Monday, 10 August 2009

You will abide by the grooming standard

I wear a suit and tie to work every day. It's a kick back to the nationals.
Shoes clean. Shirt ironed. Conservative tie. Suit not covered in sick. Any less and you could be sent home.
In many respects it makes sense. In the mind of many, a suit and tie still gives an air of authority to the wearer. Even more so, in this casual age.
I remember one particularly scary death knock on a very, very hard council estate outside Glasgow.
I was pure shiteing it - to use the vernacular. There were neds (non-educated-delinquents) hanging from the door frame - beady eyes, baseballs caps, missing teeth and shiny shell suits everywhere - and I was convinced I was about to feel cold steel or a broken bottle this night.
As I left my car I noticed another of my trade - also white faced - leaving his car. A quick nod and we strode purposefully to the door - game faces firmly on. Through the neds, who parted for us, and up the stairs (lift was predictably fucked) and to the 17th floor flat.
We were in and out, quotes and collects in hand, within 20 minutes with the wee wifey considering us to be the polis - to continue the Irvine Welsh effect.
Not once did we say we were anything other than two guys in suits working for the papers but people assumed we were something we weren't.
And we were smart enough to allow them to think what they like.
Now imagine that scenario with you wearing a t-shirt, jeans and trainers. You ain't getting in the door without a chib in the guts
Since that day I use my clothes like a suit of armour.
Dress smart, act smart, work smart. From the moment I put my suit on, the outside world can not affect me.
I am important. I am professional. I will be taken seriously.
Also, dressing smart every day should be a necessity.
How can you know whether you will be sent to court or to a death knock, an inquest or a funeral?
Respect is not just given by how you act but also how you show up to someone's place.
Not everyone gets it.
My favourite fuck-off and get changed moment came when a new boy had his first day on a national's London desk - run at this time by an indomitably nasty news ed.
Our new recruit was dressed in yellow corduroy slacks, a mostly unbuttoned, unironed casual shirt and - the piece de resistance - sockless brown loafers.
Fuck me, if you wore a grey suit in that office or unbuttoned your collar you were deemed a dangerous rebel.
I have never seen someone so utterly humiliated in front of 50 plus hacks when the news ed bawled him out before sending him home for the day.
The new recruit went on to become a very successful foreign corr in a country where flip flops are the national costume.
The other evil cunt is still very much alive and still working on one of Britain's great (smartly dressed) national papers.
Maybe casual ain't so bad, after all.

Are we the authors of our own misfortune?

I, for one, am deeply mistrustful of our beloved companies going cap in hand to the government asking for handouts and favours to keep newspapers alive.
It is a little like a beggar with a three-legged dog on a string asking for '10p for a cup of tea' before driving a 7 series Beemer to his eight bedroom house in Mayfair and then shagging his supermodel wife.
Up the arse, obviously.
Many newspaper bosses are practically willing to blow a Government minister or two for a few quid without truly understanding where newspapers and journalism stands today.
The money is out there, they just need to understand how to get it.
I blame newspaper management for a massive slice of the shit we are in. Their shortsighted, shareholder-appeasing horse shit has pared many newsrooms to the bone and caused the premature deaths of too many good papers.
But I blame reporters and editors for an equally large portion.
I read one of my sister papers this week. A paid for costing its readers 65 new pence per week.
This paid for wasn't particularly understaffed either. It had seven - count them seven - editorial staff not including the overall group editor.
Nor was it a gust-of-wind-will-blow-me-away stripped-down paid for.
This was a cat-killing, hernia-inducing, paperboy-cursing 100 pages plus. So money was obviously being made.
I had to read it twice to fully grasp the gravity of the situation we are in.
It was utter shit.
To be conservative, the splash was weak, piss poor, drivel that would struggle to find a home in the Oxtown Gazette. It was badly written, uninteresting and dreadfully laid out. It even turned to five, where the same picture was used and the copy was a virtual duplicate of what I had already read.
Page three was a turgid council story with a bad headline and no pics. Four, a boring charity sport story. Seven, a crime story that would have struggled to make a nib. Eight and eleven a similar inquest with nine breaking it up with a classic 'I'm old feel sorry for me tale'. At least it had a pic of the subject.
There was a cursory pop at the cost of council's own 'newspaper' on 14 but I couldn't help thinking I wouldn't mind having a gander at it to see what is actually happening in town.
This rag carried on for a few more awful pages which I flicked through rapidly.
Bear in mind this paper was a 100 plus pages paid for. It's 'news' stopped around page 20.
The pages themselves looked like a trainee sub had been given a key to the font factory. Headlines didn't make sense or were simply dull as fuck.
There were no pictures worth using at all. And the page shapes looked like they were created to maximise profit despite the pagination (which I realise they were).
Basically it was everything that gives a classic local paper a really bad name.
I know the patch this paper covers and it has some really good news areas, deprived communities, crime and a council that deserves a kick in the arse.
There is no logical reason to bring out this collection of utter shite.
So can we blame the MDs or newspaper companies for the year-on-year drop in circulation? Or do we look instead at the staff?
Is a lazy editor worse than a bad MD? Are badly directed journalists and subs more damaging to newspapers than a bean counting executive?
I think all of us should stop looking outside of our industry for answers and spend some time studying what we actually produce.
I know that the underfunding within this industry has crippled many papers but there is no real excuse for bringing out some of the shit which pretends to be news.
Bad papers are created as much by bad editors and poor journalism as they are by lack of cash.
If stories in newspapers are weak, we should ask why.
Being short staffed is not an excuse for sloppy, poor journalism. I have no staff, but it doesn't stop me concentrating on the great tales.
It just stops me doing as many things as I would like.
Underfunding of journalism is a terrible, dreadful thing but shit journalism is like cancer.
Once we accept lower standards and a lack of news values it will start to spread until there is nothing worth saving.
No matter how big our 'Hungry and Homeless' sign is.