I was interviewed on Wednesday by Sian Brewis for her feature in this week’s Leicester Mercury supplement. (A double page! Thank you very much) She wrote a trimmed, punchy piece that focussed on what readers want to know. It set me thinking about the provincial journalists that I have met, and wondering about the future of their craft in these days of user generated content.
Every small time writer, like myself, will have come across so many of this profession that it’s perhaps unfair to pick just two or three to talk about.
John Brunton, no longer with us I’m afraid, interviewed me for the Nottingham Post when my first crime novel was published. It was clear that I was a fledgling author while he was a very experienced journalist. (I believe he interviewed pop stars for Titbits in the 1960s, but I’m not sure.) Yet he spoke to me on a level as we discussed my book, crime fiction and the changes in the reading taste of the Brits. His article was very generous and gave me a recognition that I don’t think I deserved. We continued an email correspondence for the few years before his death and while he was quick to criticise my work (in emails, very incisively), he always treated me with professional respect. He made me feel part of the club. His reviews were always balanced and – perhaps more difficult to achieve – interesting. He knew what he was doing.
Another gentleman is Mike Allen. It seems that he no longer works for the Portsmouth News but the articles he produced for that paper sang with his knowledge of regional theatre and the arts. When he interviewed me, he was so concerned about setting myself and my wife at ease and there was so much fuss about getting the photograph right (I’m overweight and not the best looker) that I didn’t feel that I had been interviewed at all. I remember commenting to Christine that we should expect a paragraph or two but no more. Yet, that afternoon, we read a carefully structured full page piece with a narrative and a point of view that can only have come from his careful listening and a quick understanding of my character.
There are many other reporters that I could mention in the same way. In my own local paper, the Harborough Mail, Ian O’Pray writes simple straightforward prose, some of the best written pieces that I have read about my books.
And that’s the issue. The provincial journalists of this generation have been nurtured by colleagues and have honed their skills on hard experience. User generated content may well produce some quality writing amongst the dross, but I fear that it can’t carry the pedigree that comes from working on a busy local paper.
Talk to any regional journalist and they’ll talk about the torrent of change that’s rushing through their industry. No-one can complain about that. Culture (like hard-bitten business) has always developed through change. Now is only different because it is happening indecently quickly. I simply hope that the weight of professionalism survives.