This just in: Pam Pearce re-discovers her love of newsrooms

by | 5 Mar 2019

“The mice only come out at night so you’ll probably never see one,” she told me. “But don’t keep your handbag on the floor. Here’s some wipes,”

As I took my new colleague’s advice and sloughed down my new work area for the week, I found myself musing again on the weird and wonderful wisdom found in a newsroom and how much I love them. I’ve been lucky to have worked in dozens of them over the decades and am now back in a training and support role – and loving it.

Newsrooms are always different and always the same: some are vast halls where the heads of sub editors still stretch as far as the eye can see and others humble one-man outfits the size of a broom cupboard. But they are always full of characters and are character-building.

Birminghamlive newsroom. Photo Daniel Smith

They attract the brightest and the best, and often the wittiest. Those most skilled at turning out the best copy are usually the ones who make you laugh the loudest. These huge personalities taught me so much.

It was an environment that helped me build my own strength of character. Early in my reporting career I was pressed by my then news editor to speak to a family whose son had died in a car crash. I had taken notes during the hearing at the Coroner’s Court and slipped outside to wait for them. I admit I was nervous but nothing prepared me for what happened. As I approached the child’s father and started speaking, he pushed me up against the wall of the court, his face against mine briefly, and told me to go away. Or words to that effect. Of course I did, red-faced and apologetic.

OK! magazine staff work under the watchful gaze of royalty.

That day I learned an important lesson on how to treat people and I realised I needed to toughen up if I wanted to get on. It was one of many life skills I had to grasp quickly. I knew I would need good shorthand and have to ask powerful people difficult questions, but I didn’t know just how much stamina I would need. Or how to concentrate amid the din of a room full of people bashing out copy on Olivetti typewriters.

This remains a terrific help when I need to zone out of conversations and the deliciously distracting questions you still hear bandied around only in newsrooms. ‘What’s a wormery?’ ‘Who was Marc Bolan?’ ‘Is the Prime Minister still in this building?’

Lancashirelive newsroom. Photo Luke Beardsworth

I learned that a pencil is better to write on a notepad than a pen when it is pouring with rain. You thank the Lord for car heaters because you will never be so cold as when you are waiting for a football manager to depart the training ground so you can grab a few words as he speeds off in his car.

My legal training means I wince at the social media posts which clearly identify someone’s face in their CCTV image or video with the caption: “This man stole my car. Do you know who he is?”

You can’t wear your best clobber as a reporter because you may at any time be sent to interview a pig farmer or scrabble through mud and brambles to get near that crime scene. And you learn to eat when you can. In a newsroom, someone is always eating, sometimes smelly fish, sometimes a full roast dinner with gravy.

Manchester Evening News. Photo Andrew Stewart

Newsrooms made me. Curious, resilent and hopefully wiser than I was. A lot has changed, of course. Staff sit in smaller offices. It is a tougher job than it has ever been. But then nothing has changed. A good story is only a good story when told by skilled practitioners who know how to tell it and engage with the readers or viewers.

And I am pleased there is a steady queue of bright young people who still want to do it. Which is a good thing because in recent weeks a regional city newspaper under my company’s umbrella has launched a new Sunday edition – and more digital sites are emerging too.

Despite the mice, they are, without doubt, the best places to work in the world.

*First published in the Nottingham Post. There are no mice in any of the newsrooms pictured.