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Dyson at Large: Eight cheery thoughts for life after newspapers

‘Life after newspapers’ seems a relevant theme after it was revealed that yet another experienced editor is leaving the industry.

For anyone who missed it, Perry Austin-Clarke announced his departure from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus last week after a rare 25 years in the chair.

He follows many other respected editors, including Roy Wrightwho recently left the Huddersfield Examiner after nearly 15 years, and David Helliwell, who left CN Group after nearly six years as editorial director of the Carlisle-based News & Star and the Cumberland News.

Perry, Roy and David don’t need anyone’s sentiments, of course: from what I know of each of these stalwarts, they will all fall very much on their feet.

But more than 400 journalists’ jobs have been lost over the past 18 months, and another eleven weekly papers are set to close after Observer Newspapers of Northern Ireland announced it was ceasing trading on 13 April.

And so today’s blog’s for all the UK’s local and regional newspaper journalists out there – from reporters all the way up to editors – who may be considering what life could be like after newspapers.

1/ Family. Why, oh why, do we do it? Up at 6am daily in the era of live evening newspapers, on the night desk until midnight and later on regional mornings, and all the long, late deadline days for our beloved weeklies.

Then there was the beer that just had to be taken to talk the day’s toil through (and let’s be honest, it was often four beers, wasn’t it?), before you’d arrive home only to fall to sleep on the sofa, generally missing (those with kids) school events, bed times, first crawls and first word-moments.

Yes, a life after newspapers means an end to all the above, resulting in a closer family relationship – and whether that’s with spouse, offspring, parents, siblings or whoever, it should be cherished.

2/ Sleep. Consider the above hours again and try to remember a week working on newspapers when you felt fresh first thing in the morning rather than tired and grumpy, or when you got home and watched a mid-evening film without falling to sleep.

How many coffees do you drink on an average day on newspapers? How many healthy breakfasts or lunches can you remember eating away from your desk?

Okay, a career after newspapers will have its tiring moments, its days of too much coffee and snatched lunches, but those days will generally start after 8am, you’ll often have a lunch break built in, and generally be heading home before 6pm. Just imagine.

3/ Skills. However painful the end of a career in newspaper feels, one positive thing it leaves us all with is a plethora of rare skills.

Most journalists know how to write active, easy-to-understand sentences; can spot a story lurking in the midst of badly-written press releases; have contacts; enjoy phoning and meeting people; have shorthand, legal knowledge, political awareness, ethical approaches and many more assets.

You got all those skills from working on newspapers, and they will serve you well as an attractive chunk of a new CV while you look for a new career.

4/ Jobs. Yep, there are jobs after newspapers, like those held in the strange but true examples of three journalists who consecutively held the position of crime correspondent on the Birmingham Mail on my watch between 1995 and 2009:

Think about it for 10 seconds and you’ll easily come up with three similar examples of hacks who’ve gone on to top jobs from your own newspaper.

Why? Because good journalists with all the skills a traditional newspaper background has provided can go on to do almost any job out there.

5/ Freelance. But if you don’t want to work directly for someone else, any good journalist with a traditional newspaper background doesn’t have to.

I won’t bore you with too many details of my own freelance life after newspapers, other than to say that since January 2010 it’s involved writing almost every day, advising people on the media every week, and running well-paid training days around twice a month.

Again, think about it for another 10 seconds and you’ll come up with at least one example of an ex-newspaper journalist you know who’s now enjoying a freelance career of writing, advising or training.

6/ Training. This is well worth its own number, as there are so many individuals, companies and organisations out there willing to pay journalists to teach them the skills learned in newspapers.

How to write; improving grammar and punctuation; how to sub; how to proofread; how to take pictures; how to speak in public; how to respond to journalists’ pushy enquiries; how to avoid being sued for what you publish, (continue this list at your leisure).

7/ Memories. Do any ex-Birmingham Mail staff from my day remember how legendary editor Ian Dowell would noisily eat apples throughout a news conference?

And how he once chucked a core into a nearby bin and then, two minutes later, absent-mindedly leant across, got it out and carried on eating it?

Do any ex-Teesside Gazette staff from my day remember the late, great chief sub Tony Dumphy gently urging them to “press the button” as he expertly herded every page towards deadline?

And how he’d then brightly respond to any moans of “pressure” with his favourite riposte: “Pressure? Pressure? Pressure makes diamonds!”

You’ll have your own perfectly formed memories that make you smile, and we can all recall exactly where we were and what we did on our papers in the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death, 9/11 and countless other global news stories that broke on our watch.

Our rich memories from newspapers will survive for the rest of our lives once we’ve left those hallowed newsrooms.

8/ Journalism. Just because you’ve left your newspaper doesn’t mean you have to leave journalism.

In fact you don’t even have to leave newspapers if you don’t want to, even if you have to depart the one you’re presently on.

There are hundreds and hundreds of newspapers still employing journalists in the UK, and thousands of newspapers across the English-speaking world.

You might even have a go at launching your own like Phil Creighton, who’s owned and run The Wokingham Paper since 2015, or Richard Coulter who’s launched and expanded the hyperlocal Voice mini-empire in Bristol since 2011.

Woky

Newspapers aside, there are many other opportunities: on air, online, in magazines, newsletters and journals, where journalism is still fun, still a privilege, still a vocation, still a living and still a life, regardless of its medium.

Yes, the contraction of the local media is sad to experience, but I hope the above cheery thoughts help persuade you that there’s life after newspapers.

3 comments

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  • April 19, 2017 at 10:01 pm
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    Brilliant article Steve, thanks for posting this.
    As someone who occasionally gets an excellent freelance journalism gig but also now enjoys the benefits you mention in 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7, I couldn’t agree with you more.
    Every journalist fearful of their future should read your piece and be encouraged by the realisation there is life after a staff job in journalism.
    It isn’t necessarily easy, but neither was choosing journalism as a career in the first place, and look how well that worked out for so many of us who garnered all those fantastic memories.

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  • April 25, 2017 at 9:53 am
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    It’s a nice thought, Steve, but I suspect only those who have ‘come through it’ successfully will appreciate what you’re saying.

    If we choose to put the terrible hours and so on behind us, and move on willingly and happily, great.

    For those facing redundancy, there’s fear and uncertainty and no guarantee at all they’ll find something they enjoy half as much as being in a newsroom (at least, as they used to be).

    Yes, we know of success stories. But probably also know of people struggling, or forced to uproot or commute, or taking jobs that are dull and routine, in comparison. Or forced into early retirement.

    And good luck persuading employers outside the industry that your skills and experience are valuable, without doing a training course in something else on top.

    We’ve all got brilliant memories of people and experiences you wouldn’t get working in other industries. Shame that has to be stuck in a box marked ‘the past’, if we’d rather continue making more such memories.

    If sunny uplands were there for all, AND what people wanted, surely everyone left in the industry would be choosing to run out of the doors, not clinging to the desks, waiting to be given the push?

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  • April 25, 2017 at 11:43 am
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    No longer being a journalist – unless it’s through choice – can be a terrible blow to the self esteem, that’s certainly how I feel.

    I used to feel like I was having some kind of impact on the world, no matter how small, getting a church roof fixed, helping someone get their benefits back, making sure court justice was reported and a crook was rightly named and shamed.

    Now I just work for ‘the man’. It’s better wages, better hours, better job security, but ultimately pointless in every sense. I also miss being around other journalists, people with an interest in the world around them rather than just what they did at the weekend or are having for lunch.

    To paraphrase Henry Hill from Goodfellas: “Now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

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