Sitting in Waterford Airport on the sun-kissed Thursday just passed – already a distant memory on this clammy, grey Tuesday evening, a thought occurred to me. Isn’t newspaper reporting a peculiar way to make a living?
Notebook in tow, chewed pen top tossed into the office bin beforehand for fear I’d be identified as a Bic-cannibal, I sat, anticipating the 20-odd minutes of frenetic note-taking that lay ahead.
Unlike most events that we the press are summoned to, there was no big announcement being made by either airport management or the Aer Arann representative sat across the desk from me.
Thankfully, the afternoon did in fact reveal something new to report (see Business 4). More often than not, one-to-one contact like this, as opposed to rephrasing someone else’s words as journalists often have to do, does reveal something newsworthy.
After all, if it engages me as a reporter, it ought to engage you as a reader – well, that’s the intention anyway!
As much as I hoped that Aer Arann’s Fergal Barry would challenge Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary to a duel, I knew the headline in my noggin would differ somewhat from my real-time dictation.
Despite what wannabe hacks out there might think, so much of what journalists have to do – and cannot avoid doing every day – ends up being filed in a folder marked ‘Banal’.
Captions have to be written, sentences have to be either butchered or fleshed out, headlines need to be re-shaped and photos have got to be saved in the appropriate sections.
A bit like maths for arty-minded school kids, there’s no avoiding the undesirable stuff.
All these things take time and get in the way of what reporters, as the job description implies, are meant to do – report.
The frustrations of my job are presumably no different in a fundamental sense than those of many a trade out there.
There’s always too much work to be done and never enough time to get the job done to one’s own satisfaction.
One of the words that sets my journalistic blood boiling is the word ‘filler’. It ought to be expunged from vocabulary’s basket.
To me, it implies the brainless firing of text onto a page of newsprint, irrespective of either its newsworthiness or quality.
Let me put it like this: if the filler, a feature of journalism for several decades now, didn’t exist, would there be a need for the entity we know as public relations?
Here’s my theory. Without the filler, we’d never have had a single photograph taken of a besuited government minister flanked by one of the dozen or so models that make a half-decent living in Ireland.
So, one could argue that without the filler and without the public relations industry, the Irish fashion industry and, in turn, a sizeable branch of the Irish celebrity sphere might crumble. It’s difficult to imagine a world without TV3’s ‘Xpose’, I’m sure you’d agree.
Which brings me back to the peculiarity of my trade. One day, I’m talking to a group of businessmen over a cup of tea and a biscuit.
A few days later, I’m chasing quotes from sweaty hurlers across a pitch once the full-time whistle has sounded, receiving politely slagged text messages for so doing.
When putting stories together in the office, I’m chasing again – between desks, writing, re-writing, filing and saving, while all the time deploying self-styled copy in the hope of defeating the dreaded filler.
But since I don’t have the heart to kill off the Irish fashion industry, I guess I’ll have to put up with the uneasy journalistic bedfellow just an emailed press release away.
And you can quote me on that.