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: Peter Sands, left, director of Sands Media Services Ltd, consultant editor at Press Association Training, chairman of the judges in the Regional Press Awards, erstwhile editor of The Northern Echo and owner of the Editorial Centre.
What was your first job in journalism?
I started on the Shields Weekly News on Tyneside in 1977 and on the first day was taken to court by the now famous Carole Malone. On my third day I walked into the newsroom to see one of my intros hand-written on a flipchart. It was 47 words. The editor, the inimitable Robin Thompson, then publicly subbed it. “Aye, Peter … it’s bloody rubbish,” he began in his broad Geordie before crossing out the source, the gobbledegook, the subordinate clause and the duplicated words. The result was a pithy 16-word summary. “Remember Peter, this is newspapers,” he advised. “The only walk of life where the orgasm comes first.” Great advice which has stayed with me forever.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
I used to read John Gibson’s reports on Newcastle United in the Evening Chronicle on my paper round in Whitley Bay. It dawned on me that he had the second best job in the world. If I wasn’t going to play for Newcastle, the next best thing would be to write about them. I told my parents and they bought me two books by Harold Evans, Newsman’s English and Pictures on a Page. After that I was hooked. Evans had been editor of The Northern Echo and I declared I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Fourteen years later I did.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
As a young reporter my first splash byline was an investigation into corruption by the local Labour party. The subs used a picture of the party leader under the huge headline The Godfather. He slapped a writ on the paper which hung over me for six years. As an editor, the shooting of a planning officer in a dispute over a bungalow was the most memorable day. Our photographer stood next to the killer and took an astonishing series of pictures. I had to deal with traumatised staff, legal issues, the police (who wanted the photographs and interviews), the sensitivities of dealing with a death and the small matter of getting the paper out. We ran the pictures in a sequence across page 1 – and sold out. My most memorable achievement, though, was setting up and running the training and design business, the Editorial Centre.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
My first editor Robin Thompson was an inspiration who taught me the art of journalism. He was creative and professional and took the view that newsrooms were meant to be fun. Later I worked for Allan Prosser who taught me that editing should also be a science – that you need a vision, a strategy and the courage and commitment to see it through. I took a huge amount away from both. Peter Barron was an excellent news-editor and I have been impressed by the way he has steered The Northern Echo through 12 difficult years without losing his sunny disposition.
Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?
I am promiscuous with newspapers, always looking for new experiences. I like papers that are innovative – and think the i has been a triumph. I admire the way The Irish News, regional newspaper of the year, has the balls to tackle difficult issues without fear. The Torquay Herald Express’s move to a weekly makes sense to me and I think the Essex Chronicle, Cornishman, D&S Times, Bath Chronicle and North Devon Journal are great models. Sunday is newspaper day in our house – The Sunday Times and News of the World – and when I go back north I remain loyal to The Northern Echo, still the great daily of the north.