VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: The past week has marked an end of an era for British newspaper publishing, as GLENN MOORE, who worked at The Independent from 1993, recounts here
In the winter of 1985-1986 a City gent came to talk to us students on City University’s post-grad journalism course. Andreas Whittam-Smith, tall, well-spoken, patrician, told us of a bold plan to bring out a new newspaper to challenge the Times-Telegraph-Guardian status quo. We listened eagerly.
It was an exciting time to be starting out in journalism; some nights we’d go to Wapping to watch the police and strikers do battle on the picket line. We were unsure who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, but certain this was history in the making with the industry we were entering on the cusp of seismic change.
A few months later Charlie Burgess, who moonlighted from his role as The Guardian’s deputy sports editor to teach the sports specialism on Friday mornings, came into class desperate to tell us of his new job. He was to be the first sports editor of Whittam-Smith’s brainchild, now known as The Independent.
In October 1986, The Independent produced that famous first edition. I bought a copy, and still have it. A couple of years later, while working for Hayters sports agency, I had my first byline in the paper. Other, occasional pieces followed. Then, in early 1993, I was in India covering England’s cricket tour for Reuters when The Independent suddenly needed a reporter to fill in for the last three weeks. Scyld Berry, who had been due to relieve Martin Johnson, had gone to the Sunday Telegraph. Martin, quite keen to come home, recommended me as “a keen young freelance” and the then-sports editor Paul Newman gave me a chance.
Fast forward 23 years, through 10 editors (including Simon Kelner twice), seven sports editors (including Matt Gatward twice), four job titles, three owners, four offices, several redesigns, too many rounds of redundancies, more than 4 million words, an occasional scoop and even rarer pay rises, and it’s all over.
It’s been wonderful, every bit of it. From the World Cups and the nights out on expenses (back in the day) to the deadline panics. And, most of all, the pride of picking the paper off the mat in the morning and seeing a great front or back page, or a cracking inside read, and thinking, “I’m a part of this”. It has never been just a job, or just another newspaper, even in the darkest times there has always been the sense of being part of a special, shared enterprise. Maybe it feels like this at every paper, I wouldn’t know. But it certainly did at The Indy.
In many ways it is amazing that The Independent and its Sunday sibling lasted as long as they did, but closure still came as a devastating shock. It is a long time since bankruptcy seemed so imminent that I checked my bank account on the 15th of every month just to see if I’d been paid.
But the industry moves on. In 1993 we used Tandy 200s with couplers to file, or copytakers (“is there much more of this?”, I hear one last time). Either method required finding a working phone, as did the check call on the way back from a night game. Smoke-filled press boxes were commonplace, as was the evening break in the pub for subs. The internet was unheard of. If you wanted to check a fact, you consulted a book, not Wikipedia. You spoke to players for stories, rather than followed them on Twitter.
My first overseas trip I was given £75 a day, no receipts required (that, sadly, did not last very long). My starting salary was higher than many entry-level salaries now, more than two decades on. It is still an invigorating trade, but it is no longer an exciting time to be starting out. Seismic change is underway again, but this time journalists are cast in the printers’ doomed role and I feel for the wide-eyed, hopeful students I teach, in a curious symmetry, on that very same course on which Charlie taught me 30 years ago.
Commiserations to those joining me in the uncertain world outside, good luck to those staying on. I hope both surviving ventures flourish – not least because I want to read them, and maybe write for them. Knowing the heroic, Herculean efforts that have been required to get the papers out these last few years, with the operation functioning mainly on the fuel of goodwill, it will be challenging, but if anyone can do it, Indy emigres can.
Is there much more of this?
- After 23 years working at The Independent, SJA member Glenn Moore, pictured right, is now working as a freelance. And independent
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