Happiness to Have A Day/Celebratory

JOURNALISM is pretty much unrecognisable from the days a local weekly first decided paying the clueless kid who had been working for nothing for a couple of weeks was in some way a good idea.

Still expect to be uncovered as a chancer who has somehow blagged his way through a career lasting nearly three decades, countless threats of redundancy and some surprisingly senior positions.

Whatever the platform, key basics remain the same (regardless of what some people say) – get the facts right, present them in a readable fashion in something approaching correct grammar and house style, descend on free food without bothering to ask where it came from… – but far more has changed.

Print has been gradually squeezed aside – not totally, there’s still enough of us fighting the good fight – by the rampant advance of the internet.

And that’s fine, anyone sat hankering after the good old days is not really doing the job of a journalist and offering a true reflection of what is happening. As long as those basic tenets of the job remain in the place (although more reverence for subs is always welcomed).

Technology has transformed life in the office from the days of sketching out pages and print commands on paper to be replicated by cutting and pasting printouts into an approximation of my messy scribbles, now reserved to the lists on the A4 pad to the right of my mouse as everything happens on the screens (another big change) in front of me.

But rarely can a reporter’s relationship with technology have changed as much as the one they have with phones.

Once upon a time the only way to get a quote or speak to someone was to go and physically meet them or pick up the phone. They might fax you a statement – look it up kids – but chances are you had to take down what they said and go from there.

The office’s first mobile had to be shared around and was only any good if you had strong arms.

But relationships with phones have changed.

Reporters are never far from their phone, be it checking social media, filming something for the website or picking it up and scurrying off into a side office to make a call.

Not all of them by any means, but it does seem to be growing trend.

It can be intimidating but don’t worry, the people around you aren’t that interested in what you are saying (and are probably too busy to take much notice) and one day all those side offices might be busy – as happened to one work experience lad in our office who was totally lost at what to do next when he found the boardroom was being used for… well, something close to what it is meant for.

It is not the first time phones have caused work experience youngsters issues – one looking aghast when asked to ring around and check some details for an online articles, descending into tears and never returning after lunch on their first day.

A Twitter debate sparked by the above tweet revealed tales of phones being taken into toilets so they could be used in private. Just hoping it wasn’t hands free.

Work experience can be abused by both sides, either as cheap labour or a week away from education, but it can be hugely beneficial. Not only are extra bodies always welcome in the office but, used properly, they provide a valuable insight into life in a newsroom.

Have seen more than one talented youngster start as a workie and become a fixture around the office before starting a successful career, but there’s also been some tales of woe. Also bumped into one again a few weeks later when she recognised me in a rather dodgy club where she was working. Wearing rather less than she had in the office, even less for a few quid more.

We used to have a white board in the office which had a tally of “Days Since We Last Lost A Workie” as it became such a frequent event.

More than one has been reduced to tears – at least in one case by being asked to, you know, experience some work – while another felt a bit tired so went for a lie down on the seats in reception.

Had to escort one from the premises after he had been sent with a reporter to a football press conference and posted most of it on his fans’ blog before he had returned to the office – initiative maybe but breaking an embargo and giving away our back page lead for the next day to the very people we wanted to read it.

But star of the workie wall of fame was the lad who got sent out on the trainee rites of passage – a vox pop.

They are horrible to do – had one senior reporter walk out never to return after  increasingly desperate calls to the news desk as he struggled to stop people with a deadline looming – but being sent onto the streets of Cheltenham was too much for one would-be reporter.

“This shit’s horrific” he tweeted with an explanation of what he was doing.

And he would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those perishing subs who spotted it in a search for tweets mentioning Cheltenham to fill a space.

By the time he arrived back, several hours and nowhere near enough successful responses later, “This shit’s horrific” was plastered across the whiteboard and has become a long-standing office joke.

Along with something about plastic cheese, but that’s a whole other story.

  • Short and sweet on the music front for this entry. The A-Z from Wilco to The Polyphonic Spree threw up mainly vintage stuff including what, if memory serves, was the last physical single in my collection. Back when we got totally overexcited about The Strokes for a few weeks and that was the only was we could hear it.

Hard To Explain is still a great song mind.

  • We are a month from Christmas and the war of wills is underway in the office about when the decorations go up (as it’s my week off, pretty sure they are already up) but no such dilemma in my flat.

Christmas has come early. At least in the incessant, highly-repetitive soundtrack from the speaker (currently drowned out by Bob Dylan on the radio) which appeared on the lamppost outside to accompany the skating rink which will be there until the new year and the Victorian Market which is resulting in a lot of fake snow being traipsed inside.

Quite what the green monstrosity clinging on for dear life next to it has to do with Christmas, God only knows.

It appeared without warning one night. Returned home, looked out the window and there it was, perfectly framed to the right of my TV.

And it is even worse in the daylight.

All I want for Christmas is to avoid nightmares.

  • Normally the excuse for long gaps between posts is being too busy, a lack of organisation, total absence of inspiration or not listening to the A-Z in favour of something else.

All that’s true this time, but there is the added reason of finally getting to a lot of jobs on the website which have been meaning to do for ages.

Nothing major and there’s still a few tweaks to do but if you have a quick look around and click some of those links off to the right, there’s some new pages and sections which should make it easier to find stuff or stumble across something you didn’t know you were looking for.

There’s even my first attempts at playing around with video in the new Overlanding section.

Apart from tidying things up, it’s all designed to house some new writing ideas in the new year.

Eventually.

 

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Freedom to Fuzzy

ONE of those Facebook on this day posts popped up in my feed this week, recalling my attempts to adjust to working a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five week.

That was seven years ago and lasted little more than a year during a career diversion out of journalism and in to the travel industry.

But since first switching from a weekly newspaper to a daily – one still embroiled in the unfolding tale of the Fred and Rose West killings when OJ Simpson was about to be more than an ex-sportsman turned actor – my working life has involved weekends.

Until now…

Be it covering rugby matches and the accompanying travelling and writing or producing pages for Monday’s papers, Saturdays and Sundays have been normal working days. 

But no longer. The past week has been the first since our newspapers took the leap from dailies to weeklies and the working week of the production department switched to a standard five-day Monday to Friday.

It’s taken some getting used to, not least because we did it from a standing start after the final daily newspapers, producing the first week’s product in three days.

And it’s not exactly been nine to five – it’s been more nine (ish) to whatever time we have finished. Which meant nine (the other one) on one night and around 4.30 on quieter ones, having wandered in nearer 10.

For people used to working weekends, taking days off in the week and considering leaving the office anything before 7pm as an early finish, it’s all been a bit odd.

What do people do on Sundays? Or with full evenings? Especially once Pointless has finished.*

Our working hours are minor changes in everything that has happened in the office in the last month. And the newspaper industry.

It came as something as a shock to us all. Not so much the decision, more the timing. We knew something would change, we just weren’t expecting it to be so drastic and so sudden.

And, however many times you go through this – reckon my personal redundancy process counter is up to double figures and have somehow survived them all, even the one where my hand went up for voluntary – it is not pleasant to go through uncertainty and see friends and colleagues disappear from the newsroom to uncertain futures.

Been debating what to write about the changes, the reasons behind it, the state of the newspaper industry and the reaction to the decision and a week in, not sure there’s a totally coherent answer there.

There’s several future posts in all that once the dust has settled and, for now, we just want to get on with it.

I remain a huge advocate of newspapers and their role in the world, especially when providing a much-needed scrutineer to politicians – global, national and local – and anyone in a position to make a decision which can impact on readers’ lives.

And, yes, the decision to go weekly would not have been my choice. But, it is an understandable one in the current climate – however many people tell us we are wrong. Right before telling us they haven’t bought the paper in years.

One thing that does need pointing out is the reaction of more than one former colleague or fellow journalists past and present who have jumped in to have their say.

Many have been measured and realistic about the state of the industry, others have criticised and repeated claims they have not bothered to check – most notably that the papers will be “thrown together” by people in another office who don’t know the area and don’t care.

Can assure them, we are based in the area, care about it hugely and the paper and I have never just “thrown together” any pages, article or paper in 27 years doing this. If that happens, it won’t just be weekends I won’t be working on newspapers.

And we’ll continue to check our facts.

The sense of change and end of an era has been echoed by the A-Z journey through my iPod as it reached the end of the F section on this section from The Housemartins to Grant Lee Buffalo – track 3,794 out of 13,090 (for now).

It looked at one point as if the whole journey had ended at The Friendly Beasts by Sufjan Stevens when my iPod basically packed up.

An F word which popped up a few times in this section came in to use, but one thing about Apple is you can find solutions for most problems online – albeit with fairly liberal use of the same F word – and it popped back in to life.

It brought a decent, if not classic, selection headed up by a pair of Half Man Biscuit tracks from across the decades – the early Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus and more recent Fun Day In The Park, complete with wonderful rhyming couplet,  ‘Soft play area with free bananas/Iguana Andy and his iguanas’.

There was the familiar figure of Billy Bragg (From A Vauxhall Velox), the lovely French Navy by Camera Obscura (more of them in the next entry), the sadly departed Stornoway (Fuel Up), Full Moon, Empty Heart by Belly – one of those bands rediscovered on this journey – a Jam classic (Funeral Pyre) and Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches which somehow became a bit of a regular on the Trans Africa.

Grant Hart

Continuing the apt timing, there was Friend, You’ve Got To Fall by Husker Du, pretty much about the time the sad news broke that drummer Grant Hart had died. Not without damaging the hearing of a generation of guitar music fans.

And there was Future Boy by Turin Brakes. There’s some decisions to be made as this boy heads into the future over the next few weeks, probably starting with whether to see them live again at the end of the month.

Hopefully we’ll have worked out how this new weekly stuff pans out by then.

  • It’s not exactly no weekend work, there’s been a couple of Sunday hours ahead of finishing this post. More changes in the next month or so will produce even more free time as my journey time from work changes from more than an hour to about a minute. There are plans for that spare time, but more of that to come.
photo by: paul bevan
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