Category Archives: journalist sob stories

What do you mean ‘no wine for me thank you’ ???

I wonder if there comes a time in every journalist’s career when they are hit by the crashing realisation that they’re about to vomit on an interviewee’s head.

Perhaps it comes to them the morning after a particularly heavy night of alcohol-fuelled lamentation that they didn’t become a doctor or a plumber or professional dog walker. Perhaps it’s after a spot of dodgy egg mayo at another barely relevant event minuted in hastily scrawled notes that they will only realise, some weeks later, are in a shorthand with logic unique to the ‘of course I’ll know what I mean’ moment. Or perhaps, like me, they will have recently discovered themselves inexplicably with child in the wrong place and at the wrong time.*

It was February 10th. I had woken up at the crack of a sparrow’s fart to drive from Guildford to Coventry via my broken-legged-editor’s house (she happily oblivious, at that point, to the hormones scrambling my brain into a squashy mess of questionable driving ability). The night previously I had returned home from a week-long skiing holiday, which had mainly consisted of me channelling my lower limbs into the most controlled parallels turns in the history of conscientious skiing, my mind torn between inanely repeating the chorus of Homer Simpson’s Baby on Board and sending subconscious fuck-off vibes to all beginner skiers and boarders within a 10 feet radius. Bean-sized baby intact, my sister and I had returned to the UK, freshly grey with what was to be the first of many sneezes of snow, and here I was, for the second time, covering the industry’s biggest trade show of the year. I had been pregnant for just under nine weeks.

For the most part, I hadn’t been feeling too bad. Sure, there had been a wobbly moment on a train a few weeks earlier when I very nearly did faint on some hapless commuter’s shoes, but otherwise it was mainly an ever-present lurk of nausea. A bit like the sound of cheerful relatives on a hungover Christmas morning, or the pink stuff you keep spitting out whenever you brush your teeth. More irritating than inconvenient, really, particularly as munching on plain cream crackers seemed to knock it on the head quite nicely. But I was beginning to realise, that day in Coventry, that sitting at one’s desk nibbling a cracker whilst surreptitiously congratulating oneself at being the master of deception among one’s unaware colleagues was not quite the same as wincing about on decent-work-shoe heels, trying to keep up a coherent conversation about the state of the garden market while the swimming white noise surged ever closer round the corners of one’s ears.

Luckily, I didn’t actually vomit on anyone’s head. I wrapped up the interview pretty quickly, hoping my face wasn’t going quite so milky on the outside as it was on the inside, and made my way back to our exhibition stand. A few crisps and a chug of orange juice later and I was ready for round two.

I hadn’t really thought at any point in the lead up to the show that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was nine weeks pregnant, for goodness’ sake, not 39! But I did have my concerns that my colleagues might realise that something was going on when I didn’t accept my usual bucket of wine as soon as the earliest decent drinking opportunity rolled around. That evening, as we regrouped in the Premier Inn bar, and I opted for orange juice for the second round of drinks in a row, my editor raised her eyebrows at me and asked if I was on some sort of detox health kick. “Just trying to cut back,” I mumbled in reply.

“Yeah, either that or you’re pregnant!”

Well, it was nice being a master of deception for those nine short weeks.**

 

 

*I don’t mean to imply this pregnancy was unwanted – spectacularly unplanned and ill-timed in terms of life/career plans, yes, but never for one second unwanted.

**Technically only three if you don’t count the first six when I too, was counted among the happily oblivious and therefore perfectly eligible to drink half a bottle of wine while blearily deciding that Tyrion the Imp from Game of Thrones was quite hot actually.

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One f*ck up after the next

I f*cked up at work. Not devastatingly. Not enough to have serious repercussions on my life or my job (I hope!) I’m not going to share what I did, not because I’m ashamed, but because this is the internet and I don’t want to make a bad situation worse. But needless to say, I wrote something which royally pissed off a very respected client and source.

I think it’s great that at journalism school we’re taught about what we can’t broadcast, what we shouldn’t write, who we shouldn’t quote. It’s great that we graduate knowing exactly what happened in the case studies that make up our legal yesses and epic nos. But it doesn’t change the fact that when you’re working, there will come a time when you will read what you have written and either say “NO” and hit that delete button, or say “F*CK IT” and hit send/press print/open your mouth and start reading. Sometimes it pays off to take a gamble, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I felt terrible about the mistake I made this week, until I talked to some of my colleagues, and remembered stories I had been told by past colleagues and journalist friends. Then it got me thinking… A true, respectable career in journalism seems not so much pitted by these f*ck ups as paved by them. I’m not saying it’s good to repeatedly piss people off and alienate important clients, listeners, viewers, readers; but there’s an undeniable glint of pride which creeps into a seasoned journalist’s eye when they tell you about the time they had to take out an affidavit to ensure their back was covered with a slightly dubious source, or how relieved they subsequently were when their byline was dropped from the finished article.

I may not be willing to share the latest f*ck up of my progressing career as a journalist, but there are other stories. Seasoned readers of this blog will know of postal-worker-gate. That was probably the earliest… Then there was the time I wrote about a drugs bust, quoting (rather too heavily as it turned out) from the objecting onlookers rather than the police presence. A week later I was summoned up to the station for a ‘friendly chat’ with the chief inspector and sergeant. Terrifying. There were countless misquotes surrounding village shops and local committees. I recall popping into a farmers’ market, introducing myself to one of the stall-holders and then getting a rather stern telling-off from a member of the WI for some long-published discrepancy about coffee mornings or jam jars or something.

Then there were the emails. The lovely, sterile typefaces forming caustic judgements on your ability to listen, to recount, to talk, to tell… to write. I was told I ‘lowered the tone of the Gazette’ because in a reply email – yes, EMAIL, not published article – I used the word gotten. (I resisted the urge to point out my occasional lapse into this so-called ‘abhorrent Americanism’ was not in fact due to the influence of modern television on my language choices but the fact I’d had, until very recently, an American father) I’ve been told – sometimes nicely and sometimes not so – I’m not very bright. I’ve been told I’m a horrible writer.

There are other stories. The worst stories – the ones where there is no gleam in your eye or belly-rippling giggle under your words – are those mistakes that hit you like a punch in the gut. The blade gripped in your hand, cleaving an insouciant tattoo into your own back as you press send.

In July 2009 two teenagers and a nine-year-old boy died in a car crash in my reporting patch. I covered the story for the paper.A week later one of the victim’s family members came to see me in tears because of an implication taken from my recounting of the events. An implication that their boy had not been acting responsibly. When I realised what I’d done to them, the bottom dropped out of my world. It was a level of shitty feeling equal to finding out my dad had cancer. You don’t hear so many of those stories, but they are there, behind the tobacco stains and the fatty livers, lying at the root of what makes journalism a crappy job.

But, on balance, it’s those gleams and those stories – those indignant phone calls, impossibly stupid decisions made in those squeezingly-urgent moments of deadline – that makes the job balance out. Because, when it pays off, those f*ck ups can make you.


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