Free Press on the Hunt

My first newspaper job was in south-west Scotland at a newspaper called The Wigtown Free Press based in Stranraer.

It was a wee port town, strange for someone who was from a city like Edinburgh, and my first stint away from home.

In fact, I’ve never properly lived in Edinburgh since.

I lasted little over a year there before moving on, first to Ayrshire then Glasgow and London.

That particular job in part cost me my then girlfriend, my then 28 waist and acquainted me with Mr Jack Daniels and his friends coke and ice.

At the time I wanted to be somewhere else, almost anywhere else, because it was so alien.

Now I can’t help but look back on my time there fondly.

Lovely people to work with, not least the Editor John Neil who retired a year of so ago.

What I’d call a proper newspaper man – a stickler for accuracy and speed.

We used typewriters back then and if you made even the smallest mistake – missed a comma say – he would insist you retyped the whole thing no matter how long.

It seemed a waste of time to me then. Now I appreciate it was for my own good, as I’d make sure not to make those mistakes in the first place to avoid the ritual.

Subbing ‘on-stone’ was another skilled honed there, court and council reporting, crime and all the fetes and galas you could muster.

Whatever else I’ve went on to do in the nationals came largely thanks to John and the chance he gave a daft laddie all those years ago.

Of course a lot has change since then. It has its own website and I remember how excited John was to tell me they had invested in computers that allowed them to do pages on-screen.

There is a new editor too, advertising this vacancy.

The biggest change there is the salary – £16k compared to my £9998 in 1994 – not the greatest of rises.

But hopefully an opportunity for someone else to break into this lovable trade.

These days some nationals are hiring journalism graduates straight off their courses, and good luck to all who get such a break.

But I can’t help but think working up through the ranks remains the best way of learning the trade, the tricks and most of all, making the contacts that endure all through the years.

I remember being on my way home from the Daily Record one day when a contact I’d made five years or so before rang me out of the blue asking for a meet.

The reason was a tip about this story which eventually made the front page for three days on the trot and was followed up by rival titles.

But what was remarkable about the tipster, was the fact they didn’t want any money for the tale.

They simply thought what was happening was wrong, and because they felt they’d been treated well by me on the weeklies, trusted me enough to get back in touch.

In an age where cheque-book journalism is all the rage, maybe it will still be those who go through the weeklies that papers should be turning to when hiring their next crop of newshounds.

Categories: Blogs, Scottish Media Jobs

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