The mini off-diary sabbatical

Two years ago, I was very proud to be a journalist.

I still am, it’s worth saying, and I hope that feeling will never go away.

But in March 2014, one of my reporters and I were feeling particularly chuffed with ourselves.

We had reached the endgame in one of the most satisfying and rewarding pieces of journalism I have ever been involved in.

After sharing the frustration of parents, staff and pupils at the frankly dictatorial regime operated at a local secondary school, we had been able to expose the head to proper and incisive scrutiny, and help usher in a new era of openness and relationship-building. And she had finally just resigned.

People said some very nice things about our investigation and we know it made some very harassed and voiceless staff feel listened to and vindicated.

The reporter concerned also won an award for her work later that year, which is always nice.

Those few weeks at the beginning of 2014 kept me going for a very long time.

If you ask most journalists why they came into the profession, one of the most common answers you are likely to get is ‘to make a difference.’

As I said in my last blog, it’s certainly an ambition that motivated one of my local journalism heroes, onetime Express and Star reporter Shaun Lintern.

And undoubtedly, it was one that has kept reporters at the Yellow Advertiser going in recent months as they worked on an investigation into the abuse of around 60 children in the 1980s and 1990s.

But after that last blog, a senior journalist got in touch with me to express scepticism that time could ever be found to do justice to these hugely satisfying stories.

We need to produce them every year or so to recharge our journalistic batteries and to ensure that our investigative and story development muscles don’t atrophy.

But how, practically, can we step off the treadmill of what can so easily become the daily grind?

How can we reconnect ourselves with the simple truth that we are doing a job that can be the best in the world, one that others would kill to do?

Here’s an idea. As I begin to explain it, I fear it will shot down in flames.

Probably with the simple and understandable riposte to my question of ‘hire more staff.’

But what the hell.

I’d like to float the idea of the mini off-diary sabbatical.

Once a month, one reporter would be given two or three days off to pursue a story that they have had no time to develop in their normal working week.

That reporter would be chosen by his or her peers in what could even be a monthly Dragon’s Den social event, at which everyone pitches for an off-diary stint.

Those colleagues might have to work a bit harder and longer for those few days, which would clearly have to be relatively holiday-free.

But they’d know that their turn would come in the months ahead.

And they’d also know that the most satisfying journalism was actually happening in their offices.

So there you go.

If anyone wants to comment on my idea, I will be putting on my tin hat.

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3 thoughts on “The mini off-diary sabbatical

  1. Consider this idea well and truly nicked

  2. My daughter was at that very school when that very head teacher resigned. She then moved on to college, and whaddayaknow, the principal has just announced he will be moving on at the end of the academic year. Coincidence, or worth investigating? I think we should be told.

  3. Amanda Cameron

    This idea is getting some serious consideration in Bath – thanks!!

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