Category Archives: South Hams News

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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Racing for Life into Week Five…

After a dogged struggle from last Tuesday’s agonising first-run-after-holiday all the way to a much more confident (but still a bit slow) 5k by Saturday, I went to the Exeter Race for Life event on Sunday feeling like I would at least be able to stagger my way around the track.  Maybe it was all the hills I’ve been struggling up round here, maybe it was the fact that there were so many runners and joggers all around me (as opposed to The Only Runner In The Village syndrome I get when training) but I actually found it quite easy and really good fun.  The route was fairly flat, and a lot of it passed over rocky or grassy terrain which meant I had to hop, skip and jump a few times to avoid getting my foot stuck in a rabbit hole or knackering my tendons by springing unevenly off random grassy mounds, but all in all it was a much easier path than the runs I do around Dartmouth.

Me and my running buddy Fry at the Exeter Race for Life

Above is a pic of my running partner and old school friend Helen Fry and I as we were about to set off.  I know hot pink isn’t exactly my colour (and after I’ve been running a couple of k it REALLY isn’t my colour) but vanity isn’t exactly high on my priority list when running.  For someone who never left the house without a full face of makeup since the age of 14, the freedom of being in a situation – training, I mean – where it genuinely does not matter at ALL what you look like is so freeing.  Having said that, I don’t understand what it is about a runner that makes people stop and STARE, like I’m some freaky rare species of elephant that’s sprouted a pneumonic drill from its bottom and tunnelled, upwards, to burst through the tarmac in front of them.  I mean, really.  I’m just running.

Anyway, back to the Race for Life.  The experience taught me two main things – one is that I am fitter than I thought and if I keep up the training I might just be able to do the half marathon in a few months.  The other is the totally humbling realisation that I have some of the most generous friends and family on the planet.  I launched my fundraising page 6 days before the event with the very hopeful target goal of £150 and, thanks to them, entered the race on Sunday with more than £300 sponsorship.   THAT is what I’ll remember about this Race for Life, for me it just completely outstrips any part of the race itself.  Well, maybe except for the giant, cottage-size mound of manure on the 1k hill.


South Devon: The Hyperlocal Blackspot?

Or so it would seem… Following this week’s lecture on the rise of hyperlocal blogging as a low-cost, far-reaching mode of online journalism, I did a search for South Devon hyperlocal blogs on Google.

Most of the maps detailing the whereabouts of hyperlocal sites show a significant blank spot around the South Hams area of Devon, where I used to work as a local reporter. Even Northcliffe, the producers of the bigger local and regional newspapers in the area, with their 23 local sites launched last year, had a significant gap in their site map.

Here is the South Hams:


Clearly plenty happens here, and I’m not just saying that as a former reporter for the area.  Local papers have crumbled elsewhere while South Hams Newspapers is still going strong… So why has the 21st century still not quite reached the area in terms of futuristic journalism?

Maybe it’s because the average reader profile of the local paper does not match the profile of a person who would look for their news on a hyperlocal website.  Maybe it’s because not enough people in the area are ‘media-savvy’ enough to know what hyperlocal journalism could offer… 

The appetite for local news has not changed.  What has changed is the nationwide appetite for local newspapers.  Surely this means, then, that it is just a matter of time before places like the South Hams, or from the looks of things, the majority of Ireland, begin to spring hyperlocal sites.  A huge benefit is that it brings the whole community together into one place, from which they can spray off into whatever they care about the most.  As I’ve said previously on this blog, a huge part of local journalism is feedback from your consumer – hyperlocal sites have the potential to merge consumer with journalist, community with stories, reading with commentary.  It raises the bar without reducing the emphasis on the beauty of local news’ relevance to the average person.

As for the South Hams… Well, no doubt we’ll get there in the end.


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