Jack of all trades – and at times master of many

When it comes to daily regional newspapers and the nationals everyone seems to be a specialist. Court reporters; entertainment reporters; finance journalists; political journalists; science journalists; sports reporters – and even then there can be subdivisions with reporters only dealing with football, or golf, or cricket, hockey, rugby etc. etc.

Life is not so neatly partitioned for those working on weekly newspapers.

A cub reporter or junior journalist is a real jack of all trades and rarely gets to become a master (is there a non-gender specific term for that?) of one.

At least nowadays the juniors are no longer considered better for nothing than getting a mug of tea or coffee for their betters.

Depending on the size of the editorial staff seniors had some leniency on which jobs they covered. School sports day would be passed to a junior while a senior would attend the local football team matches.

On the general news front anybody could be called on to cover a story ranging from council meetings to court reporting and other stories considered as diary jobs. These were things that would be written in the news editor’s diary as they would happen on a specific day and time.

Other diary items might involve feature work ranging from writing pieces about local business or industry in general (sometimes just a “puff” piece to go with advertising), or specific stories about the past glory of an area where attempts are being made to spruce it up after a period of neglect.

There would also be the traditional vox pop when a reporter and photographer would go out on the streets and interview passersby about certain issues: is the council doing a good job; which of the proposed bypasses would be best for the town; or, at election time, which candidate would make the best MP.

On the last one you would naturally have to make sure that comments were fairly shared – not the easiest thing if one of the candidates, especially a sitting MP, is really unpopular in the run up to an election.

Off-diary stories were different. These were the ones involving an incident such as a major road or rail accident; a fire affecting a wide area (similar to the bush fires raging in Greece and America at present); or a missing child.

The bigger the story the more reporters it might need. Someone would take responsibility to liaise with the police and other emergency services, another might be on the scene with a photographer and a third could be digging out background on any people involved – the inhabitants of a burning house; workers at a blazing factory; possible regular travellers on a train involved in a crash.

When I started properly in journalism, as a district officer reporter, I was thrown in at the deep end and often had to cover everything, from court and council to sports, sometimes having to get around three or four football matches, getting a flavour of each one without freezing at the side of the pitch for 90 minutes.

Major incidents would bring in reporters from the head office.

When I moved to the Rhyl Journal I was still very much the junior but, even though I might still have to attend a regional athletics event, I no longer had to do the general sports reporting. Mainly because I think it was soon realised I did not have much interest in football, cricket etc. and there were others who enjoyed these events.

Once I moved to Basildon I was still a general reporter but I had the chance to specialise in such areas as local politics, entertainment and court reporting, which I did find fascinating – possibly a hangover from my schoolboy interest in crime and forensics.

As I moved up to sub-editor, chief sub and finally editor I noticed over the years how weekly news staff were being cut back to the bone and rather than specialising many reporters found themselves expected to cover more and more stories and eventually even being expected by some unscrupulous regional newspaper owners to become a reporter and photographer.

It was always accepted that if a journalist was out and about and something happened they could take pictures of the incident if they had a camera. In the same way a photographer out on a simple assignment might end up writing more than just a caption.

It had, however, always been part of the ethical code that journalists did not normally take photographers and photographers did not write stories.

There was a joke going round for many years that one day they would expect papers to be turned out by one man and his dog. In recent years the dog didn’t get the job.

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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