It's not nepotism. It's life in our parallel universe

children see our profession differently from their peers – so why are
we so spiteful when they join it, asks Carol Sarler

PITY POOR Bee Shaffer. On
the one hand, the big fat plum that is a new column for The Daily
Telegraph; on the other, and simultaneous with its announcement, her
public protestation: “I don’t always want to be seen as my mother’s
daughter, I don’t want to get a job because of who she is.” For Shaffer
is the daughter of Anna Wintour, the indomitable editor of American
Vogue, and already she fears – quite correctly – that she will face
darkly mumbled accusations of nepotism.

There is a long tradition of children following their parents into
journalism. Peter Preston, Claire Rayner, Richard Littlejohn, Bill
Hagerty and myself have each welcomed a child to the Street; all three
of Lynda Lee-Potter’s children chose to follow in her formidable
footsteps, while the widely-published Coren clan includes père, fils,
fille and quite possibly the family cat.

But somewhere along the
line, whether or not they have heard it themselves, some uncharitable
soul has whispered of every one of them that they only got the job
because of their parentage; that they have, in short, an unfair
advantage. Which is true.

They do. But it’s not the advantage of
nepotism – indeed, in a trade where enemies may be lastingly made, a
bylined daddy can have the opposite effect.

No. The real
advantage that these offspring have is that if you have been brought up
by a journalist, you reach adulthood with the curious idea that, as a
species, we are actually normal.

If you take one of our school or
college-leavers with a yen for ink, and place him beside the similarly
yearning son of a bank manager, it is ours who has a flying head start
for the race to come. We forget too easily how peculiar we are.

is, for instance, language: before weaning, our lot know that a stone
is not (usually) something you throw, that filing has nothing to do
with fingernails and that subs are a) not marine craft and b) never to
be mentioned without the bitterly expressed prefix “bloody”.

the bank manager’s son grew up expecting to see his father a
predictable number of minutes after the vault closed each evening, in
our homes we have always been seen far too little or far too much and,
either way, not predictably. News knows no clock.

Any kid who
ever sat through a parent’s period of freelancing will have the fullest
understanding of feast v famine; for us there was one spell of nearly
four years without a holiday – we could afford the flights, just not
the time off – but just when the pity of schoolfriends is about to kick
in, either there’s a cracking overseas assignment where family is
wangled along, or some other compensation (coming home from school to
find Ben Elton being interviewed on the sofa was, I am informed, one

Where the parent is not freelance but working with its
cousin, the contract, families live through a cyclical anxiety akin to
PMT. I know one woman who has lurched from one three-month contract to
another, with the same company, for years now (no, of course she
shouldn’t put up with it); her children couldn’t spell the word
security but they are champions at living for the moment.

other lines of work there are codes, manners and etiquette. In a City
firm, if you should be subjected to the robust or ribald, or if you
hear a few F or C-words, you sue for harassment and leave to spend more
time with your stress counsellor. On a paper, it means you’ve been to
morning conference – and when you re-tell it over supper, that’s even
more language for the babes to learn.

Hostility, in any case, is
part and parcel: every civilian appears to have a view of the press and
few of them cordial. It must be hard for children, uniquely among their
friends, to hear their parents abused; nobody ever hears, after all:
“You work for John LEWIS?? Eeeeugh!” – but they do hear: “You work for
the Daily BLAG? How could you?”

And should that parent have a
polemical role at the paper, it becomes even worse: proper hate-mail,
then, pours through the morning post. The counterpoint, of course, is
the camaraderie within the paper; if our children are toughened by the
first, they develop a healthy, fond respect for the second.

that would automatically end careers in other trades are, by and large,
tolerated in journalism, albeit with the proviso that they do not
intrude upon the work. I have – how shall we put this? – no reason to
disbelieve recent accusations of the sampling of white powders by very
senior hacks in the hotel room of an oblivious Times editor… and as for
the old demon drink, while it is nothing like as crazy as it was a few
years ago, it is still astounding that you can watch, say, a
Westminster lobby hound do four straight hours in the Stranger’s Bar
before he pops upstairs and produces flawless copy for tomorrow’s
paper. (Try that down the Abbey National.) What this teaches children I
hate to think – but teach it does, and learn they do.

After 18 or
so years, it is not surprising that many young people decide that they
hanker for solid, sensible eight-hour days, generally worked in
daylight. But it is even less surprising that a great many don’t: as a
21-year-old dynastical recruit recently said: “I didn’t plan to do
this. I just woke up the other day and realised that, if only by a
process of osmosis, it’s what I know best.”

A plea, then, for Bee
Shaffer and all the ones coming along behind her: don’t resent them for
their “advantage”. They didn’t ask for it but they did, in a funny kind
of way, earn it.

Sons and
     Famous folks


Georgina Littlejohn, Metro            
Littlejohn, Daily Mail

James Corrigan, Independent       
Corrigan, Independent on Sunday

Jeremy Deedes, The Sportsman
W.F. Deedes, The Daily Telegraph

Ben Preston, The Times            
 Peter Preston, The Guardian

Giles Coren, The Times            
Alan Coren, broadcaster and columnist

Anna Wintour, US Vogue          
Charles Wintour, Evening Standard

Will Hagerty, The
Bill Hagerty, British Journalism Review

Roland Buerk, BBC              
    Michael Buerk, BBC

Kelvin MacKenzie, Highbury Communications     Ian MacKenzie, South London Observer

Nick Ferrari, LBC              
 Dino Ferrari, Ferrari news agency

Emma Lee-Potter, freelance  
 Lynda Lee-Potter, Daily Mail


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