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: Martin Buhagiar, left, group editor of North London Times & Independent newspapers
If you would like to take part in the series, email us on email@example.com.
What was your first job in journalism?
Trainee reporter with South Beds News Agency (then called Fairley’s). Based in Luton I initially carried out admin duties and wrote short stories but as the short-hand improved I found myself covering more and more court cases which I loved. At South Beds we were regularly used by the nationals and Anglia Television, so one day I would be standing outside Paul Gascoigne’s house in Stansted Abbots for the Mirror or the Sun and the next I was interviewing a farmer about his ducks on camera for Anglia TV. It was a great job and brilliant experience for a young reporter cutting his teeth. It taught me very early on the difference between writing stories for national and local newspaper desks. Sadly I was made redundant after 18 months but shortly after I got a job as a reporter with Bedfordshire on Sunday.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
A school project. We had to design our own newspaper and I was sports editor. I really enjoyed it and can remember the teacher telling me I had a good eye for detail. She said the fact that I was always talking and very rarely stopped would also help me when interviewing people. How right she was. I always took an interest in newspapers from that moment on and my mind was made up when I did work experience with the Luton Herald & Post. The following summer the newspaper opened a smaller Sunday edition and I was given a part-time job on Saturdays, while still a student, compiling a results column and writing local sport reports.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
I’ll never forget my first national cutting. I was at South Beds and an airport contact told me a pilot had suffered a heart attack, had managed to land the plane but had died minutes later in the cockpit. It turned out the pilot lived locally too. The airport and airline denied it but I went along to his address and managed to get an interview with his wife who told me everything. Most of the tabloids ordered the story but the Daily Star was the only newspaper to give me a by-line. I’ve still got the cutting somewhere in the loft! I’m also really proud of our coverage of the recent riots in North London. We effectively broke the story when violence first flared in Tottenham and covered it from beginning to end. The team did an incredible job and as a result we pulled in more than 1.6 million page views online in August.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
Hard question as I’ve worked with so many but one stands out. When I started at BoS Frank Branston edited the paper. He was also chairman of the group having founded the paper. His love and passion for local news was an inspiration. I remember him pulling a press release off the fax machine, handing it to me to read and then ripping it up and telling me to: “Go and get the real story.” His methods were unconventional but so was the newspaper. If a story was going to upset an advertiser he didn’t care as long as the story was accurate. Ross Francis and Tim Corkett taught me a lot at South Beds as did Andrew Kelly who was group editor at BoS and Maurice Jones who was news editor.
Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?
The Watford Observer is everything a local newspaper should be. It’s the heartbeat of its community and I think group editor Peter Wilson-Leary does a fantastic job. I admire the way BoS still churns out off-diary exclusives and keeps press officers on their toes in Bedfordshire. And of course the first newspaper I edited, the St Albans Review – a really good campaigning free newspaper. The Review made such an impression with its campaigns that its rival changed its style and followed suit – which can only be good for the area and its readers. As far as the nationals go: I may not share its views but the Daily Mail’s website is unbelievable. It’s an all consuming beast with so much material.