After describing his first day in journalism 34 years ago, life on a freelance agency, the importance of ‘experience’ in the job, and yesterday the role of doing the ‘calls’ to the emergency services at this time of year, here our award-winning Editor Phil Parry, looks back at the early days of his career, explaining the significance of the ‘byline’.
For any journalist the first ‘byline’ in a newspaper is a major event.
To have ‘by xxxx’ under the headline, confers approval by the News Editor, a pat on the back for a job well done, and offers the prospect of being given good stories in future.
It is also something (most importantly) your mum can show to her neighbours!
The first byline in a ‘national’ (UK newspaper) is even more important.
These things were as rare as hens teeth for reporters with a freelance agency (as I was, working for Cardiff’s Cambrian News Agency in the mid 1980s,) where you picked up important stories and sold them to papers in London.
If your copy was used at all in the paper, then it was usually with the name of a staff person above it or with the addition of ‘by a staff reporter’.
On this occasion, I had worked on a very sad story about a little girl who had had died after being electrocuted when she touched the back of her father’s fridge, which had been wrongly wired up.
I was 24 and, I am sorry to say, I could only see it as a good story.
The father and mother (who must have been grief stricken) would not speak, but I tracked down and interviewed shocked witnesses, and spoke to the police.
We pushed the story up to all the nationals, but one in particular, the Daily Express, came back wanting more details, which I duly found and provided.
The Express is a dreadful rag I now realise.
The other week, the first TEN stories on its website concerned the evils of Europe.
Then though it was a well-respected newspaper.
I worked on the story all day and I knew I was doing a good job.
“This will make a ‘page lead'”, I thought, “and we will get lots of money!”.
In the late afternoon, news came back that the Editors on the Express were so pleased they were going to print it with a byline and asked for my name.
I was as pleased as punch.
I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so excited!
The next day I rushed into the office early and waited for the plaudits to follow.
My two brothers were also journalists and they too would see my name, because the story would go out across the UK, not just in South Wales (I must confess there was an element of one-upmanship here).
My boss thundered up the stairs, as he did every morning, holding all the nationals in his arms, with me waiting at my desk like a cat on hot tin bricks.
“Have you seen it yet?” he said staring at me with a serious look.
“No, I haven’t” I answered excitedly.
“Except in my dreams!”
He slapped the Express in front of me and I frantically flicked through the paper until I found the piece.
It was indeed a page lead.
“BY PHIL BARRY”…