I’ve been a journalist since 1986 and it’s all I ever wanted to do. From the age of 14 I knew I wanted to be a journalist and I became a trainee reporter straight from A-levels at the tender age of 18.
Naive? Wet behind the ears? Yep, that was me. It was a rough and tumble world, even in local newspaper journalism but you quickly learned about life and people.
It was sink or swim and I swam. It might have been a doggy paddle with armbands to start off with but soon I was lane swimming with the best of them. I loved it.
Back in the mid-80s, of course, there was no internet, no mobile phones and computers were newfangled and scary.
When I started at the Batley News, journalists worked on typewriters, typing their stories onto small pieces of copy paper. Once completed you’d drop your story into a wire tray to be collected by the sub-editors.
The sub-editors were the gods of the newsroom, all seeing, all knowing. These gnarled veterans (well they seemed that way to the teenage me) knew everything. That was their job. To pick up each and every error, smelling mistake (see what I did there?) and punctuation blunder. Their mission in life was to save the newspaper (and the English language) from embarrassment and decline.
Teenage journo Martin at his typewriter
One morning I was trusted with ‘police calls’ ie going along to the local police station (remember them?) and chatting to the inspector who would give us details of all the crimes committed in the town overnight.
A builder’s yard had been broken into and a still saw had been stolen. I faithfully scribbled this down. I hadn’t learned my 100 words per minute shorthand by this stage so long hand it was.
Back at the office I furiously thumped the typewriter keys and punched out my ‘copy’, as journos call their stories.
I dropped the copy into the wire tray and it was soon whisked off into another office inhabited by the gods and the God of gods – the Editor. With a capital ‘E’.
Suddenly, a booming voice emerged from the deepest recesses of God’s kingdom, the Editor’s Office.
“Martin, come in here. NOW.” Quivering, I knocked on the door and entered the dragon’s den. The first thing I saw was the bottle of ketchup that God keeps at his right hand for his lunchtime pork pie. But I digress.
“What’s a still saw?” The Editor boomed.
“Erm, I don’t really know,” I stammered.
“Don’t you mean a bloody Stihl saw? It’s a chainsaw. You won’t get much work done with a still saw, will you lad?”
Suitably chastened, it was a lesson learned and one I never forgot. Don’t write something that you don’t understand. If you don’t understand it, how will your reader?
Now when I’m speaking to someone and don’t understand what they mean I will ask them. Yes, I’m admitting to a gap in my knowledge that may or may not be embarrassing but it also shows I’m listening, I’m genuinely interested and I want to learn.
Martin interviewing football legend Denis Law (above) and boxer Frank Bruno
I tell that story to show how the ‘training’ of journalists has changed and to offer an insight into why online news websites (and newspapers) are riddled with mistakes, often embarrassing ones at that.
Readers are quick to call them out on Facebook. “Don’t they have proof readers anymore?” is an often-seen comment.
The answer to that is a resounding NO. In old-style newsrooms, a story would go through several pairs of eyes and be polished and refined by the news editor, the gods (sub-editors) and perhaps even God himself.
Now stories are written (cut and pasted from social media, cynics might say) and published by the same reporter. As quickly as humanly possible. And soon to be quicker if the big publishers can get Artificial Intelligence to do it for them.
There are no checks and balances. No-one to save the newspaper from embarrassment. “Oh well,” the theory goes. “It’s the internet. We can change it.”
As an old school journalist – and proud of it – I want to get it right first time. That’s not to say I’m perfect and never make a mistake. Because I do.
But I will go to extreme lengths to make sure I get it right. I’m not in journalism for the ego. Of course I love an exclusive but first and foremost I’m a reporter and I want to tell a story in the way the person I’m speaking to wants it to be told.
They have put their trust in me to tell their story and that’s a privilege I will never abuse or take for granted.
In a media world dominated by clickbait headlines and page views at all costs, the true art of journalism – caring for people and wanting to give a voice to the voiceless – is being lost.
Independent journalism is needed today more than ever. It holds those in authority to account.
‘Proper’ journalism is what Huddersfield Hub is all about and Huddersfield needs more of it.
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After 37 years as a journalist I’m still as passionate as ever and I hope you believe that local journalism – and Huddersfield and its community – is worth fighting for too.
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