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: Scarborough Evening News editor Ed Asquith, pictured left on holiday in Prague.
What was your first job in journalism?
Trainee reporter at the Droylsden office of the Ashton Reporter Group, covering the east Manchester patch where Harold Evans began his career. We’ve been in contact since. I met him when I was the casual chief stone sub on the Observer and he had called into their offices.
My first job on the first day was to visit an undertakers and copy down the list of mourners.
Strangely I got the job partly because I had a girlfriend from Droylsden – and knew how to spell it; at the end of the job interview I was given a spelling test and was told that all the other candidates that day had failed it miserably. I got the spellings right – and the deciding question was to correctly spell the name of the town, famous for Robertson’s jams. I was told to start on the following Monday – and spent all weekend thinking they would change their minds.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
A love of the printed word, dictionaries, and an English teacher called Mr Berry, who praised a few literature essays I wrote. He was an odd character, with a bigger overbite than Freddie Mercury; he always wore a black gown and used peculiar, non-dust pieces of chalk for the blackboard.
Having a tenacity helps; I spent six months in discussion with HM Courts Service to gain free court lists for every local newspaper in the country in 2009, with the help of Society of Editors’ president Bob Satchwell and an old friend from Coventry days, Perry Austin-Clarke (now Bradford Telegraph and Argus). It was covered by HTFP, and ended with a letter to me from the then justice secretary Jack Straw confirming the U-turn on charging.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
In 1999, Hold the Front Page was the title of a 40-page special edition of the Press Gazette, presenting the best front pages of the millennium. It was mainly on national newspapers but there were a few regionals featured and I was fortunate to have two front pages; one featured the ‘return’ of the Captain Cook ship the Endeavour to Whitby in May 1997. The other was in June 1993 headlined ‘Torn Apart’ and carried a huge picture covering both the front and back page, recording the collapse of a timber-framed four-star Scarborough hotel towards the sea. The latter story received world-wide coverage; the coverage of the former made the main 9 o’clock BBC TV news, which featured another front page that we did on the Endeavour visit.
Other headlines include Row over Biscuit Ended in Tragedy (Wakefield Express); What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor (Scarborough Evening News); and Champions of Europe (also Scarborough) which I sent over with the story from a hotel in Prague in the early hours of the morning after a ceremony where the town was voted the most enterprising area in Europe.
Nationally, on my first stint as a casual news sub on The Sunday Times, it was Why Farmers are Hopping Mad, on a hops cash row with the EC; and one I wrote for the Financial Times back page when also working as a casual. It said Chartered Surveyors in Short Supply, which the FT guys were overly impressed with. While at the Observer, I had a headline regarding a TUC story on What the Papers Say.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
Nationally, Bob Low on the old Observer; he was so calm and experienced and very helpful to a young casual; he even invited me to the dining room for the four-course lunch, with wine, with the editorial execs. Regionally, the best designers were Mike Small and Rob Brookes of the Birmingham Evening Mail, where the great Ian Dowell taught us all so much about presentation and focus.
Also, Alan Kirby, news editor, of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, who will be surprised to hear that I did listen to him and did learn how to write a proper news story, eventually! I’ve worked with some real newshound reporters – Paul McVeigh, who also worked for the Ashton Reporter Group, and became a freelance; Tony Gardner (one of my Wakefield trainees but now the Yorkshire Evening Post); and Chris Nixon, the star Scarborough reporter and all-round character who was the best contacts-maker and news ferret I’ve ever known. He had an awful stroke a few years ago but still retains his passion for news – and does not let his wheelchair prevent him from discovering and passing on news stories.
Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?
I admire the targeted strategy of the Daily Mail even if the paper as whole is easily spoofed but I dip in and out of them all, without loyalty to any in particular. The quality seems more variable now than I ever recall. The highlight of the past few years has to be the Telegraph’s MPs’ expenses expose; the manner of delivery and the colourful detail was extra-ordinary. We will all be impacted by the current Murdoch issues which show that the 2002-03 Privacy and media intrusion hearings of the culture and media committee (to which I gave evidence) did not ask enough questions of the national editors. The New Statesman is a more worthwhile read. Regionally, the best paper I’ve seen in the past year is the Coventry Evening Telegraph but there are still a lot of regional papers working hard day in day out to produce superb, engaging material that keeps the real news agenda spinning throughout the country.