I can still remember the thrill of my first day on a daily newspaper. I was a sub on the sports desk of the Cambridge Evening News, having broken my indentures at the Essex Chronicle and gone north in the search of fame and fortune and an escape from late nights at Great Baddow parish council.
No sooner had I topped and tailed a round-up from the Eastern Counties League (RIP) and had a bacon roll and cup of tea from the trolley (also RIP) than the paper – damp and smelly, fresh from the press – was in my hand.
It was never much more than half and hour from sending the last story to getting a paper in your hand. It seemed a miracle then and it still seems a miracle today.
What made me think of this was a visit from Kevin Ward, editor of the Worcester News, who came in to talk to some first year journalism students. A better editor you couldn’t wish to meet: knowledgeable, committed, passionate and forward-thinking. But Kevin wrestles daily with a strange beast: a newspaper without a deadline. The Worcester News, previously known as The Worcester Evening News, is one of the new breed of morning evenings. It prints at 10.30 in the evening (I can’t bring myself to say night) and is on the news-stand with the nationals the next day.
That means that the 10am and 3pm conferences identify and then confirm the news of the day. The reporters, subs, photographers and even Albert the cleaner can all work towards an orderly conclusion in mid-evening before the press whirrs into action and spews the hard-fought fruits of the communal loins into, well, just the waiting vans.
Deadlines are the life-blood of newspapers. Even in this instant-web-based-news-environment we now inhabit there are still deadlines for newspapers to hit. For the Evenings it’s the remorseless change-up from far-flung districts to city centre and for Mornings it’s whatever we can change while the press is still running.
I’ve had run-ins with press room managers (“It’ll have fish and chips in it in the morning”), recalcitrant subs (“Do we have to change – it’s my break”) and circulations bods (“You’ll miss the van to Truro”) pulling out all the stops to get the latest and best into the paper.
I get the feeling that even extra-time in the Carling Cup might be as far as the Worcester News needs to go. Not much happens in the provinces after dark so the paper I buy at 9am is a reflection of what was happening in my community the afternoon before – full of those overnight pages we put together and hoped would get ousted by newer, and by definition more exciting, developments.
Don’t get me wrong: Kevin does a great job on his limited staff and even more limited investment from the Newsquest moguls. But an early evening deadline and morning distribution is a recipe for disaster.
Now, nearly 30 years on from when I was subbing at Cambridge, I still look at the clock at 10.45 – the first edition deadline for the back page – and hope the picture has been sent and the headline written. If not there’s always that block in my pocket and a quiet word with Nigel on the Ludlow…