“Part of my youth was spent as a sub-editor, toiling away like Graham Greene, on a regional evening paper. Because of my eagerness, I was often given the copy from the paper’s star reporter, a man who would count it a bad week when he didn’t deliver three or four exclusives, at least two of which would be page one leads. His stories won national awards, were regularly followed up on regional TV and radio, and by competitors.
“He couldn’t write for toffee. Word count, grammar and syntax were alien concepts. The intro was frequently in the fifth par. He wrote as he spoke, all Estuarine English. My job was to mine that seam for gold.
“At the end of one particularly long week, emboldened by bitter ale, I taxed the editor, an ex-Fleet Street veteran and the best man I have ever worked for, and suggested I deserved a modest pay rise. He fixed me with a hideous stare and said: ‘His job is to provide the words, but your function is to provide the music. Now piss off.”
“Under the cloned, one-size-fits-all, cross-platform, multi-media, tweet it, blog it, have-you-got-the-geo-tags-sorted, regime espoused by 2010 publishers, that star reporter would be unemployable. Writing directly to a template? Forget it. Put your own headline on? Send it to the web first? Disasters in the making. But, boy, could that guy get a story and provide distinctive content. What price that?”