Tuesday, 6 March 2012

21. Journalism is not a 9–5 job. If you think it is work in another office, don't sit around clock watching. It's annoying.

In an ideal world we all finish work dead-on 5pm. But it is not an ideal world.

Journalism and newspapers should be about passion. (Admittedly it is also about low staff numbers and a management that squeezes every last ounce of good will and morale out of its dedicated team.)

These are the contradictions of the modern newspaper office...and quite honestly probably the old newspaper office as well.

Working time directive? Beats me.

One news editor on a national would wait for the first reporter to leave the office on a Friday evening and then call them to send them to some far flung job.

A tad vindictive but he had his staff on hand until at least 7.30pm when eventually a mass exodus meant everyone was taking their chances - to be called back and sent on some pointless task was the equivalent of being shot during a jail breakout. Everyone knew the risks but it outweighed the time served.

However such things are unlikely to be much of an issue on a local newspaper.

The issue there is more likely to be about you. For the more you put into your work, the more you get out.

You spend hours at tedious council meetings, you will get the contacts and the better stories. And the quicker you can build up a great portfolio the quicker you can get out of that paper.

And when you do you will earn more money, you will work on bigger and better stories and you will be more attractive to people. (Obviously that last one is a lie the bigger the paper the more repellent you become to the outside world - but don't let that put you off. You will get more respect whatever the local MP and your editor may say to convince you otherwise.)

But anyway the irony is that the more contacts you build the easier the job becomes - because the people are at hand.

Plus look around you. What are your colleagues doing? Reporters who swan off on time or sit there and claim back every last minute of overtime in lieu are not appreciated.

Because those pages still need filling and if you aren't part of the solution to that - you are taking the space of someone who is. And nowadays editors are reluctant to get rid of staff because they will probably not get someone to replace them.

And don't think people don't notice - we're *ahem* meant to be trained observers. We notice everything.

And anyway news unfortunately doesn't fall into the 9-5 routine. Annoyingly it happens at awkward times - like just as you are about to go home. It's here when instinct should kick in. When your very reason for being a journalist should override everything else.

Another pre-internet example from a local newspaper. Shortly after 5pm on January 28, 2000 a man carrying a samari sword entered the offices of Cheltenham MP Nigel Jones. Within minutes Robert Ashman had killed the MP's aide Andrew Pennington.

All plans for the Friday night were cancelled - no one needed to ask or even say it - reporters and photographers were sent to the scene and relevant addresses.

The library was raided as we put together backgrounders on all three men.

In those antiquated times a new front page was drawn up by the subs, photocopied and then distributed to the newsagents as an extra. It makes me sound like Methuselah.

The next day's edition was a sell-out. Newspaper sales executives (normally a gloomy bunch) were scouring the offices trying to take the reporters' copies of the paper.

No one got out until 10.30pm. Nor did they much the next day or the day after...

OK so it's easy to pick a big story and say you have to work longer hours - you will have to do it anyway even just filling some of the mind-numbing crap editors insist on filling their pages with.

So accept it. You are not going to have the luxury of a 40 hour week. And if that's what you came into the business for you are going to be sorely disappointed.

You can always become a PR (the pay is marginally better too).

Having said all this I don't want it to become a charter for long hours. Appreciate the editor who rolls up his own sleeves and joins with his team to help speed the work along - there aren't many of them.

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