Each week we ask current or former regional press journalists a series of questions about their careers – where they started out, who or what inspired them to go into journalism, their best story or headline, the best journalist they have worked with or for, and which other newspapers they most admire.
This week: Neil Speight, left, editor of the Thurrock-based Enquirer Series.
What was your first job in journalism?
I was a trainee reporter on the South Yorkshire Times based at Mexborough. I was lucky to last the first week as the editor, the legendary cheroot-smoking Dick Ridyard, asked me to cover the local Rotary Club meeting. He was a member. I sat, at the back, through it all and wrote it up – as I had been trained at Richmond College – as a sharp, two par story, typed it up and filed it in the Copy In tray. Mr Ridyard (I still have to call him that) called me in and asked me why I hadn’t done a full report. He detailed all the ‘important things’ that had been discussed. Rather stupidly, I countered by saying that as he was there, why hadn’t he done his own report! Krakatoa, East of Java, had nothing on the explosion that followed. I thank the wonderful Brian Kelly for calming him down and keeping me in a job!
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
I have never wanted to do anything else. I love newspapers. As a very small boy my mum and dad had the Daily Express delivered (and I got the Beano) but I read it before them and the Bash Street Kids rarely got a look in. Probably explains my right wing leanings!
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
Impossible to say. I was going to say that one of the most dramatic stories I worked on was the Holbeck Hall in Scarborough falling into the sea when I was editor at the SEN but Ed Asquith nicked that one a couple of months ago! I’ve got a few awards for various front pages and story coverage, but the one I probably enjoyed the most was at Scarborough when there were lots of fears about raw sewage on the beach. I went down to the seaside and scooped up a load of black, foul-smelling sand in a bucket and took it down to the Council with a photographer. The look on the Environmental Chief’s face when I handed it over for examination was priceless! I love hands on stuff when local papers can really get involved and make a difference.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
So many over the years. The guy I have taken most inspiration from is Ken Thomas, who was editor at the Peterborough Evening Telegraph when I was first sports editor and then production editor. Not only was he responsible for introducing me to a glass of whisky at the end of a working day but he knew how to bring stories alive and get readers talking. He spearheaded a group of us turning the ET around with a campaign called ‘Shame of a nation’ which is textbook stuff on what local papers should do. Get involved, take a stance and make a difference. I admit it, I cried when Ken said he was leaving the ET, that’s how much of an inspiration he was to me. However, I’ve been so lucky in that I’ve worked with so many characters, people whose blood is like printer’s ink and they care so passionately about papers. I admit I can’t abide blandness which is why people I admire, editors like Doug Melloy at Rotherham or David Rowell (Peterborough, Northampton, Kettering), or writers like the late, great Alan Crumpton in Suffolk are people who might not be everybody’s cup of tea but you can’t knock the fact that they love what they do. The job is really a vocation, not a profession.
I would also like to pay tribute to Ian Laws, a guy I took on as a young reporter at Scarborough. A man who loved life and who did everything to the best of his ability. A true character. There have been a huge amount of tributes, all deserved, and it is entirely appropriate that I should remember him and pay tribute to him here too. RIP Ian
Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?
A difficult question in these times of cutbacks and corporate stupidity. I’m proud of what we do with the Enquirer, it’s good and does what it can within the limits we have and it is produced with love and passion but it isn’t a great newspaper, though it’s a good, informative and entertaining read. I spend a lot of time in schools, encouraging kids to work with words and I have to admit that I always use the Sun as an example of being the best at what it does. You might not like it, but it does what it says on the tin!
Regionally, I don’t see as many papers as I should but there are some good papers still about. Give credit to the our rival the Brentwood Gazette for example, a great paid-for right on my doorstep. Northcliffe might make a lot of corporate and strategic cock-ups but they can still boast some cracking local papers. I remember when Neville Wilson got the job, there was a lot of moaning on Hold the Front page that he didn’t have experience. But you don’t need experience, you need passion and drive. He’s proved those people wrong and clearly he cares about his paper, he puts it right in the middle of things and isn’t afraid to make a comment.