As you can probably imagine, being a journalist isn’t always a barrel of laughs. Even now there are some sentences that give me a shudder and make me re-live some of the parts of the job I used to dread – and not necessarily because they were horrible or sad.
I can’t think it was just me either. Here are seven things that I think a fair few journalists would agree that they’d hate to hear:
- That man is in reception for you again. Every journalist has encountered that one person who just won’t leave them alone. The call from reception to let you know they’re back and have asked for you is enough to make your heart sink. They’d almost always have some spurious grievance with the council, government or – worst of all – a neighbour and be trying to use you to aid their cause. They also almost always make little or no sense when they spoke, probably stink and keep coming in with more ‘paperwork’ to prove themselves. You shouldn’t want to discourage people from coming to you, clearly, but there’s always at least one nutter you could do without.
- It’s A-Level results next week. If you’re a local journalist and you’d not booked this and/or GCSE week off then you’d made a big mistake. It was a nightmare trying to tour around schools and interview star achievers – some who had spectacularly managed to obtain great grades despite seemingly being unable to string a sentence together. Still, the pupils were nothing compared to the rude head teachers (although, I have to say, with several notable exceptions in my case). Worst of all, though, was the need to input and check the result of every single child in the patch – which was something we did when I was first a reporter. It made sense to get as many names in the paper as possible to a flog a few more copies, but it was a nightmare task that made you go boss-eyed.
- We want you to do something funny for April Fools’ Day. April 1 makes me cringe every year. Newspapers across the land – and now many brands too – feel the need to try to prank their readers/customers with a series of normally unfunny spoofs. As a journalist, these things hardly ever end up actually being funny because your remit is to ‘play safe’ and not offend any of your readers and advertisers. As a result, you waste your time on nonsense that fools precisely no-one.
- I like what you’ve done, but maybe we can do it another time? “You know that feature that you’ve spent weeks getting together? All those interviews that you struggled to arrange? The background pieces that were tough to research? Yeah, sorry, but we’re not running them.” Whether it’s a lack of space or a fear of upsetting someone, when your work gets parked for ‘another time’ then it’s never going to see the light of day. Not even as a nib.
- Could you ring them back and double check? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your newsdesk, sub or editor (or all three) don’t believe what you’ve written. You can have the most immaculate notes possible (not likely with my messy scrawl, granted) or total recall of what someone said but there are times when you’ll be made to call back and check a fact. You feel silly and the conversation is awkward but it’s a necessary evil.
- We’re going to have a wrap. Every journalist hates a ‘wrap’ – an advertising wraparound that encases the paper in garish marketing material. These would normally come in a week in which you’d worked hard on a cracking front page story that would now be lost behind some guff that no-one wants to look at. A lot of readers (and defiant reporters) used to rip them off anyway – defeating the point for the company that paid for it.
- Don’t bother sitting down. You knew you were either in for a rollicking or a rough assignment – or both – if you weren’t even allowed to get to your computer in the morning.
Those are seven that spring to mind from my experience, although it’s by no means exhaustive and I’m sure there are more. Let me know the words that bring you out in a cold sweat in the comments below…