Determination, empathy and tough love: the perfect newsroom combination

I’m lucky enough to be inspired by journalists every day.

I love their enthusiasm, their ideas, their gallows humour, their camaraderie and their sheer bloody-mindedness.

But there’s one reporter who has really, really inspired me in the last year.

I was spellbound at last year’s NCTJ annual conference by Times journalist Andrew Norfolk.

He was the reporter who broke the story of the Rotherham sex abuse ring, winning the title of Reporter of the Year for the years of work which went into his tireless investigation.

What I loved about him was that he was the living, breathing, 24-carat embodiment of the two qualities I value above all others in a journalist: determination and empathy.

So it was great to see him praising the training and coaching he received on his first paper, the then Scarborough Evening News.

He has warmed to his theme that the regional media provide the best grounding for reporters in a piece he has written for a UK Press Gazette supplement on training.

In it, he talks of the tough love he got from his ‘bullying bastard of a news editor’ – and how it made him get out of the office and find his own stories.

That ‘bullying bastard’ is now one of his best friends, he adds.

Which is a lovely thing to read.

The best news editors – like all the best editorial leaders, and all the best journalism trainers (with David English at Cardiff University setting the standard here) – should specialise in tough love.

The wife of one of my dearest journalist friends was once sent away more than a dozen times to improve on one of the first intros she ever wrote. Eventually she cracked it – and never looked back.

I once threw a fistful of story blacks onto a table in frustration at the cackhanded writing of my reporters – and he went on to become one of the best wordsmiths I ever have seen.

The most assertive conversations I have ever had have been with the reporters I valued the most.

Because the love part of that phrase is as important as the tough part.

Like I have always said, stretching and supporting your people in equal measure must always be the key.


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