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Unfriendly fire

16 Feb

THE Leek Man is sitting at his desk reading The Journalist, the NUJ’s quarterly magazine. He suddenly kicks back his chair, and with a hissing intake of breath stomps out of the newsroom. I glance at the Misfit and she glances back. I raise my eyebrows and she raises hers. Then I go to the drinks machine for a coffee.

I climb cold stairs, walk through a series of echoing corridors, open a small door and step out onto the roof. The sky is dark and overcast, clouds glowing in the glare of town centre lights. I see the Leek Man sitting on the parapet between two redundant air-conditioning units. He turns his head, acknowledges me, then gazes out across the roofs.

“You okay?” I venture.

“Yeh. Fine me,” he answers. Then he adds: “Well, no actually. I’m bloody angry. I’ve just read this John Pilger piece in The Journalist and it’s made me feel so bloody inadequate that I just want to fuck off and do something worthwhile like dig my allotment and not bother with this sodding place any more.”

I sit next to him and we gaze out across the townscape. The glass dome of the shopping mall is particularly bright and attractive when viewed from the parapet of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle offices.

“What’s he said, Pilger?”

The Leek Man unravels his magazine and squints at the pages through pop-bottle glasses. “Here we are,” he says. “Pilger’s banging on about how journalists fail in their duty to question governments and get to the truth. He cites the build-up to the Iraq War as an example of how the British press swallowed Blair’s words hook, line and sinker. Listen to this:

Dan Rather, America’s most famous news television anchor, told me that he and others now believed that had journalists done their job and challenged and exposed the lies of Bush and Blair instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened. When will we as journalists consider this is our responsibility too?

“Do you know?” he continues, “Do you fucking know, that during the build-up to the Iraq invasion I questioned everything that came down the PA wire from the British government and everyone in the newsroom took the fucking piss out of me? Remember all those grainy satellite pictures of mobile chemical warfare installations that were issued by the Ministry of Defence as proof of WMD? I said ‘No, they’re just lorries parked in the desert’. And they all fucking laughed – har-fucking-har.

“Those claims that Saddam’s palaces were stuffed with weapons – I said ‘Show us your evidence’, and all the pillocks did was guffaw and call me a fucking leftie. And remember those pictures of Iraqi military installations set up near ancient monuments, which our Government said had been positioned there to deter us from attacking them or to blame us if their antiquities got bombed? When I said, er, pardon me, but don’t we have a rather important tank training area on Salisbury Plain right next to fucking Stonehenge, they looked at me like I was Trotsky with his ice-pick still sticking in his fucking brain box.

“But the best one, or the worst one, depending on how you want to look at it, was the general assumption that WMD was absolute fact. Time after time I’d be proof-reading pages and insert the word ‘alleged’ before weapons of mass destruction. And it always engendered the same response. The ignorant, gullible twats always laughed. They looked at their proofs and they said ‘Wa-hey, the Leek Man’s had his red pen out again’. The ignorant, small-minded, totally un-fucking-professional pack of bastards. And they were all wrong. And sometimes I felt like ignoring the references to WMD and just leaving things as they were – but I kept on as a matter of principle. And I kept on because I am a fucking journalist, a professional journalist. And I was right. I was fucking well right.”

I look up at the glare of the lights on the clouds, and I say: “I came up here last month in the hope I might see the northern lights. And someone said: northern lights, don’t you have to go to Lapland to see the northern lights? But I came up anyway, though I didn’t see anything. And I felt like a bit of a nerd. Then three nights later it was reported that the northern lights had been seen across northern England. I was right after all.”

The Leek Man sighs and says: “Is that supposed to mean something?”

I say: “Not really. But at least we know we’re sane.”

And we sit there like a pair of duffers, on the roof of a building in the middle of a February night, with our feet dangling over the parapet.

Big freeze, pay freeze

22 Dec

THE company has introduced a pay freeze for 2012 because it is not generating sufficient profit to keep the shareholders’ bank accounts brimming. Regional press group Trinity Mirror – another company where imagination and flair are in short supply – introduced a pay freeze a couple of weeks ago, and now Spylt Inc has plodded into its tracks like a dullard following a muck cart.

And there’s more gloom – redundancies are gathering pace again. Down on the South Coast, Spylt Inc Southern has bundled an editor and a dozen journalists onto the streets, scattering P45s like Christmas cards. Sorry, chaps, no mince pies. Thank you and goodbye.

Here in Nitherley, under the less-than-paternal banner of Spylt Inc Northern, there is tension in the newsroom though genuine despondency over the pay freeze. Redundancies have left our numbers depleted and weakened our resolve. And the kettles have been taken away, too. Not only that, but the new water heater’s gone on the effing blink.

There was an NUJ chapel meeting in the function room of the Dead Duck yesterday. I put this resolution to members:

This chapel resolves that members surrender their wages in their entirety to enable the company to maximise payments to shareholders and buy more big cars for executives, and that the chapel approaches management with a view to opening up the empty offices on the ground floor so members’ families can sell their homes and move into the premises in order to increase working hours and further aid the shareholders in a genuine gesture of Christian unity at this time of goodwill.

There was no vote because no one took me seriously. But they did resolve to get cross if the water heater isn’t fixed promptly.

And now I stand in a freezing stairwell staring through a window out across the wet and benighted streets of Nitherley. Christmas lights glisten and dance on the December wind. Small groups of raucous smokers huddle in the alley behind the pub. A bus with steamy windows roars along an empty street while a man has a piss behind a waste bin.

And I think: we deserve better than this. Our readers deserve better than this. This country deserves better than this. But we are forced to settle for the lowest common denominator. We have to shrug our shoulders and bear our burdens while this once great industry is slowly demolished by a small though influential group of lacklustre, mean-minded nonentities who act like Murdochs and Maxwells but who cower behind closed doors when the glare of publicity shines on their deeds.

So I return to the question: should I be bothered? Should I, like those nonentities who are paid to know best, say fuck it as well? Or should I hang on in there clutching the desperate notion that someone, somewhere, possesses a bit of influence, vision – and perhaps a mince pie.

Goodbye and hello

26 Nov

THE Lady Marchioness of Puddledock and Attleborough has cleared her desk, filled her Waitrose carrier bags, and is standing with a blank face as evening clouds gather in grim northern skies. She looks a bit stunned. But people who have just been made redundant after a lifetime of service usually are a bit stunned.

The Lady Marchioness is the last one to go. Like the other sub-editors who have emptied their desks, said their goodbyes, and clumped down the back stairs with their em rules under their arms, she has opted for an unofficial scheme that could be called morally-determined compulsory voluntary redundancy.

Simply put, this is where the more senior journalists, to avoid compulsory redundancy being thrust upon their younger colleagues – most of whom have financial and family commitments – reassess their lives and throw themselves off the roof. In a manner of speaking.

Mind you, when I say she is the last to go, what I mean is she’s the last for now.

So we’ve bought her a nice bottle of wine, an ambitious bunch of flowers, and a box of treats for her posh dogs.

“I shall spend my time walking the dogs and shopping in Harvey Nichols, where I shall boost the local economy of Leeds as it has never been boosted before,” says the Lady Marchioness as the Editor shakes her hand. “But my first job,” she continues, “is to frame the certificate of life membership I have just received from the National Union of Journalists, for it fills me with pride to know that I have achieved at least one worthwhile thing during my years of employment at the Nitherley Observer and Bugle.”

The Editor gives a short speech, at the end of which we all clap. Then the Lady Marchioness, still looking stunned, gathers her bags and walks out of the door, leaving an empty desk in an office that’s full of empty desks.

“Right,” says the Editor, breaking an awkward silence. “I’ve got an after-dinner speech tonight. Anyone know any good jokes?”