Speed king

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Phil Parry is a former BBC news and current affairs reporter. He is winner of the BT Wales award for journalist of the year, BT Wales TV reporter of the year and radio reporter of the year.
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Clive Street in Cardiff – young reporters had to get used to living in squalid flats and working at speed

On The Eye our Editor Phil Parry 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, making clear that ‘calls’ to emergency services and court cases are central to any media operation, as well as the vital role of the accurate quotation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the importance of expenses, and about some of those he has interviewed as well as one of his most important stories on the now-defunct 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

No coat for Phil which was an excellent sign to the News Editor!

Mr Parry has also explained the importance of actually speaking to people and here talks about why being fast is crucial.

 

In journalism speed as well as accuracy are essential.

In daily news reporting particularly, they are vital.

You must meet the programme, or newspaper, deadline, and being fast and accurate are absolutely critical.

Newsrooms had a certain way of working then

When I was on BBC Wales Today a friend of mine would always pretend he was in the running blocks about to start a race when the Producer gave him a commission.

So the scenario would be something like this:

“xxx there is a story I want you to do for tonight’s programme”, the Producer would say.

At this the reporter would bend down in the middle of the newsroom in a crouched position as though he was waiting for the gun to be fired!

Stuart ‘Minto’ Minton – ‘don’t take off your coat!’

When I was a cub reporter on the South Wales Echo, a favoured phrase of the News Editor, Stuart ‘Minto’ Minton would be “don’t take off your coat”.

You knew then that although you had just walked in the office you were about to be sent out to cover an important story for that day’s paper.

You had to reach wherever it was, find out the details, write the story in your notebook (or head) and send your ‘copy’ back to the Echo, probably by phone.

Finding a phone which worked was vital for reporters in the field

This would involve finding a phone which worked (perhaps by asking to use the phone in somebody’s house) and relaying the information back to the ‘copy taker’ in the office, who was ready with headphones and sitting at a typewriter to take down what you said.

You would look for the house which had a telephone wire running to it, and knock on the family’s door to ask to use their phone making a transfer charge call.

It wasn’t all glamour in television newsrooms…

This was of course long before mobiles.

You had to be clear in communicating your story to the copy taker (who was almost always a woman) so every sentence would end with:  “Point, paragraph”.

All of this would have to be before the deadline for the paper that day – an early one if it was an inside story and a slightly later one for the front page.

The ‘splash’ or ‘FPL’ soon rolled off the press!

The most important story would be called ‘the splash’ or FPL (Front Page Lead).

You also had to liaise with the picture desk so that a photographer could accompany you.

Sometimes the photographer (or ‘snapper’) would already be out in the field on the story, so you would talk to him (and it usually was ‘him’) to make sure your words matched the pictures.

Reporting court cases could be very stressful for Phil

But it was the phone which was crucial.

Covering big court cases with Cambrian News Agency for all the ‘nationals’ (UK newspapers) before a case you were reporting, you would always check out where the nearest telephone was to ‘file’ your copy about the verdict or what was said, before anyone else had a chance to use it.

There were even stories of reporters who had sabotaged phones so that rivals on other papers could not use them.

Sometimes a phone would be broken so other reporters could not use it

I stress, though, that I never did this!

These phones were usually in or near the Press Room of the court.

There would always be a rush for the phone to get the copy over first when the jury returned with the verdict in a big case.

This was, naturally, an extremely stressful time, but I had an irritating habit of yawning when I was nervous – so people thought I was incredibly laid back!

Obviously for a story which was not being covered in a court case, you needed to locate the scene of the accident or crime, quickly.

A friend of mine would always hire a taxi to go to the address and follow it in his car!

It came back to speed and accuracy.

If it did not make it in an accurate form into the paper or on to television screens it was almost like saying it never happened – it could have been an April Fool’s joke!

 

Tomorrow – more alarming revelations about country linked to Wales’ largest airport. 

Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster! 

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