Deep South Media’s Ed Baker recalls his time as a journalist dealing with London newsdesks.
I spent 12 years working for a press agency; finding, writing and selling stories and pictures to national newspapers.
London-based journalists from the papers would also commission us to do work on their behalf, usually if the story they were writing had a Dorset ‘end’.
Being based in a rural county did highlight the difference between the London ‘bubble’ and the regions.
It showed the ignorance of many young London hacks about life outside the capital and sometimes even revealed their contempt for things beyond the M25.
It was a microcosm of a wider difference; between urban and rural, London and the rest.
We were based in Bournemouth and I lost count of the times that journalists from London newsdesks called and asked us to do a job for them in Brighton or Eastbourne.
“It’s nearer you than it is me,” I would reply.
“Really?” was usually the astonished answer, quickly followed by the sound of the hack bashing his keyboard to ask Google, which confirmed that the idiot from Dorset was correct. I would then refer them to an agency in Brighton.
I once spent an entire afternoon trying to find a conference in a Bournemouth hotel that a journalist wanted covered and insisted was in the town.
I called back later to say that I could find no trace of the event and there followed much cursing as the hack rebuked me for my stupidity, uselessness and lack of skill.
“You are sure it’s in Bournemouth?” I queried.
“Of course!” he yelled.
“It’s only that I have found a similar-sounding conference in Brighton.”
“Well get down there and cover it you stupid xxxx,” he shouted.
“It’s nearer you than it is me,” I said.
I heard a keyboard being bashed and then the line went dead.
To many from the capital, Bournemouth, Brighton and Eastbourne were the same place – or because they were all south coast resorts must at least be extremely close together.
During the Mad Cow days we received a call from a breathless hackette who had received a tip that there was a cow in Dorset infected with BSE and could we go and find it.
“We’ll probably need a bit more information than that,” my colleague replied, “there are a lot of cows in Dorset.”
“Oh, OK,” she said, “I’ll get back to you.”
And she did.
“Right,” she began, “I’ve got some more information about that cow.”
“Go ahead,” my colleague said, pen poised and notebook ready.
“It’s black and white…”
“Is that it?”
“Yes, what more do you need?”
Another time a London journalist called and said that his paper was researching how many motorway deaths and injuries there had been in the last year on a county-by-county basis and could I find the figures for Dorset.
“Yes,” I replied with certainty, “there have been no deaths and no injuries.”
“How can you be so sure?” the incredulous hack replied.
“There are no motorways in Dorset,” I answered. The line went dead.
On another occasion a London hackette called to say her paper was running a series of features on ordinary community heroes. Those selfless souls who go that bit further but never get any recognition.
“I know just the person,” I said.
A mild acquaintance of mine matched her description; he was a bin man who doubled as an odd-job man for the elderly in the town where he worked. He never asked for a penny and filled all his free time helping others.
“Can I have his number?” the reporter asked, “he sounds perfect.”
“He doesn’t have a phone,” I said.
“Can I have his landline then?”
“No, he doesn’t have a phone. I’ll go and see him if you like?”
“Doesn’t have a phone!?”
The thought that someone could exist without any form of tele-communication was simply too much for the journalist to comprehend. She clearly believed that this individual must be so odd that his story couldn’t possibly run in the pages of her newspaper. So the bin man went unrecognised again.
I once wrote a story about a man who had made a steam-powered bicycle and used paraffin as fuel to heat the water. A hack from a broadsheet paper called to ask where the coal went in the contraption.
“It doesn’t use coal,” I explained patiently, “it uses paraffin.”
“Then it can’t be steam powered,” he averred angrily, and put the phone down believing I was trying to mislead him.
Other bizarre queries I received from those on London newsdesks included:
“Are you sure that you get swans in the harbour?”
“What’s a heifer?”
And … “Does Bournemouth pier float?”
It must be said that many of the hacks were young, ambitious and under great pressure and picked up the phone without thinking what they were going to ask.
But they gave us a laugh…