This week brought the death of my friend and mentor Vernon Scott. As a trainee reporter sharing his one-room office, using a ‘laptop’ computer the size of a guitar, I learned more about what it was to be a journalist than any NCTJ could ever teach me.
So, in memory of Vernon, here are just some of the truths about journalism no lecturer is ever going to stand up in front of a class and admit:
1. What readers want to know is not necessarily the same as what they ought to or need to know.
2. Anyone whose comments appear in print has been misquoted. No one ever speaks as lucidly, gramatically and concisely as they do when their words are reproduced for all to see. Then they start claiming they have been misquoted.
3. Whatever your rival paper does is rubbish. Even when it’s amazing.
4. A news editor who picks up a phone to hear a punter already in full rant mode knows they have lost at least the next 20 minutes of their life.
5. Ditto any reporter hailed by said news editor waving a phone handset and mouthing: “Decent story here…I don’t know what they want exactly… What’s your extension?”
6. No sane reporter ever admits the council meeting ended after 10 minutes when there are shops and lattes to investigate.
7. Every junior reporter who gets to cover a local farmers’ show asks themselves why they scrimped through college to reveal the winner of the horticultural tent’s ‘pair of cauliflowers in a box’ category.
8. Whatever you wear to work in the morning will be unsuitable for the job you ultimately get sent out on. A suit means you will end the day being chased through wasteland by an irate pig; jeans guarantees you’ve been diaried to cover a funeral.
9. Members of the public really do think newsrooms are cunningly-disguised versions of Directory Inquiries.
10. Everyone in newspapers thinks their readers love their paper; every reader is actually having promiscuous affairs with every information outlet available – TV, radio, internet, RSS, phone alerts, instant messaging, e-newsletters, teletext… need I go on?
Of course, there are more than 10 Things They Don’t Tell You. But you’ve found out some yourself by now, haven’t you?