MacMillan media monitor
A few weeks before I left The Press and Journal in Aberdeen to join the Sunday Herald as its media and business correspondent, one of the newpaper’s most experienced journalists pulled me to one side for a chat.
He suggested that I stay put and wait for another job to come along. His message was crystal clear: a media reporter’s job would only cause me grief. It was a warning that 15 months later, I fully appreciate.
The Scottish media scene, its newspapers in particular, is a very tough place to work.
When your job is to scrutinise and report on those working within that circle it is even tougher, and you are not going to make many friends. But I never became a journalist to win popularity contests, so I accepted the job anyway.
Within days I got a lesson in what my former colleague meant, when a diary item I wrote resulted in a commercial agreement between two papers being rescinded. The fact that my story was true did not matter: it had upset someone with power and a severing of ties was their counterblast. But I was backed all the way, and writing the most-read media diary in the country was mostly a delight. The few journalists who accused me of lying were usually on the shakiest ground. After I’d proved the veracity of what I’d written they capitulated fairly quickly, with only a few trying to defend the indefensible. None of them succeeded.
It led me to one conclusion: stick to your guns and grow a thick skin because if you can be cowed by a lone journalist then you are not much of a reporter. But some pitfalls are unavoidable. I was stitched-up by journalists spinning their own agenda more than once, but it is pointless to harbour grudges. It is just an unfortunate part of the game.
But when your job is to fire bullets at people further up the ladder you inevitably get caught in the crossfire. The heat can be stifling, but the editors and senior managers that I have dealt with have been decent and fair when our paths eventually crossed.
The only exception to this was Piers Morgan, who once told me to f*** off via an e-mail. I thought it was rather ironic that he subsequently told me that “charm and manners” make a reporter. His sentiments evidently did not apply to the editorship of the Daily Mirror.
But there really isn’t much journalism in media-ville. Being a media junkie probably makes writing about the medium more difficult. It becomes an obsession rather than a job. It’s a role best suited to someone more experienced and too old to be bothered about the implications. That’s why people like Roy Greenslade are so good at it.
So, I am very happy to get back to writing for normal people, about normal things, because they are far more important than journalists and their employers.
My P&J colleague was right in saying that media journalism causes its practitioners grief. Everything you write is read to the letter by people who would rather not have to read it at all. Although there was some fun along the way it was a bumpy ride. Sean Connery once said “Never Say Never Again”. I disagree. Never again.