Monday, April 23, 2007

Union hijack

Just when some of you may have thought it was safe to go back into the dear old NUJ . . .

Words fail me. They do. They really do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy birthday NUJ

One hundred and still going strong. I haven't been to a party since your daft letter of condolence to Colonel Gadaffi for bombing his country.

But fun memories nonetheless. Here are my best bits:

1973: As a cub reporter showing my face at the payroll-style window in Acorn House every Tuesday morning to pick up the list of jobs they compiled for those of us on the move.

. . . then disappearing across the road to the Lucas Arms and ringing everyone on the list with my Morris Minor van parked with a full tank outside. Got my first senior job that way.

1979: As a senior reporter attending my first branch meeting in St Albans, a city with (then) a massive weekly, a huge evening, two freesheets and a couple of agencies.

. . . then wondering why only three people turned up and arguing with Ms Millitant over why I wasn't going to join a lineage pool. Left in a huff, got up early and flogged the page three lead to the Daily Star.

1983: As an editor hiring my best mate to run a district office in Biggleswade and persuading him to come over for a chapel meeting "to meet the gang".

. . . then having him emerge a few hours later as FOC and taking me to task for allegedly capping expenses. W***er

1985: As a downtable sub joining Eddy Shah's non-union Today and, a year on and under new management, trudging a mile through Pimlico's back streets to a recruitment-drive chapel meeting.

. . . then joining the steady flow of colleagues back out again, calling it to an early close and complaining they'd left the Mail/Express/Mirror "to get away from all this". Felt ill. First time I'd heard of RSI.

1992: As a chief sub, working through night with a handful of execs during the Montgomery Mirror dispute while all the casuals picketed the front door.

. . . then telling a rookie shipped in from a local paper to f*** off when he tried to book future shifts "if your mates don't get back in". Came out of it unscathed but was attacked for handing out first editions to Monty's security guards at 2am. Blimey. Wasn't their fault.

2000: As a publisher, popping up to Acorn House for the first time in 27 years to discuss the fate of the staff I'd reluctantly had to send home when the company closed.

. . . then, over a brew and a biscuit, sitting down with sensible grown-up people for a grown-up chat knowing we were pulling together for the sake of our pals/staff/members. Briefly, thought of rejoining.

Conclusion 1: As a reporter/sub, I wasn't keen on being part of the collective bargaining system and soon tired of local paper chapel meetings. In the 70s, they were always in the back rooms of pubs serving real ale and the ringleaders wore beards and held whip-rounds for "colleagues" I'd never heard of in countries I couldn't pronounce.

Conclusion 2: As an editor/manager I, oddly, found myself favouring collectivism as a way of knocking company-wide issues on the head. The few dealings I had with head office were even-handed and generally supportive of both views.

Happy birthday. Pint of Old Grumbler next time we meet?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Going overboard?

Never mind whether it was right or wrong for the Iran sailors to sell their stories, I can't help feeling a pang of sympathy for their claims of over-zealous reporting of their release.

I don't suppose I'd be too chuffed if I’d survived a harrowing ordeal only to be depicted as grovelling before a dictator I'd deliberately greeted with nonchalence.

I do know we rarely favour the weaker verbs when it comes to painting a picture for readers though.

Frank Lampard must’ve felt hard done by when he read in the Mirror that he “cowered” when a fan ran on to the pitch and took a swing. I saw the incident. He ducked rather neatly and was back on his toes in a snap like a boxer.

I’ve been around red tops long enough to know what it's like to hand stories to subs with the instruction: ‘It’s all there. Just work up a bit’. I’ve also seen stories undersold because we haven’t been incisive enough in our description.

One moment springs to mind though. A story about a runaway car “careering” into a shopping arcade would have been dramatic enough without the sub’s intro which began “Terrified shoppers fled as . . .” It wouldn’t have been so bad but for the last par from the witness who said “It was a miracle no-one was in the way.”

The story may have been otherwise well written but the intro and payoff matched like roast beef and custard, which is a point the “witness” made when he rang to ask who, other than him, had failed to spot a single fleeing shopper, let alone a terrified one.

He was as right as the “Irate councillor” who rang me to tell me that, yes, he did insist on getting an answer from the chairman of planning but had barely raised his voice, let alone “raged” or “angrily retorted” when he failed to get one.

And there wasn’t a miracle either. I just didn’t want to point it out at the time.