Timely lesson about trust

My mix of shadowing David Nicholas and spending time under my own command at the Holywell office certainly strengthened my nature when it came to coping for myself in later years.

David taught me what to watch for when out and about as a good story could come from the smallest reference.

He said you had to talk when necessary but, far more, you had to listen. Not just listen to the speaker at a meeting but also what others might say within earshot.

At a crowded meeting, council or any other large group, asides muttered during a speech can give clues to dissent or harmony.

This is where I believe the Liverpool heritage my mother gave to me proved useful.

She always seemed to know everything that was going on, even if she had appeared busy with something else.

I remember one of my aunts telling me: “Your mother can be watching television while reading a book, knitting, taking part in a conversation, listening to another and butting in on a third.”

I did wonder if my mentor had become disillusioned during his years as a reporter. He certainly had little trust in any politician, whatever the persuasion, and at times even distrusted the word of fellow journalists.

His attitude towards ordinary people, however, was very different. He felt thay had to be handled gently. A politician could be verbally bullied at times because they need us as much as we need them.

The general public were very different. They liked to see their names in the paper but at the same time they will turn away from you if you misinterpret them.

“You must remember, Robin, when you talk to these people they have to trust you. Local reporters are just that, local. If you write something about them that isn’t true you are still around at the end of the week and they will let you know their feelings. You have to earn their trust”

“It is not worth antagonising your readers for the sake of one good story.

“It’s different for the national mob. By the time the paper comes out they will be far away and don’t have to worry about what hits the fan.”

It was a lesson I learned well and it proved invaluable a few years later when putting it into practice gave me a scoop worthy of a front page byline.

That is in the future, however.

In the here and now, or the now that was then, I was picking up a few off-diary stories worth at least a top of the page slot and occasionally even a byline.

There was one story, the exact content of which I don’t remember half a century later, certainly attracted Peter’s attention because the day it had gone with the early morning copy he rang me at the office.

He wanted to double-check the facts to be sure it was as good as it appeared. I checked my notes and confirmed it was good.

On the day our paper came out, with my story an above-the-fold page one slot, Peter rang me again. Only this time he wasn’t in such a good mood and told me I was to drive over to the Mold office, immediately.

When I got there he called me straight into his office and shut the door.

On his desk was our paper and a copy of a regional daily paper. Ours was displayed with the front page showing my story. The regional daily was opened to an inside right-hand page with a prominently displayed top of the page story with a two-deck head very similar to ours.

“How did they get this story? It is almost word for word the same and you said you were positive nobody else had it.

“Did you sell it on?”

I was taken aback, especially as I had no idea what he meant.

“I’m sorry Peter. I have no idea how they got hold of it. I am positive nobody else got this story. I typed it up the same day and left it with all my other copy to be picked up first thing and taken to Mold office.

“I didn’t tell anyone else about it and I certainly did not ‘sell it on’. I work for you and I don’t even know how to ‘sell it on’.”

He must have believed me because his tone changed.

“OK. I had to make sure. There is an office lineage pool which stories can be put into and at the end of the week they can be “sold” to other publications. People get a share of the pool based on how much they put in.

“You obviously haven’t been told about this.

“One thing I have always been clear on is that certain stories will remain exclusive to us. This one fits that spec.

“I’m sorry to have doubted you but I really didn’t expect to see this anywhere else.”

He said we should leave it there and he would deal with any trouble it caused.

That was it except that the following Wednesday David told me about the office pool and asked if I wanted to be a part of it.

At the next share-out from the pool I discovered I had been credited with the problem story.

The extra bit of cash each month wasn’t going to make me a millionaire but it provided some cash in my pocket for nights out.

The incident taught me two lessons:

Most things have a price.

Be careful who you trust.

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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