Things I’ve learned from editors

Next year, I will have been a journalist for 30 years.

Over those three decades, I’ve absorbed all sorts of advice, knowledge, techniques and skills.

As I wrote in this blog earlier this week the process started with the reporters I first worked with on a funny old paper in Devon in 1985.

But what other lessons have I learned from my bosses and colleagues in the intervening years?

It’s a question I entertain myself with from time to time, usually when I’m preparing for a job interview, or have time to kill on a run.

Much of my learning was at the hands of the news editor who taught me virtually all I know about news-editing, Torquay Herald Express editor Jim Parker.

He showed me the crucial importance of developing, nurturing and working your contacts, of that mixture of charm, chumminess and cheek that can be the key to getting the very best stories.

Another reporter, Swindon Advertiser district man Clive Bennett, was also a guiding light on that score.

His patter when trying to get reluctant informants to open up was utter poetry, a wonder to behold.

Jim also taught me the vital need for a news editor – or any editorial leader – to be a performer.

He put on a daily act of encouragement, mickey-taking, mock anger, self-deprecation and constant motion to keep his newsroom energised.

After a couple of years by the sea, I moved to Swindon, where news editor David Gledhill opened my eyes to the importance of standing up for your rights, of remembering the role journalism can play in a healthy democracy, and of sheer bloodyminded courage.

That came to the fore when I followed him to Bath, where as editor he presided over a story which pointed an accusing finger at a councillor with the simple front page description LIAR.

I learned softer – but equally vital – skills from his successor, my very good friend Sam Holliday.

The measure of Sam is that he remains friends with people he has made redundant, and he showed me how to create a communicative family atmosphere and resilient team spirit when times were tough.

In my more idealistic moments, I like to think I am helping to mould the next generation of editors.

If they can combine the best elements of the ones that I’ve worked for, they won’t go far wrong.

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