One of the aims of this website is to write about life as a local newspaper journalist, offering my two penneth on a job that’s often funny, occasionally weird, sometimes frustrating but always memorable.
One thing I can’t tell you about, however, is what goes through the mind of an editor. I worked for five different ones in my time. All had their quirks and bugbears but I really did learn something from them all. But what was life like for them in the ‘big chair’?
Well, one of those five – Jon Buss – decided to reply to my piece on the things that journalists hate to hear by offering his own insight into the things that annoy editors. Now that I’ve finished laughing – and that he’s kindly agreed to let me publish his response – I thought I’d share his insight into life as a local newspaper editor..
Machu Picchu, or as I prefer to call it, f***ing Machu Picchu. What happens is this: a young reporter you have trained-up from an illiterate know-nothing, probably newly-qualified and just beginning to be useful, comes to you with some sob story about needing to go travelling with a boyfriend/girlfriend and requests to take annual leave in one big dollop. They may even ask for an unpaid week on top. Your aching heart melts and you agree. When they come back they resign immediately, joining a rival paper which has contributed nothing to the traitor’s training. They then re-qualify for another batch of leave. That was the plan all along. The editor has been shafted and should justifiably reduce the young turncoat to crying pitifully in the toilets for the remainder of their time with you. And I have.
Having to do non-journalistic jobs. For a while, at my last paper, I was in charge of the bogs. All of them, on each floor, ladies and gents. We had staff in those days. I didn’t personally have to clean the loos but the memo from head office said they were now my “responsibility”. My response was to send a message to the Advertising Manager (female) on the top floor. It said: “Please be advised that due to a particularly unpleasant blockage in Trap 2 of the upstairs ladies lavatory, I will be working in there this afternoon between 2pm-4pm. There is no need for your staff to avoid using the rest of the cubicles as long as they make allowances for my presence.” They didn’t leave the job with me for long.
They believe most things you say. The powers-that-be declared that all newsrooms should have large flat-screen TVs so all staff could see the constant drivel we were putting-up on the web. Ours was on a wall well away from where the editor and subs sat. As the World Cup approached I 1) checked with a tech-savvy photographer that the TV could be wired-up to an aerial and 2) wrote an email to IT telling them the telly HAD to be moved because it was disrupting staff in the features department (we didn’t have one) and was better placed in a part of the office which just happened to be where the grown-ups sat. Two blokes duly arrived to do the job.
Some things the centralised Human Resources departments say matter a little, but most things don’t matter at all. My company issued a list of 20 questions which had to be asked at every job interview. You were then given a grid to mark each response out of five. A copy had to be sent to HR for their approval so they could check the person with the highest score got the job. All that is fine for an accountant or admin role but no use at all for a journalist. I never, ever sent the form off and my favourite two interview questions were always: 1) How many times have you knocked at a door with a barking Alsatian behind it? And 2) Kylie or Dannii?
If you borrow a high-powered air rifle from your managing director, do not try it out late in the evening even if you are the only person in the office. Or at least avoid using a filing cabinet as target practice. I felt the wind as what was left of the pellet rebounded past my face and a few weeks later…..Divisional Managing Director, eyeing the filing cabinet in my David Brent corner office rather nervously: “That looks suspiciously like a bullet hole”. Me (cheerily): “Yes, it does rather doesn’t it….?” DMD: “Is it a bullet hole?”
You can probably get a sense of what it was like working for Jon from all of that. Under his tutelage we had great fun and were encouraged to be bold and brave as reporters. He egged us all on with great wit and a cheeky twinkle in his eye, while sheltering us from any of the ‘management stuff’ that could easily get in the way. He was genuinely great to work for and cleverly coaxed the best out of us all to lift spirits after a dramatic round of staff cuts. So, without swelling his ego too much, it’s a bit of an honour to share his hilarious tales with you and I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.
If you’ve got any tales from the newsroom you want to share, get in touch in the contact box below, I’d love to hear them.