SO HERE I sit, in a leather chair behind a block of Italian walnut that easily cost the same as the salaries of two junior reporters. To my left, a long-brown flower arrangement crumbles in the sunlight. To my right, an orange turns grey in a neglected fruit bowl.
On the wall in front of my desk, I can see the ghost shadows left by pictures that once hung there: some heroic front pages, a couple of those dreadful mocked-up leaving presents, a few awards certificates. In my desk drawer there is a lonely paper clip, an old copy of Cosmopolitan, and a half-empty bottle of bright red nail varnish, remnants of the previous occupant.
The phone rings. It is the nice lady who sits in the office next door. ‘There’s a gentleman here,’she says, ‘who would like to speak to the Editorâ€¦”
It began like this. I was just coming towards the end of a 12-hour shift. The historic slogan ‘Life is Local’ still lurked beneath the Evening Beast masthead as I sent the last page off to our print plant 200 miles away in Wales; above the leader column the words ‘Today’s News Today’ cast an enquiring eye at the clock as we hit our 9pm deadline â€¦ for tomorrow’s paper. Then the phone rang.
It was the dreaded Eminence Grease, our managing director. Could I possibly pop into his office on the way out? There was something he wanted to have a word with me about.
Well then, here we go. After all these years dodging the bullet, my time for the brown envelope had obviously come. To be honest, a sense of relief swept through me. At least I’d be able to stop worrying about the imminent axe and get on with my life.
I knocked and entered, walking into a perfumed haze of cheap after shave and the smell of what I believe are called ‘hair products’. I was beckoned to a chair.
‘Thanks for coming in, Grey,’the Eminence Grease beamed, his little tongue flicking in and out like a snake, the Gomez Adams’ widow’s peak slicked back and shiny.
‘You see, it’s like thisâ€¦”
I’ll cut to the chase. Firstly, nothing that had happened to the Evening Beast in recent years was his fault. Secondly, our disastrous run of editors – the inept Boy Wonder followed by the woefully-inadequate Crystal Tits – wasn’t his fault either. Now he’d managed to convince Head Office that it was time for a return to traditional values, a safe pair of hands – and that pair of hands was mine. Would I care to become the Editor of the Evening Beast?
To be fair, I was gobsmacked. The editor’s chair had never been my ambition and I’d never sought elevation to such heady heights. I’m also no mug. The Eminence Grease doesn’t actually want the flair and invention of a proper editor. He wants some old fool approaching the twilight of his career who’ll do as he’s told to protect his pension.
And he’ll give me over 30 staff, including an assistant editor but no deputy; a ‘head of content’ doing the job of news editor and features editor; five sports hacks; seven subs; 12 reporters – including several trainees; a picture editor but no staff photographers; two non-journo Mac jockeys to run t’internet; two artists; one ‘special projects editor’ who does everything else including ad features; one part-time PA; and as many work experience kids as I can fit into the newsroom, which will have to be manned 18 hours a day, seven days a week and service a daily newspaper, a paid-for weekly, a free weekly, and as many loss-leading web sites as the suits can come up with.
There’s a car of course – not the BMW driven by Crystal Tits, but an anonymous Vauxhall clawed back from one of the recently departed reps. And the salary? How about £50k, old boy? A big uplift on your current package.
To be honest, I can’t think of a more insulting offer in all my life. What do these people take me for?
So did I take this ludicrous non-job and betray every single one of my dwindling principles along the way? I’m a newspaperman. Of course I did. Oh, and it’s Mr fucking Cardigan in future â€¦
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