Issue# 138

This Week

Let’s start by getting the terminology right. First, Wayzgoose(origin obscure) always falls on Maundy Thursday and is the traditional day off work for daily newspaper people because – in our day – there were no papers on Good Friday.

Second: old hacks celebrate it because (a) it’s as good an excuse as any for a piss-up and (b) it’s worth saving because it’s such a lovely word.

Third: Liz Hodgkinson suggested that it would be a good day for all those freelance contributors who are vexed by their commissioning editors to make themselves unavailable for the day – and a fairly gentle first reminder that they think they deserve respect (and decent remuneration).

But- fourth – that isn’t a strike. Freelances by definition can’t go on strike because they are their own employers; they can, however, be unavailable for work and if they are all unavailable at the same time, the message may get across.

And, fifth, Wayzgoose falls this year on April 1, All Fools’ Day, which is the date chosen to launch Colin Dunne’s book, ManBites Talking Dog. So any freelances looking for an excuse for not answering the phone can explain that they were in Fleet Street… at a fellow freelance’s book launch. Job has done.

Liz Hodgkinsonfollows up the need for such industrial inaction with detailed examples that will surprise old-timers and should shame the current practitioners of the inky trade. Bow your heads, DailyTelegraph, Guardian, New Statesman, Esquire and Time Out. Liz’s call has also been taken up by freelances all over the place, including here (1), here (2), and here (3)

Terry Fletcher, former editor of The Dalesman, delves intoColin’s aforementioned book.

Mike Gallemorepromises to remember some Wayzgoose experiences in time for next week’sedition but this week he’s reminiscing about his first job, as a freelance.

(You see how there’s a little theme developing here? It has to stop.)

Harold Heys remembers the delights of working with two subs who never spoke to each other.

And Mark Day recalls the time when loony management – unlike this website, which turns back the clock – decided to turn the clock forward.

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Ranters of the world… unite?

By Liz Hodgkinson

My Ranterspiece on the ever-shrinking freelance fees has produced an impassioned response from many aggrieved writers who have witnessed the gradual disappearance of their income.

And it’s getting worse as ever more publications plead poverty and give any old excuse as to why they can’t pay a living wage or, indeed, any wage at all. Just this week, I read that Time Out wants an enthusiastic graduate’ for a three-month internship. Office experience is essential, as is a ‘sound knowledge of London’s retail landscape’.The full-time job is unpaid.

How many enthusiastic graduates will rush to apply, I wonder?

Now that evermore former staffers are being forced into freelance activity through redundancies and swingeing job cuts, we cannot just sit back and let the accountants decimate our fees.

So here’s what we do. We know that unilateral action will get nowhere, and only collective action will produce results. So why don’t we all lay down tools on April 1, Maundy Thursday, and instead, congregate in the Harrow pub in Fleet Street where, coincidentally, Colin Dunne’s book launch is being held?

In the olden days, Maundy Thursday was traditionally a journalist’s day off as there was no paper on Good Friday. Murdoch and Maxwell changed all that, as indeed they did with working for Christmas Day.

Here’s what my son Tom had to say in an email when he read my piece on Ranters:

I contacted the freelance organiser at the NUJ and he said that he has tried and failed to get a strike going.

I suggested to him that we think about a one-day ‘strike’ which is perhaps combined with an afternoon in a Fleet Street boozer, and I said that you and your gang of old hacks would be up for it.

Tom lists the reasons – which will be familiar to all freelances these days – for downing tools in protest:

Here are a few common grumbles:

Tumblingrates. The Telegraph, for example, now pays just £250 per thousand words. This means low-quality features and low-quality news, both of which will depend evermore heavily on press releases. And poor freelancers.

Payment according to click. There is a horrifying new trend where bloggers’fees depend on how many readers their piece attracts, which quite clearly means that they will tend to write sensational bits of opinion which go heavy on key phrases like ‘David Cameron’. The medium will profoundly influence the message.

A startling lack of courtesy from commissioning editors. My own example: I wrote a 1,600-word piece for the TelegraphReview section and filed it five weeks ago. Since then I have heard not a peep despite four emails chasing up.

Late payment.

Commissioning certain amount of words, printing a cut-down version and then paying only for the reduced version. This trick was played on me by the NewStatesman.

Simply not paying. Esquire took eighteen months to pay me for a piece, and only then after the NUJ got heavy with them.

Extra low payments for blogs. The Guardian offered me £85 for a five hundred word opinion piece (for their Comments Cheap section). This sticks in the craw a little when you consider that the site is completely plastered in advertising and also that Guardian MD Carolyn McCall takes home over a million quid a year.

We need to stand up and protest against this new shoddy treatment, and a strike is the way to do it. Freelances also need to meet up and talk. The computer has separated us; hence the meeting in the pub.

It’stime to fight back, and the best way to do that is to sit in the pub all afternoon, combining protest and merriment in time-honoured fashion.

Solidarity!

Ranters reader BobDow had this to say:

Loved your piece on Gentlemen Ranters(always my first port of call on a Friday) and totally agree with you about the way good, hard-working, honest freelances are being treated.

I was a staff man up here in Scotland for 30-years until I was dumped a year ago during a Daily Recordcull. Since then I have found it astonishing the crappy rates that newspapers pay freelances and the unbelievable attitude and lack of respect towards us.

If you want to build up a head of steam on this then I am willing to lead the kilted hordes over Hadrian’s Wall…

Right, then. See you there, including the kilted hordes!

By the way, my other son Will told me about a successful freelance outcome at Mojo, a music magazine to which he contributes and which runs almost entirely on freelance contributions. Mojo, owned by the huge German conglomerate Bauer, had written round to all their contributors saying that not only were they buying all rights, but if an interviewee took legal action over any piece, the individual writer would be culpable.

This resulted in all the Mojocontributors getting together and refusing to write a single further word for the publication until they backed down – which they instantly did.

We know that very small, struggling publications cannot afford to pay writers much, or even anything, sometimes. That’s how it has always been with small magazines and how it always will be. But large multinational organisations, which are the ones we are talking about, are an entirely different matter.

They CAN pay but they WON’T pay – unless we make ’em!

Freelance journalist Liz Hodgkinson is the author of Ladies Of The Street, published by Revel Barker at £9.99

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MrDale’s diary

By Terry Fletcher

Like spent salmon returning from the deep ocean, world-weary hacks are supposed to yearn to end their days editing the weekly paper where it all began. So perhaps I should have been a little warier when ColinDunne turned up in my office bearing a lunch invitation.

In fact, Colin had already driven past the door of his own launchpad at the Craven Herald and Pioneer in Skipton’s High Street to reach us. At that time I did not realise that mine was the job he truly coveted; editing TheDalesman, a small pocket magazine that gives the Bible a run for its money as Holy Writ across the Broad Acres.

Despite the Tykes’ legendary ‘care’ with brass we still managed to persuade enough of them to buy it each month to make it the country’s biggest-selling regional mag. And, to be fair to Colin, it is a job to kill, if not actually to die, for.

Combined with editing its sister magazine, Cumbria, it demanded glorious monthly progress through the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors and Lake District national parks. Over and over again. Envious colleagues regularly reminded me I had the best job in journalism.

Not surprisingly, it’s a vacancy that does not come up too often and I, refugee from rough trade journalism, who down the years had variously freelanced masquerading as ‘Howley of Barnsley’ and run the Yorkshire Postnews operation, was only the fourth incumbent in more than 60 years. Colin had finally lost patience waiting for me to give it up but, being the all-round decent chap he is had decided that rather than push me under a passing tractor he’d start his own version in the deep south, which he called Downs Country.

He’d turned up hoping for some tips on the publishing side – obviously, the writing was already taken care of – though he ignored my key piece of advice: Don’t Do It! Regular Ranters have already learnt of the six fun-filled if financially less-than-rewarding years he had creating and wrestling with the title as it steadfastly refused to leave home and pay its own way.

I’m still not sure what he got from our encounter. I know I got a long hilarious lunch and a foretaste of the many tales that have enlivened almost every edition of Ranters and have now been gathered together into a book.

Man Bites Talking Dog by Colin DunneMan Bites Talking Dog charts Colin’s rise from the Raving Herald(what other way was there to go but up?) via a string of publications as varied as the Leamington Spa Courier, the Newcastle Chron, the Mirror and YOUmagazine to his forlorn foray into life as a press baron.

Some join our trade to save the world. Colin admits he just wanted to lose his virginity and simultaneously escape the clutches of the SkiptonBuilding Society, the other employment choice in this small market town. To this end the Heraldoffered not only a life free of double-entry bookkeeping but the irresistible allure of a key to the office. It was intended to allow keen young reporters to put in some unpaid overtime.

Colin’sheart was set on a rather different kind of night work. In those days,he says, before trainee reporters could afford a place of their own or even a car, an apprentice Lothario with access to an empty warm dry office had the fifties equivalent of a penthouse flat and an AstonMartin at his disposal in the seduction stakes.

What he also got, though he did not realise it at the time, was a first-class preparation for his future career. Skipton, for all its other charms – mediaeval castle, Gateway to the Dales, Best High Street in England (official) – is not the newsiest of towns. The area is so quiet that until a few months ago the Heralditselfacknowledged this almost total lack of incident by stolidly devoting its whole front page to adverts. A former editor once defended the design by admitting that in a close-knit town like Skipton the ads were the only bit of the content the readers did not already know about. As for the rest, the Herald‘s job was merely to confirm what they had already heard.

It may not have set a young reporter’s adrenalin racing but it proved the perfect training for a career in which Colin admits he has never actually covered a serious news story. Instead, his life has embraced the daft ones, the barmy tales; the ones that, whether serious papers like it or not, people talk about in the pub. Like a lost budgie given its own BR train home and, yes, Corky the Talking Dog of DrighlingtonCrossroads.

But when it also leads to fame setting British lawnmower racing records and untold gastronomy accompanying a Barnsley black pudding magnate to France, it does not seem a bad life. Throw in interviewing Brigitte Bardot and mingling with affectionate Icelandic ladies while covering the world’s most cerebral pantomime – Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky’scold war chess match – and who could ask for more? Certainly not Colinas he ambles self-deprecatingly and sometimes bemusedly down the bits of Memory Lane the post-match booze ups have not entirely erased and accompanied by a cast that Damon Runyan would have been proud to have invented.

He might have claimed his career spanned the glory days of British journalism but Colin prefers to consider it one of the silliest times in one of the silliest industries, when newsrooms were packed with characters, mostly disreputable, and journalists didn’t have jobs, they had fun. And Man Bites Talking Dogmounts a pretty overwhelming case.

Whichever version you choose, whether you’re a misty-eyed hack or a gimlet-eyed bean-counter, this compilation thoroughly deserves its downloading from cyber space into the real world and, like all the best yarns, histories deserve re-telling. If you were there, buy it to remind yourself of the good times but, more importantly, if you weren’t, buy it to see what you missed. Between the chuckles, the guffaws and the belly laugh you’ll find most of the important stuff they’ll never teach you on your Media Studies Course.

Man Bites Talking Dog by ColinDunne, will be published on April 1 by Revel Barker at £9.99and is available on-line for order now from amazon-UK or Waterstones; in the US from amazon; or worldwide with free delivery from Book Depository.

TerryFletcher ran Howley’s News Agency in Barnsley before going on to be an assistant editor (news) of the YorkshirePost and editor-in-chief of Dalesman Publishing and CountryPublications.

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Tale of the tape

By MikeGallemore

Harold Heys’reminiscences of his weekly paper days (Ranters, last week) reminded me of my first job in journalism, working for the far from renowned Stewart and Hartley news agency in Manchester in the early sixties.

Bert Stewart gave me the job because he’d had a call from my Dad asking him not to give me the job. I’d gone through with him all the interviewsI’d managed to arrange – Stockport Express, Buxton Advertiser etc – and he’d promptly rung them all and ‘advised’ them not to take me on.

He’d been a boy wonder ‘journalist’ from the outset, while I’d been a boy water, concentrating my efforts on playing football, rugby, cricket, tennis…

WhenI left Manchester Central Grammar School I’d worked as an interviewer and general dogsbody for a nationwide rheumatism survey, which was fun.

WhenI went for the interview at Stewart and Hartley’s Dickensian-style one-room penthouse office on Mould Street, off Cross Street, behind the original Manchester Evening News office and the thatched House pub, it took around ten minutes and I started work immediately. One of the terms and conditions was that I had to attend Stockport County home matches. Bert was a director.

Bert was a friendly, cuddly, happy soul who was a joy to be with. GerryHartley was a different proposition altogether. To say he was a penny-pincher was an understatement. He insisted that only he could open the mail each morning. Not even Bert was allowed to open it. Gerry would examine each envelope with a magnifying glass and any stamp that wasn’t properly franked, he’d remove with a steaming kettle and a pair of tweezers for further use.

His money-saving schemes were legendary. One of the reporters came in one morning and asked everyone to remind him to go to Lewis’s to get a Red Indian outfit for his young son’s birthday – it was a simple life in those days.

Quick as a flash Gerry had the solution. ‘No need for that. I made a Red Indian head-dress for my son a few years ago. It’s easy. Here’s what you do: Take some of this corrugated cardboard (he’d hoarded, having gleaned them from packages that had come in the post), get a few handfuls of feathers (opening the window and grabbing some of the filthy pigeon feathers off the outside window ledge), stick the feathers into the corrugated cardboard like this…and there you have it.No need to spend money buying one. If you want to make it really special, you can paint it.’

Gerry was also a master in ‘recycling’ bus tickets, which meant he did most of his travelling by double-decker.

Working at S&H, who had a retainer for most of the newspapers and agencies to cover every single court in Manchester from Rent Tribunals to AssizeCourts, was both an education and a lot of fun. I was thrown in at the deep end from day one and nearly drowned on a number of occasions.

One of my most spectacular blunders occurred when I came into the office early one morning en route to the law courts. Unusually, the phone was ringing. On answering an American accent said: ‘This is AP. WilliePastrano is fighting in Manchester tomorrow night and we need the tale of the tape this morning.’ Then put the phone down.

I had a look in my morning copy of the Mirror and read that Pastrano was defending his WBC and WBA World Championship of the World titles, fighting Terry Downes at Belle Vue’s King’s Hall the following night. I made a list of likely hotels where he might be staying and hit the jackpot first time – the Midland.

I rang the hotel and they put me through to Pastrano’s room. His trainer Angelo Dundee (who went on the train Mohammed Ali) came to the phone. I explained I needed the ‘tale of the tape’ for AP and he said, ‘come right on over.’

I wasn’t a boxing fan and I had no idea what the ‘tale of the tape’ was. I’ll figure it out, I thought. I knocked on Dundee’s bedroom door. As the door opened cigarette smoke seeped out, framing the biggest black guy I had ever seen. I timidly announced who I was and a voice from inside the room shouted: ‘Show him in.’

A bunch of guys were sitting round a table in a fog of smoke playing poker. I’d never smoked in my life so I was struggling to breathe. I believed the myth that smoking stunted your growth. At 5ft 3in I couldn’t take the chance.

The only guy who didn’t look like a boxer, or ex-boxer, who, I figured was Angelo Dundee, ushered me over and a chair was produced for me to sit behind him. I was spellbound by the whole scene. I was still soaking it all in and watching how Dundee was playing his hand when he started speaking, without taking his eyes off his cards. ‘Height six feet, biceps 14, expanded 16; chest 38, expanded 42…..’

He continued for about five minutes and stopped speaking. The guy who had shown me in took the chair from beneath me and opened the door for me to leave.

So there I was, standing in the hotel corridor, wondering what to do next. It suddenly dawned on me what the ‘tale of the tape’ meant. I knocked bravely on the door. The giant opened the door and shouted, ‘What!’‘ Could I please speak to Mr. Dundee please?’ I asked.

Immediately the voice from inside commanded: ‘Bring him in.’ The chair was positioned again behind Angelo Dundee and I boldly explained: ‘When I was watching you play your hand I thought you should have stacked your six of clubs. I was so enthralled in the game, I wasn’t listening to your tale of the tape.’

This brought laughter from around the table, including from Angelo, who turned round and looked at me and said: ‘OK, let’s take it slowly for you… biceps… chest…. see you at the fight tomorrow night.’

I got back to the office and jubilantly telephoned the tale of tape over to AP. Gerry was in the office by this time checking the mail.‘Where’ve you been, you should be at the courts.’ I explained, casually, where I’d been, to which Gerry said: ‘Hope you walked there.’

I went to Belle Vue the following night and watched from a ringside seat as Pastrano beat Downes in the 11th round then I interviewed both Dundee and Pastrano after the fight.

They were great days. Two years later I joined the Mirror. They were even greater days. A number of well-known Manchesterjournalists started their careers at Stewart and Hartleys, includingPeter Stringer, Hugh Ash and Stan Mellor.

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The odd couple

Harold HeysBy Harold Heys

Next time you get into an argument over whose turn it is to get the brews in, spare a thought for Shipton and Hoy of the DailyMail. That’s just how their feud started. Their 15-year silent feud.

Jim Shiptonand Joe Hoy were aging sub-editors on the Mail’snorthern racing desk in Manchester and they sat next to each other in perpetual silence. Wars, major disasters, moonwalks, sporting triumphs and tragedies, Page Three birds. Nothing came anywhere near to sparking a conversation. They lived in their own little worlds in which the other didn’t figure.

PhilSmith recalled: ‘They used to sit there like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, only a couple of feet apart, and in several years at the Mail (Phil was deputy sports editor until 1974) I don’t think I ever heard them exchange a word. I think it was over one not buying the other a cup of tea off the tea trolley. It was funny to watch them when the trolley came round. They’d sit and wait until the other was well clear of it before venturing near. Day after day. Year after year.’

Daily Mailsports sub-John Newman recalled that Shipton, who was apparently higher up the racing desk pecking order, had the job of handing out the racecards and when there were five he would put three of them in Joe’sbasket. If there were three he would give him two. When there was only one card Joe Hoy would get it. There were never any arguments because no words were ever exchanged. An occasional grunt was as good as it got.

Phil, long retired and now living in Spain says: ‘They would give the chief sub a list of runners for each racecard and it was up to him to do the make-up and get the words subbed on the desk. I don’t think either of them was ever deemed capable of subbing Robin Goodfellow or Northerner.

‘They very occasionally slipped notes to each other and sometimes one would ask anybody who happened to be passing to hand the other a curt verbal message along the lines of: “Tell ‘im (over-the-shoulder jerk of thumb)I haven’t got Sandown yet.” Of course, the rot should have been stopped at the outset but it never was and these two clowns turned it all into a bit of a circus. You could see the steam coming out of their ears at times with the sheer frustration of it all. Quite bizarre really.’

I’d always understood that in newspapers, after a blazing row, it was off to the pub where the aggro would be quickly forgotten. I’ve had some stormers over the years. I remember one boss calling me into his office and ordering me: ‘Shut that door!’ I turned, took two rapid steps, and hit the door halfway up with an excellent (if I say so myself)fly-kick. The whole room shook as it crashed into the frame and I landed, God knows how smartly on two feet. ‘Jammy twat,’ said the boss. We both cracked out laughing and that was that. Another boss was giving me a bollocking while I was trying to eat a banana and smoke a fag at the same time. I was trying to give him a gobful back but I almost choked to death over his desk and when I recovered we were both laughing.

JimShipton and Joe Hoy never saw the life that way. And then came the day of Joie’s retirement… He was heading off that evening into honourable retirement. But there was still no sign of a thaw.

JohnNewman remembers: ‘I was given the job of organising the collection and in the interests of perhaps letting bygones be bygones I approached JimShipton for a donation. To my surprise, he obliged – with a smile and aquid. But like all good feuds, it wasn’t to be put to bed that easily.’

Everyone knew that this was going to be the last opportunity anyone would ever have of effecting any sort of rapprochement between the grizzled grafters. John was determined to get it sorted. And, after a fashion, he did. ‘Everybody’s weighed in,’ he told Joe late that afternoon. Witha meaningful glance at Jim he added: ‘Everybody.’

It was the perfect moment for peace to finally break out. John waited, expectantly. A nervous office was stilled to mere whispers. Even the news editor stopped shouting.

Joe looked up, quickly grasping the point John was making about Jim’sgenerous quid into the tub. Looking over to his old colleague with some warmth, he finally broke the glacial ice of some 15 years. ‘Thanks, Jim,’ he said.

The moment might not have had the grandeur of the Cuban Missile Crisis which drew ‘Day the earth stood still’ headlines, but it was close. The office waited. There was a breathless hush.

JimShipton, no doubt thinking that his old colleague was seeking an opportunity of having a final, smug dig; perhaps one last chance to take the piss, responded magnificently:

‘Fuck off, Joe.’

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Precision timing

Mark DayByMark Day

Phil Harrison’s recollections of loony management decrees (Ranters, lastweek) reminded me of the looniest of them all – Kroegertime.

In the early1970s John Kroeger was promoted from his position as news editor of The News, Adelaide, to News Limited’shead office in Sydney, where he became general manager of the Daily Mirror and The Australian.

He was in charge of everything from pencils to paper clips. He was blessed with a precise Germanic mind and cursed by a need to have everything imprecise Germanic order.

He was constantly annoyed by the apparent inability of the journalists, subs, and editors – as well as recalcitrant comps – to get the paper off the stone on time.

As in Britain, the Sydney Mirror was locked in a head-to-head battle with The Sun and an essential part of the mythology of the time was that the first paper to get on the stands at Wynyard Station in Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District) would win the sales race on that day.

Kroegerbelieved if the subs could shift copy faster the presses would run on time and the Mirror would regularly be first to Wynyard.

WhenKroeger learnt that all the clocks in the building were linked to a central chronometer a little light bulb lit up above his head.

It was pure genius. He would secretly advance the time on the clocks by ten minutes. The last copy time for the first edition was 9.30 am so when the subs sent the last slips down the chute the annoying five or ten minutes late it would actually be 9.30 or slightly earlier and the edition would be on time.

…Except that reporters and subs would arrive at work on what we called the dawn patrol, glance at the clock, check their wristwatches and note that it was ten minutes fast. They were not concerned that their copy was ten minutes late by Kroegertime because their watches told them they were on time according to real-time. The subs ignored the wall clocks in favour of their watches, and the last copy continued to run late.

When the day was done, though, it was a different matter. Everybody left the office and headed for the pub according to Kroegertime. Well, for an extra ten minutes of drinking time you would, wouldn’t you?

Kroegertimelasted three days. Soon afterwards John Kroeger left newspapers and set up a party hire company.

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