One man and his dog – but it’s the dog in charge of the show

When I was a trainee reporter – over 50 years ago – most of the stories I reported on were straightforward.

A story could be a report on a court case; reports from a council meeting; sports reports; a theatre review; or one of many other events.

In all these cases I went to court, the council, the theatre or the football match before returning to my desk and writing my story.

Because my early years were all on weekly newspapers this was constant.

On my training courses in Cardiff I was taught to handle a different kind of story – a running story where the action was still going on as the press deadline drew closer.

These were normally major incidents to be reported in daily newspapers (morning or evening), such as a train crash, where the situation was always updating from the basic report:

“Five people are believed to have been killed in an incident on the railway line between Nether Wallop and Upper Staunton. Emergency vehicles are at the scene, close to the railway bridge on the A427.”

If the deadline was close this would initially be set as a single paragraph Stop Press report. It would be set ready to go on the page but in the meantime space would be sought to update the story if more came in from the reporter at the site (in those days you relied on there being a phone box nearby).

From this stage on a reporter might provide an update every 10 minutes which would be phoned through to copy takers, tidied up by sub-editors and prepared for printing.

After half an hour the story might read:

At least seven people have been killed and scores more injured when the crowded 1pm express train from Nether Wallop to Upper Staunton was derailed just over 200 yards from the bridge where the A142 from Middle Wallop to Lower Staunton goes over the railway track.

Three fire engines, eight ambulances and a number of police vehicles are at the site and the scene is under the command of Chief Inspector George Henson, who told our reporter: “The train driver and six passengers, including two children, have been confirmed dead and the fire services are attempting to cut passengers free from the wreckage.

“I am not prepared to give any names at present until those involved are properly identified and their families informed.”

With 10 minutes to go until deadline the running reports are still coming in and copy is being snatched off copytakers to be subbed and set.

A farmer has described the horrific scene at the site where a crowded mainline train came off the tracks at 1.30pm today killing at least seven people, including two children, and injuring scores more.

The crowded express train left Nether Wallop at 1pm for Upper Staunton and came off the tracks just over 200 yards from the bridge where the A142 from Middle Wallop to Lower Staunton goes over the railway track.

Farmer George Stevenson was ploughing one of his fields which runs alongside the track and told our reporter: “I heard this massive bang and then screeching metal and I turned to see the mangled train engine and carriages and I could hear screaming.

“I told my boy to run to the farmhouse and call 999 while I went down to see if I could help. It was horrific, some people had been thrown out onto the trackside but I could hear more inside. I just didn’t know what to do.”

Less than 10 minutes after the crash two fire engines from Upper Staunton and one each from Lower Staunton and Nether Wallop were at the scene closely followed by a police contingent led by Chief Inspector George Henson.”

Our reporter was at the site 25 minutes after the crash and saw ambulances from St John’s hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital ferrying away the injured as other ambulances were arriving.

Chief Inspector Henson told our reporter: “The train driver and six passengers, including two children, have been confirmed dead and the fire services are attempting to cut more passengers free from the wreckage.

The train was crowded with at least 70 people on board and nearly all of them are injured, ranging from minor cuts and bruising up to life-threatening injuries.

“I am not prepared to give any names at present until those involved are properly identified and their families informed.”

As we went to press there were reports that two other passengers, believed to be businessmen from London, have died as a result of their injuries.

The evening newspaper would have been on the streets by 4pm, just two and a half hours after the crash, thanks to the work of a reporter, two or three copytakers, three or four sub-editors and a number of printworkers.

Nowadays newspaper companies have online newspapers with stories being updated as and when, normally the responsibility of one person, often a reporter with no training in subbing a story and no idea how to write snappy headlines.

Over the decades we old hacks, most of us now retired, have seen editorial staffs wither on the vine and even 30 years ago we were joking about newspaper owners running their editorial staff on the basis of one man and his dog.

By the start of the 21st century more and more papers have gone online and media companies have bought out small newspaper companies and consolidated them with staff handling sites for more than one person in their area.

You can view online newspaper sites from Aberdeen to Aberdare or Edinburgh to Exeter and you will see no difference between the way a story is handled in one to the way it is in another and a lot of the stories will even be the same hundreds of miles apart.

When a story is being updated it is quite often an untrained junior, who happens to be a computer enthusiast, who adds in the new information. Unfortunately they often don’t change the rest of the story after the first three pars.

This means that an update on the story might reveal that only two people have died and halfway through the story it is still referring to seven dead.

The trouble is that it does not just involve regional newspapers. Some of our major daily newspapers are owned by these conglomerates. There are even cases where one national left-leaning newspaper is in the same stable as a true blue Tory newspaper and a couple of scandal sheets which no decent journalist would want to be involved with.

We don’t have a case where one man and his dog produces a newspaper, or even three or four newspapers. Nowadays the dog is in charge and has a few mutts handling 20 or 30 news sites.

I’m just glad I got out and retired before this nonsense they call modern journalism got its grip and centuries old newspapers and dragged them into the gutter.

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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