A Christmas story

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Journalists must make contact with emergency services at all times of year

Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at why even at this time of year, news must be reported, and how it often comes from telephone calls. 

Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil, here on BBC Cymru Wales Today in 1988, always knew how important it was to talk to people

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

 

It’s worth remembering that at this time of year people still have to work.

Think of the journalists too!

Apart from health workers, emergency rescuers and the police – there are the journalists.

News must be reported, and this has been emphasised to me by the death from cancer of Desmond Tutu, who was at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town, and died on Boxing Day at the age of 90.

It reminded me of how as a very inexperienced 21 year old trainee reporter on the South Wales Echo (SWE), I was tasked by my News Editor Stuart ‘Minto’ Minton, with the job of ringing up the wife of a seriously-ill Welsh celebrity, to find out how he was.  In reality it was to discover if he had died yet, so that we could run an ‘obit’!

Desmond Tutu’s death pointed the way to how journalists operate

The sad news of Archbishop Tutu’s death, may have come from telephone calls like this, and it is a fact that in journalism some unfortunate individual has duties involving this kind of contact, even on Christmas Day.

Rounds of ‘calls’ must be made by a reporter to emergency services in the patch, to find out what is going on.

‘I must report faithfully what this emergency worker told me…’

When I started in journalism, these were usually done on the phone, but now a lot of the calls are made using the internet.

These calls consist of contacting the police, ambulance service (now just one in Wales) and fire brigades (possibly more) every few hours to see what, if anything, is happening and they are usually automated today.

During one Christmas on the SWE (then the biggest-selling paper produced in Wales), in the early 1980s I had to do the calls in an empty newsroom, and I also did them (although from home) at the Cardiff freelance agency I worked on, Cambrian News Agency.

Unwrap presents, but remember that news never stops!

I’m afraid that quite a lot happens during the Christmas and New Year holidays for reporters.

Houses get burnt down because the lunch goes badly wrong, and with the thought of most people at home alongside their families there are, I’m sorry to say, a number of suicides by those who have no-one.

Relatives are thrown together in an oppressive atmosphere, pretending to be cheerful. There are also plenty of drink-fuelled fights, and even murders!

‘Twas the fight before Christmas

All these terrible events have to be reported, and happen even during a pandemic.

I apologise for bringing up these details now, but someone has to report this kind of news, and they do not stop over Christmas and New Year!

Many of these awful stories are first picked up by that solitary reporter doing the calls.

Christmas time can mean reporting terrible fires

Usually it is a single person who is assigned this all-important duty and it is vital that the calls are done at this time.

I feel for the poor people who have to do them now in news organisations!

Once when I did the calls I was party to the black humour which seems to persist with the police.

A sergeant at a Welsh police force, picked up the phone when I rang (it’s all centralised now) and told me about an apparent suicide at a beauty spot in South Wales when a man had driven his car off a cliff.

This happened too often

Sadly, suicides on Welsh cliffs happen all too often during a festive period, and another police officer told me that people who wanted to take their own lives would, bizarrely, lock their cars before getting out and jumping to their deaths.

This time though, the man had stayed in his car before driving it over the edge.

“He’s dead”, the officer said. I cleared my throat and desperately tried not to sound shocked.

Contact often had to be made with the University Hospital of Wales during the ‘calls’

We were never allowed to say someone had died until we were given the news officially by the hospital.

I also tried to sound older than my years. “Um, how can you be so sure?, I asked, my voice wavering.

“Well,” he answered stifling a laugh, “his body is in the front and his head is in the back”

 

Book posterPhil’s memories of his extraordinary 38-year award-winning career in journalism (when ‘calls’ were central) as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.