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Take Five: Denise Eaton

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:  Denise Eaton, pictured, who became the first female editor of the Kent Messenger earlier this year.

 

 

What was your first job in journalism?

Trainee with the Basildon Evening Echo, Essex. I was initially a compositor in the days of bromide, wax and dummies, but soon set my sights on the ‘first floor’ where the buzz of the news room was almost palpable. I was determined to be a part of that and nothing was going to stop me. I took myself off to night school, learnt shorthand, shadowed journalists in my own time and went on the prowl for stories every spare minute. I would then present my news list to the deputy editor every week hoping it would convince him I deserved a sponsored place at The Westminster Press Training Centre. It was a battle of wills between myself and deputy editor Peter Owen as to who would give in first.

Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?

As mentioned before, Peter Owen. He believed in me and that made me believe in myself. I will always be indebted to Peter Owen for playing such a pivotal role in my destiny.

What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?

Probably the one that never made it to press. I’d spent weeks following up a tip-off from a prison source that a gang leader was paying his way out of the clink on a regular basis. Having tracked him from jail to his home on Canvey Island, Essex, the only inconspicuous vantage point was a bush where me and the photographer spent the next four undignified hours or so waiting for him to re-appear. When he didn’t, I decided to adopt a plausible disguise to lure him to the front door. It worked. I had him and my ‘exclusive’ – only thing was, the photographer didn’t get him. The opportunity didn’t present itself again and the story never ran – until several months later when one of the nationals broke the exclusive and provoked a national outcry.

Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?

I didn’t get to work alongside him for long – less than two weeks from memory – but as a compositor I got to work on his work! Peter Owen would remark on the similarities between myself and his blue-eyed boy (little did he know!) and suggested I’d learn a lot by following his lead. I was finally transferred to the editorial department – only to find this particular person was leaving for The Sun. He went on to make headlines of his own when he said: ‘When the spokesman needs a spokesman, it’s time to move on.’ For that inspired statement alone, former Conservative Party communication’s chief Andy Coulson deserves credit. The Essex connection is where the link ends, I’ll stick with downing glasses of wine rather than Downing Street.

Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?

Has to be The Sunday Times. It drives my husband to distraction, but I can’t help spend longer on that than I do on my personal appearance. Hair and teeth go unbrushed, pyjamas stay on, television goes off – and the great unwashed is cleansed with knowledge, humour, critique and comment.

8 comments

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  • May 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm
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    Ah yes, I remember Denise well, both from her compositing days through to her rise to Deputy Editor of the Echo. I also remember Andy Coulson who was clearly destined for great things from a young age. His drive and ambition was second to none.

    It was a great time at the Echo with the likes of Peter “The Big O” Owen, AC, the lugubrious Howard ‘H’ Southwood in charge of the sports desk and, later on, Kevan Furbank, subsequently on the Mirror in Northern Ireland. It was a great breeding ground for excellent journalists…

    Happy days indeed.

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  • May 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm
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    I agree – I also came through the Westminster Press/Evening Echo breeding ground at that time and worked with PO, and Howard, Andy, and how can you have missed out ‘Barty’, Keith Bartels?

    I shadowed Andy on my very first day there, going to an inquest, and his destiny was clear from the differences between my copy (very straight) and his (full of weeping widows!).

    It was a great time, many of the journos I met there have stayed friends – in fact I had lunch with Janet Knight and Kathy Sorrell only on Saturday – and we’ve gone on to have fantastic careers.

    So thanks Echo!

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  • May 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm
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    Nothing worse than a bitter journo. What’s so wrong with the Sunday Times, then? Prefer the Daily Star, perhaps?

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  • May 11, 2011 at 5:16 pm
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    Can I also point out that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Echo sportsdesk had one of the best regional editorial teams ever.

    Howard Southwood, Dick Marshall, Nigel Fuller, Andy Stephens (still at The Times I believe) and, on occasion, the incomparable Tim Rich. We all worked hard and played hard but most of all we loved what we did and we loved The Echo. It was and still is a great regional newspaper.

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  • May 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm
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    Epic days indeed Kim….
    Dee, I vividly remember our first day at Echo Towers. Has there ever been a workplace so full of characters?
    Believe it or not, I’ve still got Josie’s scalpel in my toolbox in the shed!
    Great to see u guys here. Love and best wishes to you both.
    Stuart

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  • May 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm
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    Stuart Hillis my man! How the devil are you? You still at Norwich? If so, hope all is well with you and yours. Should have mentioned you in my previous posting as you were also one of the legends of sporting days gone by!

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  • May 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm
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    I think I arrived shortly after Dee left… but you Kim, oh I recall you. Remember Jim Levack and Tania Spriggs?
    I went from the library (that poor dusty old room) to return as a reporter and then the Crime Reporter.
    To highlight how good the reporters still are at the Echo, check out one of its current shining stars… multi-award winner Jon Austin.
    http://htfpnew.adaptive.co.uk/2011/awards/essex-boy-austin-makes-it-five-in-a-row/

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