Monday, 20 July 2009

Who'll teach the new tricks now the old dogs have left?

Last week I got tricked up in a gown and mortarboard to graduate from the Journalism Leaders Course, courtesy of a Trinity Mirror team-up with UCLan.
It was a good day but it struck me as I sat in Preston Guildhall that there was a very large number of newly-qualified journalists sat in rows around me. And that was just from UCLan - I guess all over the country hundreds of journalists are pouring, freshly-minted, into the World of Work.
I'd bet some are better equipped to cope with the changing industry they hope to enter than many of those already ensconsed, but still - there were a lot of people in that hall.
I wish them all the best for the future, and I'm happy that so many people still want to pursue a career in journalism; open minds coming in to the industry are just what we need - I hope whichever newsroms they wind up in appreciates the optimism, ambition and training that has walked through the door.

Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, which meant he had to sing for his supper, ie. make a speech. He kicked off with the obligatory hilarious story about something involving interviewing a turkey for regional televizzzzzzzzzzzzz... but then he moved on to the future of journalism, and the BBC, and it got more interesting.

He spoke of the move to Salford Quays, and said it would create hundreds of quality journalism jobs (so kudos to UCLan for getting in ahead of the competition and making him a Fellow - nothing like having friends in high places).
And he also spoke at length about the need to mainstain standards, saying that technology was changing journalism and journalists but that the core values of a brand - by which I assume he meant accuracy, status, reputation etc - should always be a constant, no matter what other changes occurred.

But it all sounded so passionless. This was a room filled with talent, from newly-fledged hacks to broadcasters, but there was nothing I heard that would have inspired me at the start of my career. I might have been vaguely comforted by the idea of those 'hundreds of jobs' but no more than that.

Driving back from Preston I found myself thinking of when I was a cub reporter covering Pembroke magistrates court. It boasted a press bench that had gained some fame among Welsh journalists as reporters from local nespapers, tv, radio and even some exotics from the nationals, had sat and added their names to the oak banding around the green leather table top down the years.

My late and so-much-missed colleague Vernon Scott once told me he wanted to buy the press bench because of the journalistic history etched on its timbers. His name was there, of course, and - after a few weeks of recording the misdeeds of the recidivists of Pembroke borough, so was mine, next to the name of Hugh Turnbull, carved when he was a local reporter covering Pembroke court. He went on to become a national news editor and the brain behind Blackie the Donkey.

I remember a lot of the names on that bench still - Len Mullins, John Evans, Martin Cavaney - they were local legends, and adding my name alongside theirs made me feel a bit of a fraud, because I worried I would never be as good as them.
These were some of the people who helped me learn my trade; working alongside them I learned more than I ever did from swotting for the NCE.
I wonder how many of those newly-qualified journalists I sat by in Preston will have similar old dogs to help them learn new tricks - to discover the real stuff of being a local reporter, and a writer. I fear that there won't be that many... they've taken redundancy, early retirement or the PR option.
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