The phone call came on a Thursday afternoon. Work was quiet; my brain was gripped by a late afternoon slump. But the call snapped me back to attention. It was the editor of a newspaper in my hometown of Clonmel, The Premier People. Did I want to edit the paper for the month of August?
She made the job sound easy, a chance to use my editing skills. In reality, I have to fill nine pages with stories, at a time when the courts and councils are off, the criminals have gone on holiday and even the press releases have dried up. Still, the rust is starting to flake off and my dormant newsgathering skills are starting to come back to life.
Getting a newspaper to press is a bit like reading a thriller. You’ve the suspense of wondering will it be done on time, yet at the back of your mind, you know it will. Despite a quiet season, there have been some juicy news stories to get my pulses going. Who’d have thought I’d be grateful for a plane crash?
And journalism is wonderfully varied. You get a chance to talk to all kinds of interesting people. So far, I’ve spoken to an ex-priest, Mr Gay South Tipp (who goes by the colourful name of Gordie Gooney) and a woman fighting against the repossession of her land. Thinking of interesting questions to ask them is fun too.
Throughout my journalism career, I’ve tended to concentrate on features rather than news. So I’m drawing on my feature-writing skills to fill the pages with stories about the arts, tourism, heritage and articles giving advice to parents of schoolgoing children and those about to leave school.
I’ve always scorned the idea of relying on press releases to fill newspapers. I call it microwave journalism – the equivalent of reheating your dinner. Now I fully understand the temptation. When an ad gets pulled at the last minute and you’re looking at an acre of white space, you’ll fill it any way you can.
For the past two years, I’ve been advising businesses on how to approach the media for coverage. Now I’m in an even better position to advise them. Bottom line, you’ve got to send in a press release with a proper story, no blatant promotion. But if you do, you’re showing an editor that you’re available to talk to them and they will consider it.
Oh and they love a picture. Pictures fill in those pesky corners of white space that aren’t big enough for an ad or an article. But it’s essential that the picture is good, because if it’s not, there’s a chance your whole story will be dropped.
My editorship of The Premier People has restored my appetite for journalism. Journalism will always be a valuable part of my writing portfolio and I will be working strongly on ways to adapt myself to the journalism market as it stands, so I can continue to keep my journalism muscles flexed.