Each week HTFP asks a leading regional press figure five set questions about their career – including how it started, their best story or headline, and which other journalists and publications they most admire.
This week: Matthew Knowles, left, assistant editor of the Sutton and Croydon Guardians and deputy editor of South London Guardian series.
If you would like to take part in the series, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
What was your first job in journalism?
Three days a week as a 18-year-old trainee in a small office of Leighton Buzzard on Sunday, part of the Bedfordshire on Sunday group. It was just me and the editor Jane Dewar and I got taken on as the other candidates were all well meaning pensioners. It was my home town and it instilled in me the strength of knowing your patch inside out.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
It was the job ad in the paper. I had no ambitions towards journalism and had just left school after A-levels and was working in a pub considering my future. The advertisement was along the lines of ‘Would you reveal your best friend’s secrets for a story, if so we want to hear from you’. It summed up the paper which was hard-hitting and took no prisoners. It was a great place to start out.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
My news patch down here is one of the best I have ever worked on. In recent times we revealed one of our council Cabinet members was hiding a secret life as a former IRA terrorist, we helped bring back a murderer to face justice after an undercover operation, and a fight in the street led to a young girl thug throwing a baby in front of a bus.
Least PC friendly headline was “When the kit hit the fan” about a poor cat who died after falling asleep under a car bonnet. You can work out the rest. Lots of complaints about that one which made me question the editor’s motivations when he ran it again on a similar story a year later.
My personal best was a relatively low key story about MP Henry McLeish, the First Minister of Scotland, which revealed he was secretly sub-letting his constituency office. Six months later and a lot more revelations by us about the murky dealings of Scottish Labour and he was forced to resign his position.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
There are so many. My old colleagues Dave Gale and Andrew Kelly at BoS. My old boss Frank Branston (RIP) who started his own free newspaper in revenge at getting turned down for a job by the ‘paid for’. Anthony France who I took on as a trainee many years ago and he rose to the heady heights of crime reporter at the Sun. Anyone of my old colleagues at the Mail. I honestly don’t know how you keep it up.
My web monkey Paul Jones understands the digital side of things better than anyone I know despite starting as a traditional paper journalist. It shows old dogs can learn new tricks.
I am impressed with the quality of trainees through my door as well. Many are far more clued up about the job than we ever were when we first started and some have turned out to be great reporters.
I would have mentioned sub Roger Parkes but he hasn’t finished my leisure page yet.
Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?
I love stories. It’s the thing that keeps me working in this industry, so any papers that still hold the mantra that news matters are my favourites. I always pick up a local paper wherever I go and those that still recognise the strength of a good splash I admire. Just churning out any old chod to fill pages should be made a prosecutable crime.