Here endeth the first lesson

The first couple of days saw me settling in to my new role, making contacts that I should have been making over the previous six months.

Even on the Monday I managed to gather a reasonable amount of copy – mainly weddings and funeral reports, but also items gleaned from the minutes of the previous week’s council meetings – which I left in an envelope for Graham (misremembered his name at first, it was not Gareth) to collect in the morning.

The following day I introduced myself to the duty police inspector and to the senior officer at the fire station. All useful contacts for a budding reporter.

On the Tuesday evening I took the copy with me as I was driving over to Mold the next day to work from the main office.

When I arrived I was quite surprised at how cramped the offices were. The main reporters’ room was long and narrow with a window at the front. Either side there were old wooden table-type desks with filing cabinets in between.

It was equipped to allow for six people working at any one time.

Peter’s office was at the front, entered from the reporters’ room, there must have been another room as it was only half the size of the big office.

When I went in to see him Peter asked how I was faring and I told him what I had been doing.

He then told me that for a while Wednesdays would be training days and I would work alongside a senior reporter.

On that Wednesday I would be partnered with (if I remember accurately) a reporter called David Nicholas. He was probably in his mid to late 20s.

That morning he took me to the local magistrates’ court and I learned my first lesson: get to know the clerk of the court.

By getting there in good time before the session starts a chat with the clerk of the court, normally a very experienced solicitor, would let you know the best cases coming up; provide the names of the magistrates; also the names of prosecuting and defence solicitors (sometimes the prosecution was handled by a senior police officer); and main details of the defendants, including name, age, address and charge.

Although these details would be given in court it helped to have the correct spellings to hand and also allowed you to concentrate on the case rather than trying to catch everything else that was being said.

I noticed David did not use Pitman’s shorthand but appeared to use abbreviations and some of his own marks.

When the court finished he took me to a pub near the office and we met up with two other reporters and a photographer, Mike Roberts, who I did get to know quite well over the next year or so.

Over a pint (with the company I was in I didn’t get asked my age) and a cheese roll I got to know my new colleagues and I also got a couple of lessons you won’t be taught by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

The first thing David told me was that I should join the National Union of Journalists. As a budding socialist I saw no reason not to.

He said he would give me the forms back at the office.

The second lesson was on how to fill in an expenses sheet.

He explained that as my base was the Holywell office I could charge for mileage on any journey to and from there. That included the trip to and from Mold. Also if I was away from the office while working I could claim a lunch allowance. Once again my presence at the Mold office counted.

There were other things which could be claimed but he pointed out that there were certain items which should always be claimed, for example at least two meal claims (lunch or evening meal, the latter claimed for jobs which went on beyond a certain time in the evening).

“You see if someone claims less expenses than others it might be judged some are overclaiming.”

With these lessons in mind we returned to the office and I was pointed to one of the empty chairs and told to type up my reports from the court case.

I had already been instructed on copy layout, with folio names and numbers, the paper identification initials and reporter initials.

I checked my notes and then started typing up my copy.

After a coffee break, during which I noted David had left the office, I returned to the stories and by 3.30 I had typed up three main court cases and a couple of filler pieces on minor cases.

Peter stuck his head round the office door and told me to bring my copy through and we would check it over.

He leafed through it and I noticed he had a pencil to hand which he used to make notations on my copy.

“Not bad for your first shot,” he said. “Have a look at David’s copy for the same stories and compare it to yours. You will not have written it up in exactly the same way but it will give you an idea of points you may have missed and what David might have decided was unimportant.”

When I left the Herald I had left behind the McNae’s Essential law for Journalists but Peter provided me with a new copy and suggested I also buy a small Oxford Dictionary and a thesaurus, preferably Roget’s, which could be put on expenses if a receipt was provided.

He then told me the office would have local newspapers delivered as well as the Liverpool Daily Post, N. Wales edition, the Western Mail and two national newspapers. The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. I could add one other national newspaper to this, I just had to let the receptionist know.

He also gave me a big desk diary, A4 size, and told me to put down all regular jobs in it, council meetings, court, any events around town etc. This was to be done on Fridays ready for the week ahead.

After all this he told me I had coped well in my first days at my new job. He also said I should spend the rest of the week (two days) checking on regular contacts and looking for any off-diary stories.

“I’ll see you next week.”

With that he got back to whatever he had been doing before calling me in and I returned to the outer office.

David had returned and he tossed his carbons over to me to have a read. I noticed that in the main we had got the same stories based on the court hearings but here and there he had put more import on one angle than I had and his storyline flowed more smoothly.

He looked at my copy, noting Peter’s changes, and told me it was good work.

Then he gave me an application form for the NUJ and said Mike would pop in and take a picture of me and have the passport size shots ready to go on my press card the following week.

By the time all this was done it was almost the end of the day. David had given me a bundle of expense forms and then wished me well and said he would see me next week.

That was it. Half-way through my first week and I felt more like a real journalist than I had throughout the six months prior to this.

The trip to Mold had been very satisfying.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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