Friday, February 02, 2007

Of wigs and pens

Lawyers and journalists have always been good bedfellows. Andrew Grant-Adamson and Martin Stabe were quick to spot the words of wisdom in the recent Slate posting, Bartiromo Innuendo, which highlights the value of lawyers who help get difficult issues into print, rather than keeping them out.

Slate's Jack Shafer's starts his piece by pointing out that “a well-lawyered newspaper distinguishes itself by the way it writes around something".

There's nothing worse for a reporter than knowing something but not being able to say it. I spent many days and weeks in the late seventies and early eighties attending legal seminars by the likes of the NCTJ listening to zillion-pounds-an-hour barristers telling us how papers have been taken to the cleaners for asking why some junior minister was spotted in Shepherd Market late at night, alone.

One of the best proponents of the "write around" skill was not a lawyer, however, it was the late Roy East, the former People investigator who helped shape my early career in the westcountry where we worked on a tabloid hell-bent on exposing misdeeds on the moors.

Many a time I'd take my piece to his study and say, "I know Henry Wotnot gay, everyone knows he's gay but he's not admitting it." Roy would roll in a new sheet of A4 and begin: BACHELOR Henry Wotnot . . . new par . . . Mr Wotnot, who shares a two-bed flat with his schoolfriend Mr . . .

Years later, I recalled his advice when writing about black magic orgies in a block of flats owned by a former mayor who was refusing to be drawn on the subject. I began the third par. Alderman Wotsit may be surpised to learn . . .

Not sure that in our thirst for quick and easy news, we do enough of that these days.

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