After describing how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car, recalling his early years in journalism at the start of a 34-year career, 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, here our award-winning Editor Phil Parry explains the emphasis on training.
A huge part of a journalist’s training was signing the two year ‘indentures’ period with your local paper or media group.
These were usually very formal affairs involving the Editor, News Editor, and Managing Director (MD), where they would go so far as to provide such luxuries as biscuits!
The indentures papers I signed were in the office of the MD of the Western Mail and Echo, Howard Green.
He was in charge when I started officially as a cub reporter on the South Wales Echo – then the biggest-selling newspaper produced in Wales.
He was the father of the former First Secretary of State, Damian Green, who was sacked from the UK cabinet in December over being “inaccurate and misleading” about what he knew concerning pornography on his office computer in 2008.
So I knew Howard Green a little – and note with sadness that he has just died at the age of 91.
He was a journalist of the old school who believed it was very important to train young reporters in subjects such as law, public administration and how actually to TALK to people!
The latter sounds absurd but is probably the most important thing of all.
In a very short time over the phone or on the doorstep, you need to come over as friendly, genuine and trustworthy to someone who is, perhaps, in the middle of the most traumatic experience he or she will ever face.
There is a way of phrasing questions so they are not too intrusive, yet secure the information you need.
All of this was well known to Mr Green, who was MD of my newspaper company in the Thomson Regional Newspapers (TRN) group from 1981 to 1985.
He was launch Editor of the Evening Post in Reading (also in the TRN group) and took its circulation to 55,000 in just four years – figures about which Editors of Welsh newspapers now can only dream!
Before signing the indentures in Mr Green’s office, I was told what to expect by my News Editor Stuart ‘Minto’ Minton (also now sadly-departed).
In a magnificent wind up, one poor fellow trainee reporter had been persuaded he would have to sing the company song!
We even wrote it out for him to learn.
One of the lines was: “From shore to shore the pen is mightier than the sword”.
I remember that during the signing process I managed to demolish all the biscuits.
Mr Green never forgot it – and kept reminding the Editor of the Echo, Geoff Rich.
From then on, we reported a daily round of stories about damp council flats or chip pan fires; during three months in head office in Cardiff, three months in a district office and three months on the subs desk, then back to Cardiff where we completed our training.
But there were no more biscuits.
Tomorrow – why the monthly costs have been reduced after a libel case illegally funded by a Welsh council.