Start from scratch to stay in touch

In the early years, when a young journalist is still in training, where they first work can make a great deal of difference.

I was raised in a large, busy, seaside town where my father was a businessman and one way or another I knew a good many of the people in Rhyl – the goodies and the baddies.

I started my proper newspaper training, however, in a small, inland rural town where I had to find my contacts from the base up.

If I had started in Rhyl I might have found it too easy to rely on people I knew already for my stories rather than building up my own network.

Obviously because I had attended a college in the area I did have a few contacts in Holywell, Dilys for one.

In the main, though, I was starting from scratch.

That is how you find the best contacts.

A reliable PC or police sergeant might tip you off to a good story which puts you in a strong position when you are talking to the inspector or chief inspector in charge of the district.

You don’t talk to the magistrates about upcoming stories – better to get your info from the magistrates’ clerk’s office. Not necessarily the actual clerk (who is normally a senior solicitor and far above talking to junior reporters) but one of the clerk’s juniors.

The bosses of these contacts don’t really mind basic information being passed on because it saves them time when you are really just asking for official confirmation.

At the end of the day, however, the real strength in your early days learning by experience is the type and measure of what is happening.

In Holywell it was quieter and more laid-back. Even crime was much more gentle. Very few armed robberies or political shenanigans.

At times the biggest thing to hit the news might be a row over who really should have won the prize for best giant marrow at the local vegetable show.

This time was not wasted, however, and at the end of the day what mattered most was reader interest and circulation.

A revelation about rates being frittered away on jolly jaunts (investigative studies in council parlance) for councillors and council officials would do less to sell papers than a report with pictures of the local school sports day.

A picture of the five winners of the major sports day events could add 30 or more to the circulation figures.

Each little Jack or Jill will have two lots of grandparents wanting a copy as well as: Uncle George who now lives down South; cousin Mary whose parents moved to Australia 30 years ago; godparents who now live in Scotland or England; and two or three spares in case somebody has been forgotten.

At the end of the day local papers serve local people and they tend to want local news.

There is only so much news in a rural township, however, although a bright spark did say, once upon a time: “Isn’t it amazing how there’s always just enough stories to fill a newspaper each week.”

If he only knew that sometimes there isn’t enough and what there is has been padded out, or “leaded”, to make the copy go further.

At other times there will be more than enough and some reports will be held over for a week but will still get in.

After all local newspapers are as much a matter of record as they are of news.

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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