YOU NEVER forget your first door knock – and certainly not your first death knock. They are fraught with uncertainty. You never know if you’re going to be punched in the chops by a porn merchant’s minder, or invited in for tea so the grieving family can ‘pay tribute’ to the deceased before departing with a pocketful of pictures swiped from the mantelpiece.
In a well-run newsroom, you’d be sent out on your first couple of dodgy jobs with an experienced pro and ‘his’ snapper. The cricket box down the pants, the timing of the knock, the techniques for getting the target out from behind the front door so the requisite picture can be taken, the safe escape back to the car – all essential skills that had to be learnt.
On my first solo job – fronting up an unruly and violent neighbour creating havoc in his street – I had the door slammed on my fingers and was then chased down a row of junk-littered front gardens, hopping over fences, trench coat flapping in the wind, by a large, angry man with a baseball bat and his equally grumpy Alsatian dog. At least we got the picture, even if the snapper only got off a couple of shots before being overcome by a fit of the giggles.
A colleague suffered the indignity of having a bucket of piss tipped over him from a bedroom window while banging on the door of a suspected brothel. And perhaps it wasn’t altogether wise to once send our latest, rather naÃ¯ve, Oxbridge graduate into an area known locally as The Bronx – and make him take a company van branded with the Evening Beast logo because there were no pool cars available. It had been petrol-bombed by resentful youths before he was even halfway back down the garden path, pursued, as seems customary, by a large, angry man with a baseball bat and his equally grumpy Alsatian dog.
These days, in our experience-starved sweatshops, a poor trainee is often sent out alone onto the mean streets of our violent, inner-city council estates, left to brave the mob with only his Dictaphone in his hand. But hey, at least he got to leave the office and get away from that screen full of illiterate and irrelevant press releases. And isn’t this sort of thing the making of the man; sorting out those who are going to see the job through from those who’ll run home to Mummy and Daddy when the going gets tough?
Perhaps no more. I was having a pint or ten the other day with a former colleague who is now news editor (sorry, content manager) on another regional daily when he pulled from his pocket a little notebook labelled ‘Dynamic Risk Assessment Hazard Checklist’.
‘Have a look at this Grey,’he said. ‘We’ve just been issued with them. The troops are supposed to fill one out before they go out on a job.”
It was a booklet of forms, with spaces for name and date, followed by a list of a dozen or so questions with Yes and No tick-boxes. I’ll give you a small sample.
Does the task you are about to undertake involve working:
â€¦ in places where there are slip, trip or fall hazards?
â€¦ in crowds or hostile situations?
â€¦ with or near moving vehicles?
â€¦ with or near animals?
â€¦ in bad or extreme weather?
â€¦ with or near harmful substances?
Do you believe that you are safe to proceed with this task? If you are in any doubt, answer NO. Please return this form to your line manager.
And there was more, much more.
So there we have it: the potential death of the door knock, and many other ‘interesting’ jobs as well. Ask a cosseted college kid to go out on a job involving any of the above ‘perils’ and they’ll be quite within their rights to tell you to stick it. Health and Safety Rules OK?
Is there anything else the suits can come up with to stop us producing a passable newspaper?
This is an extract from the August column in the print version of Press Gazette. Check out subscription offers elsewhere on the site.