Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lost world revisited

HOW I BECAME A HACK. Part one. Now you need a degree. Then (1951) not a single qualification. Just as well since I started work, age 15, before GCEs were announced and my score was meagre.

An absolute beginner I carried mugs of tea for reporters and sub-editors, collected hourly editions of the newspaper from the press-room, opened mail, picked up hand-written copy from reporters covering magistrate courts, called on those whose relatives had died and asked for photos of deceased. Working day 8.30 am to 5 pm, five-and-a half days a week, Saturday a full working day. Salary £1 10s. a week

Reporting opportunities occurred in evening, mainly amateur dramatics no one else wanted to attend. Occasionally two in one evening. Watched first act, got bus back to Bradford, wrote story, handed it over. Home by 10 pm. Paid 1 p a line for anything published.

What was expected ? Never defined but eventually inferred. A deep-seated belief that newspaper journalism was the best job – the only job. Acute cynicism developed from watching lives wrecked in court cases. That I would read novels copiously, jeer at those who offended house style (eg, “… where a doctor pronounced him dead.” I pronounce you dead!), spell well without recourse to a dictionary, treasure gossip and tolerate active homosexuality.

Access to all national newspapers; frequently read The Daily Worker (now Morning Star), the Communist Party sheet. Education/punishment: via calculated humiliation. My immediate boss, the chief reporter, rude and cruel: enoyed making women reporters cry. Did I cry? Perhaps, can’t be sure. During first year I was so tired I used to sleep until 2 pm on Sundays.

Part two: The necessary skills.


Relucent Reader said...

I just heard a story on National Public Radio, soon to be a lost world itself if some in gov. have their way, about how small local weekly newspapers are thriving these days, as opposed to the daily papers.
You offer a concise tour of work in a larger newsroom. Good stuff.
Thank you for posting.

Rouchswalwe said...

BB. I read this with great interest after the picture caught my eye. When I was a girl, I wanted to be two things: a photographer for National Geographic and a reporter. In high school, I was the editor for the school paper my senior year. In the recent move, I came across copies of those papers (how embarassing!), but I note with great delight, that the best article still stood the test of time. A jaunt into a graveyard one full-moon night with an interesting double-exposure photograph. I look forward to reading part 2

marja-leena said...

Oh dear, it seems that my comment went to another lost world. I forget what clever words I may have written. Interesting that almost at the same time I've written about a typewriter and you of a place with many of them! I wonder what kind of typesetting equipment was used then, for today that is all computerized, isn't it? It's good to write these histories down, of old technologies and old style jobs, I'm looking forward to part two, BB.

Hattie said...

This is an era that is hard on the generalist, the very kind of person who makes a good news person. We force people into years of specialized education, and by the time that is over, they have lost a lot of their spark.

Anil P said...

Awaiting Part two.

And what a picture you painted. I wonder what good and to what extent can education help into developing an eye for news, or stories.

Barrett Bonden said...

RR: Weekly newspapers without competition can survive; much harder for local dailies. Should stress: during this period at the company's HQ I was a peripheral figure. So much so that when I turned up at twenty-five year reunion nobody knew me.

RW (zS): You are lucky. Nothing I wrote up until fifteen years ago (ie, out of 44 years) stood the test of time. But then newspaper work didn't encourage writing ability, as explained in Part two. Part three addresses this matter.

M-L: Hot metal. DTP (in its most limited form via the IBM Selectric) didn't arrive for another 15 years. Proper DTP for me occurred in, say, 1990.

Hattie: Boy, was I a generalist! So general I was out of focus.

Anil P: It's fun to reminisce about and it was fun then - in a callow, self-satisfied way. These days I write novels which employ one or two of the skills I learned then (Be concise!) but require others which I sweat blood over. The evolutionary process is covered in Parts two and three.