Each week HoldtheFrontPage will be asking 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: Northern Echo editor Peter Barron, pictured.
What was your first job in journalism?
Trainee reporter on the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph. I made a complete hash of the interview and was convinced I’d blown my big chance. Twenty years later, I learned that they meant to give the job to another candidate who had curly hair like me. They liked the other lad but got us mixed up. He turned out to be a newly-graduated Jeremy Clarkson. He’s now a multi-millionaire, driving flash cars. I’m the editor of The Northern Echo with an overdraft and four kids to get through university. I’ve been bitter ever since. I once heard him say on Top Gear: “I’d rather have a vasectomy than a people-carrier.” I found myself shouting at the telly: “How’d you think I feel you b*****d, I’ve had to have both.”
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
An English teacher at St Peter’s School in South Bank, Middlesbrough, who gave us a piece of homework requiring us to write a newspaper report. I was into horse racing at the time so I wrote about the great French mare Allez France’s scintillating victory in the Arc De Triomphe. “You should be a journalist, son,” said Mr Robinson – and that was it. My dad disagreed and insisted I should be a welder but I didn’t know what a welder did. I went on to become the racing tipster at the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph. They’d never had one before and I went under the imaginative nom de plume ‘The Baron’. I was sacked after six weeks for not getting one in the first three. It came to a head when I received a death threat from a reader whose elderly mother had put her pension money on one of my tips which came 14th out of 15 at Haydock Park. “I wanna talk to The Baron,” he’d growled down the phone. “I’m really sorry, he works from our London office,” I replied, meekly. We didn’t have a London office.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
The one I’ll always remember is the night H’Angus The Monkey – Hartlepool United’s mascot – stood as a joke candidate in the town’s Mayoral election in 2002. At 1am, bang on deadline, the vote had gone to a recount but our reporter thought H’Angus had narrowly beaten the Labour candidate. The reporter couldn’t be sure but I took a chance with the front page headline “Monkey is Mayor.” I’ve never been so relieved to hear an election result confirmed on breakfast radio. Even now, I wake up in a cold sweat having dreamt that the Labour candidate had won and I’d published the most embarrassing front page in Northern Echo history. A furious Peter Mandelson forbade Stuart Drummond, who’d stood as H’Angus, to ever wear the monkey suit again. He never has.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
Nick Cole, who was chief reporter of the Scunthorpe Telegraph when I started. He was an ex-steelworker who’d never trained as a journalist but he took us young ‘uns under his wing and showed us what the job was all about. Nick taught me the value of contacts, getting out and about, being part of the community, and campaigning to put things right. Whenever it was quiet, it was Nick the editor turned to for an off-diary splash. He didn’t drive so I spent a large part of my trainee years as his chauffeur in a Telegraph van. The education was worth it.
Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?
The Sun. Admiring The Sun is like admiring Margaret Thatcher – you might detest what it stands for, and some of the things it does, but you can’t deny that it knows what it’s doing. It always seems to top the pile on the big stories, usually comes up with the best headline, and has the best sense of humour on the news-stands.