Over the past eight months we have asked editors and other leading regional press figures a series of questions about their careers – where they started out, who or what inspired them to go into journalism, their best story or headline, the best journalist they have worked with or for, and which other newspapers they most admire.
What was your first job in journalism?
I actually started off as a trainee reporter on the Journal of Commerce, a six-day a week morning newspaper based on Merseyside, which catered for the shipping and associated industries. I was always keen on news from the sports – instead they had me writing news from the ports. They didn’t go in for training as such, but you picked it up as you went along. I remember, not too long after I started, there someone was off sick and they desperately needed copy for business supplements. I spent days ringing random businesses across the country generating stories as I went along. I later left and followed the more traditional NCTJ proficiency route. It was an interesting start, though.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
I was always fascinated by news and apparently read papers religiously since I could. At eleven I used to pen local sunday football reports for the weekly Kirkby Reporter on Merseyside. I sometimes went to their office on Monday lunchtime to type them up and they were fascinated to see that I actually did write them myself. It is interesting that on a memories section on a social network site, people remember me as the kid who used to write “for the papers.”
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
I have spent 32 out of my 40 years in newspapers in sport, and only four of them as a news reporter, at the start of my career.
I recall in 1982, I was working for the Evening Post and Chronicle in Wigan covering the local football team. The chairman then was a colourful character named Freddie Pye, a lovable bloke who enjoyed big name friends. Bobby Charlton was a pal of his and the great man actually joined him on the Wigan board of directors.
Anyway, one of Freddie’s other A list acquaintances was Ken Bates, who needs no introduction. Freddie courted Ken to spend time at Wigan, but there was no greater joy when, one Friday night, just before a game, he couldn’t hold water and blurted out “Ken’s not here tonight, he’s bought Chelsea. I know some really big people.” This was too big a story for the Wigan EP so I got on the phone to the Daily Mirror, and after a bit of sparring with the news desk, they promised if the story I gave them was true they would pay me well.
It was, and next morning it was filling the back page and more -and they sent me a cheque for £200 weeks later – eight times my average wage. A great scoop thanks to Fred!
Anyway, how to provide a national with a splash without really trying – even if it was celeb based. Not long after Richard Desmond bought the Express group he turned up on the Daily Express sports desk with his pals David and Victoria Beckham. I was left to look after Becks and was curious about the tattoo he had on his arm which was allegedly spelt wrongly. We were deep into this when a little voice pipes up “Do you want to see my new tattoo?” What could I say? Posh slightly lowered the top of her jeans at the back to show three eight pointed stars. It turned out it was one for her, David and Brooklyn . . eyes lit up, snapper was called and within 20 minutes it was the new splash on the Daily Star. Yeah I know, it’s painful to consider what papers felt was news – but the new owner loved it – I didn’t get a bonus for a key player, though.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
Apart from my LSN staff at Bedford? Ouch, the most difficult question of all. Sixteen years on national titles mean I have worked with many hugely talented folk, for whom I have massive admiration for. If not mentioned here, it is no offence (disclaimer). Sorry chaps – you were all rather good. Anyway, I’m going to name a few. There was Bryn Davies, now deceased. who was a headline genius on the Express in Manchester, where they had the most superb sports production team. It’s been fantastic to work with people like Shaun Custis, now of The Sun, Matt Lawton, of the Daily Mail and others such as Dominic Hart (Mirror) and Mike Richards (Mail on Sunday) who have gone on to become senior figures in the industry. However, I like columnists, and I have worked with many exceptional ones over the years. But above all I have enjoyed and respected the work of Martin Samuel, a terrific writer who muses superbly with great passion and enormous knowledge and never falis to hit the target whether it is sport or news. I found his work compelling then and still do now.
Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?
I really do like the new i. In the manic world we live in it provides a perfect snapshot of what you need to know with a bite size price to boot.
I have respect too for regional papers such as the Cornish Guardian and Cornishman. Not my style of publication but they are absolute bibles of local news with a story count to kill for. They should live long in their communities.