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.
What was your first job in journalism?
I started work at the age of 17 as a trainee reporter on the Evesham Admag – a tiny, family-run free paper. I sat my last A-level on a Thursday and started work the following Monday. One of my first jobs, somewhat bizarrely, was to write the horoscopes. The paper had an entire staff of about 30 and that meant everyone did a bit of everything – from taking small ads over the counter, to helping out with paste-up, to taking it in turns to take the completed pages to the printers. It was a great grounding and taught me a lot very early in my career about all the processes involved in newspaper production.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
A comment left by my headmaster on a school report when I was about nine. I’d won a couple of writing competitions and it just said: ‘A future journalist?’ From then on, I never considered doing anything else and I always count myself extremely fortunate to be doing what I do. I made sure that I wrote for school newspapers and magazines and was also a correspondent for my local paper when I was still at school.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
As a young reporter in the early 80s, I beat the nationals to an interview with the new girlfriend of Duran Duran’s John Taylor and the first picture of them together (it was big news for the red-tops in those days!). She just happened to have been in the year above me in school. As editor of the Worcester News, we worked for weeks on a story about a young rugby player who persuaded his parents to take him to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life after he had been paralysed in a training accident. I was determined to treat the story sensitively and to work with his parents prior to publication – even though every day we didn’t print what we knew increased my fears of being scooped. But getting it right was as important to me as getting it first. We broke the story on a Friday morning. By lunchtime it was the lead story on every television and radio station and made the front page of every national the next day. The story won us a number of awards.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some hugely talented people over the last 27 years. The best out-and-out newsman has to be Murray Morse, who was assistant editor at the South Wales Argus when I was deputy editor and has gone on to edit the Cambridge News and the Daily and Sunday Sports. The best group of journalists I’ve worked with was undoubtedly the newsroom team I led at the Worcester News for four years.
Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?
Even though I disagree with almost every word it prints, I admire the Daily Mail as a product. It understands its readership perfectly and produces a newspaper (and increasingly a website) that hits its target market every day. In the regions, the Express & Star in Wolverhampton is a great newspaper that worries more about giving its readers value for money than it does about flashy design – and that’s no bad thing.