In July, it will be 30 years since I started my first job in journalism.
With no training other than a year spent editing my student newspaper behind me, I was thrown perhaps not quite into the deep end, but certainly that bit where you can only stand up on tiptoes.
Finding stories in the sleepy Devon town of Crediton proved a challenge, but it was one I enjoyed, as I collected bumps on my faithful ancient Hillman Avenger while negotiating west country lanes.
As I have recalled before, I benefited from the wisdom of old hands all around me, as well as from actual training on block release at a college in Cardiff.
And the pace of life was far from demanding.
The Western Times, bless its slightly off-colour cotton socks, was a one-edition paper, covering a vast rural part of the county. Going out meeting contacts (or at times “meeting contacts”) for a whole day was the norm, and I clearly remember fighting another reporter to answer a phone, so bored were we one afternoon.
Against that backdrop, perhaps it’s not surprising that my first paper wasn’t long for this world, and it folded two years after I joined.
But the point is that I was able to ease myself into my journalism career, with plenty of support, the luxury of time, and little in the way of pressure.
The internet wasn’t even a glint in someone’s eye, sales figures were someone else’s problem, twitter was something birds did, and reader interaction usually focused on whether we’d missed a clue in the crossword.
If I was starting today on the average weekly title, I’d have my own edition to fill, a website to keep fresh, social media accounts to operate and monitor, a running commentary of readers’ feedback, exams to revise for, and frequent reminders of sales and web target performance.
All that with far fewer experienced folk to fall back on.
So one of my most challenging – but also rewarding – tasks is to support the people now setting out on the journey I started 30 years ago.
While email and social media have revolutionised the speed and ease of journalism, there is no doubt in my mind that the reporter of today has far, far more on his or her plate than I ever did.
Helping them to avoid indigestion is a key priority for me.
As it should be for all editorial managers.
And I was touched to read this wishlist drawn up by a reporter, and aimed at her managers.
- Be there when we ask for help
- Talk us through how we can improve
- Give us constructive criticism where appropriate and praise to know we’re on the right track
- Help us not to burn out – we love our jobs, but we need to be supported
- Listen – if we have a problem, we can’t be scared or worried to talk to you about it. If we are not understanding a story, or feel we are burning out, we need to know we can tell you.
Those simple and very heartfelt pleas struck a real chord with me.
As always, and I make absolutely no apologies for parroting this mantra, getting the best out of people is all about maintaining the right balance between stretching and support.
That’s as true for the rawest trainee as it for the most senior editor.
We have huge challenges ahead of us.
And they can only be tackled by sticking together, replacing us and them with a simple, forward-facing, heads-up, clear-thinking and energised we.