Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Another Jimmy riddle

I'd be intrigued to know if the ever-expanding jimmy Savile file includes an incident in 1976 in which he visited the Cornish gateway town on Launceston.

Not many celebs went that far for charity visits in those days so, having woken up to it a tad late, it was natural for the Cornwall Courier to rouse its snapper early to get a shot of him leaving town.

And so it was that an early right hand page carried a picture of the tracksuited star in the back seat of his car as it sat outside the White Hart Hotel in the Market square.

I, like a BBC executive or a Grateful charity beneficiary, did not give it a thought when the editor asked casually of the snapper: "I don’t suppose you got one of the bird?” (apology: this was the seventies)

He didn't because she was presumably long gone by the time the car arrived and presumably getting ready for school.

Either way, unless my memory is playing tricks, it was apparent we knew the identity of his guest as did a great number in what was, after all, a small and close community.

Worse still, it was all a bit too dog-bites-man to warrant a local paper’s attention.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Don't snub the sub

Every year for a handful of consecutive Fridays I teach second year media students the fundamentals of subbing, a skill usually developed over years of hacking, slashing, honing and sculpting everything from wedding captions and WI reports to splashes that can change governments and leaders that tell millions what to think.

It's not the easiest job in the world to get across just what the role is all about when so much communication is instant, not to say roughly-hewn, these days.

So, where to start.

Is it about the churn of dozens of stories a day, shifts that go through the night, lawyers on your shoulder, updates, adds and corrections coming at you every time you finally squeeze the gist of something you barely understand into half a dozen pars - and a late train home full of drunks.

Or is it the chance to engage today with the issues we’ll be talking about tomorrow, polishing raw facts filed under duress from news's front line and relishing in the sheer variety of a night that can embroil you in the adrenalin rush of crime, the intrigue of politics, and the glamour of showbiz, before unwinding with a leisurely drive home through near-deserted streets to the sound of Carmen on the CD?

Answers on a postcard. Thing is, it's important that it is taught, and as thoroughly as it should be practised.

Which is why every week, alongside all the fun stuff such as how newsrooms function, what style is all about, the clever devices that pull spreads together, I throw them column inch after column inch of text to (you guessed it) hack, slash, hone and sculpt until it resembles something worthy of a place on a page.

With a big screen on the wall and 40-odd students plugged into row upon row of Apple Macs, we learn to be as cynical as Paxman, as fastidious as Victor Meldrew and as poetic as Martin Amis.

Okay, bit of an exaggeration, but it's enough to know you just may have set the odd one on their way to becoming the next Leslie Sellers.

Why is that important to me? Because a few weeks after each course completes, I turn up at any one of several other venues, most recently Roehampton University and Greenwich College, to talk about media careers to students from some of the UK’s most prestigious schools.

They bring with them their local papers for discussion, many of which do serious credit to the communities they serve. As I’ve posted countless times, I’m a serious defender of the role of local papers.

But each time I ask: have they had the benefit of a sub's red pen?

Sadly, too often, it's clear they haven't. Which is a shame when you pick up something packed to the rafters with real local news and the message is lost among phrasing more Leslie Neilson than Leslie Sellers.

With new entrants getting fewer and younger, and with more of them filing remotely and often in abundance to meet quotas, surely it’s worth dropping a few self-indulgent columns just to restore the odd shift as press day approaches.