism.

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  4. "Huge Jass" AHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    Great post, David. Thanks for making me laugh. :D

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  5. In the three years that I've been blogging I've never reposted once.

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  6. I'm thinking of re-posting a post that I have put in my archives as a draft; and it's all my fault.
    Re-posting it's quite fair I guess.

    Happy weekend!

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  7. There should be required repost days in the blogopshere. The Good, the Bad, the Overlooked, that kind of thing.

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  8. thanks Jayne, glad you liked it, like you say I could have been outed from the archives. Cool Olifield, we need more folks like you. Thanks Sherilin, it has it's moments. Cheers Daisy, oops I meant Hugh. Well good for you Daft Scots Lass; as with this post, I usually aim to rework and change reposted posts a bit. Sure Betty, I look forward to reading it. Yes - a repost requirement quota, Tim.

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  9. I'm really pleased you reposted this too. I found it extremely interesting, not only because of my newspaper experience, but because the world is changing and it is fascinating to see it through the eyes of print journalists.

    One of the main reasons (in my observations) my former newspaper is failing is because the internet was not seen as a useful tool early on. In 2006, the company purchased a $100 million printing press and built a new building for it, rather than work on how to incorporate the internet. Now, five years later, the company is desperately trying to sell the printing press (no one wants it, of course) and they've had eleven major lay offs in the past few years. It's frustrating and so depressing.

    Newspapers need to embrace change, rather than fight it...

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  10. I love, "What a load of balls." That really made me laugh out loud.

    I've been thinking about this if you can believe. Thinking how most of the crap out there is CRAP. Nobody cares if anything is written properly or with an interesting voice or even with the damn facts laid out in a readable fashion. Oh crap I say.

    I wish I knew Carr!

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  11. I'm really glad you re-posted this. There have been a lot of characters at places I have worked who have gone into retirement. I really am beginning to miss people like that as they do make things more interesting.

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  12. Journalism? Where is that today? There is more journalism on the web these days. Even the BBC is so dumbed down and slanted.

    Still that was a great post, a proper rant well put. I think I reposted once but as I repeat myself endlessly it makes no difference, except followers fail tor return....

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  13. I'm so glad you reposted. Thanks for the memories. The news world was changing a lot when I left it and it's changed more now, but we still need guys who know the difference between Brittney Spears and a story.

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  14. Interesting comments Jennifer, it is frustrating. At least my paper embraced the internet but these are quickly changing times. For sure Deborah, there was never a dull moment. Thanks Frog, we do seem to be losing characters. Funny Adullamite and thanks for visiting. thanks joLynne, I think there will always be a need for the skills

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  15. Nice repost...sorry for the delay in getting back...Won't say much except I have come a long way from considering the newspaper as a bible to taking its views with a rock of salt...

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