I’m reading Piers Morgan’s autobiography at the moment. He was the youngest editor of the national newspaper at 28.
When I was 15/16 I ran a school newspaper called News of the Plebs (NOTP). I called it that because the News of the World never contained any world news – so I might as well be honest with my paper.
As I read Piers’ book it dredged up some really strong memories about what it’s like to be an editor of a newspaper…
1. You play God.
You have control of people’s lives in your hands. One girl didn’t want me to write a story about her because she didn’t want people to think she was a “slag”. So I dropped the story because she made a heartfelt plea.
Piers had a story about a call-centre woman who sexually harrassed a bloke on the phone. Then she was threatening to kill herself and her story stacked up because she had a history of self-harming herself. Piers dropped it.
2. Just listen… and people will tell you the story.
Ask a probing question… look them in the eyes and be silent.
That way you get an honest answer.
It’s a skill that’s helps you connect with people. It’s helped me a lot with my work and socially since.
Piers sent Rebakah Wade to go to the Sunday Times print press, and steal a copy of their first print run, so they could nab a story.
So she got dressed up in a News International cleaner uniform and hid in the loo for 2 hours. She then stole the copy and ran across the road to the News of the World where they reprinted the story. That’s bold! That’s balls.
I had similar times when I eavesdropped on other people’s conversations when I shouldn’t have been. Then wrote them up.
4. You learn how to write well
You learn the art of expressing yourself in a funny, informative, and concise way.
Otherwise people don’t read.
5. People will try and shut you down… and they will.
After 10 issues of NOTP, one teacher Mr McIllroy came across it. He took me out of the lesson and spoke to me in the corridor as though I’d murdered his mother.
“Have you asked people about writing about them.”
“Yeah, duh! I got everyone’s permission – which is more than the national papers do.” I said
He was surprised.
“Don’t you know it’s been going for 10 issues now”
It eventually got censored. They put too much pressure on me.
Funnily enough so did the News of the World a year or two later.
6. Gives you a reputation (not necessarily good)
“Got any gossip?” I became famous of asking.
Some people will confide in you, and you’ve got to respect where to draw the line. I could have written some great stories, but they didn’t let me print them.
Other people don’t trust you at all. They blank you.
But on the whole, people respect you and find you amusing.
7. You realize that everyone’s such a voyeur.
It’s like when people drive past slowly to look at a car crash.
They hate having themselves talked about, but they’re happy to gorp at everyone else’s unpleasant business.
8. You don’t sleep well sometimes.
My front cover had a picture of class wildchild Kat with her middle finger up. I knew this would get me into trouble… and there were rumours that she might be pregnant… but it was my best story of the week. So I ran with it.
Needless to say, I was right. I did get into trouble. But you just have to run with what will get you the most buyers sometimes. It was funny reading that Piers had “big story insomnia” too.
9. You can get lonely.
I remember being on the bus home one day, just feeling really empty. There wasn’t anybody who I could confide in… and there wasn’t any funny or feelgood stories I could write about.
And I just felt a bit alienated.
10. You can get into arguments with your family.
One girl got food poisoning from the local Chinese restaurant. She was absolutely certain it was from there.
I was going to run with the story but then my parents got into a row with me about libel. And they were worried that the Chinese triad gangs would come and slit our necks or something…
They’d dice us up, and put us next to the egg fried rice on the buffet… and we’d poison the next batch of customers…So I changed the story to her “alleging” food poisoning.
Piers also faced arguments with his family. Mostly because he was incredibly stressed.
11. The stress is immense
Needless to say, when you’re doing something like that there’s a lot of pressure.
Very often you find yourself in “win-lose” situations… where you can never keep everyone happy. If you have a good story, it’s at the expense of laughing at someone.
You might have a good story that most people are OK with, but one person involved isn’t happy. So you have to weigh things up.
Gaining enemies is never fun and you’re always worried about getting a tirade of criticism from someone.
12. You cock-up things.
Max Clifford & Piers were negotiating on a story.
“He’s such an idiot he could have got double for that story” said Piers.
Piers’ colleague had forgot to hang up.
“You’re going to have to pay me an extra £40,000 for what you just said. He’s not that much of an idiot after all!” joked Max afterward.
13. It’s hillarious sometimes. You get the inside scoop on great stories.
We were on a coach on a school trip to Paris.
This old man in a car alongside us, he smiled at the girls at the back.
They smiled back. He seemed like a friendly chap.
Then he flashed them… causing the entirety of the bus to go yuck and look at his saggy Parisian bits.
14. You have to work really hard.
I remember a lot of late nights. Times when my printer at home broke down.
Times when the printer mucked up, and it printed upside down.
Times when I was desperate for material and just made up stories from what I saw on Facebook.
It was really hard work… really hard. Piers found it the same… you never relax
15. Some people love the fame too much.
Not to mention any names… but Max/Maccie was notorious for getting front page spreads for his escapades with girls and being cheeky.
It’s the same in “showbiz” – some people will do anything for publicity.
16. The highs are very high
Mrs Lawrie hugged me… she was so pleased. She was over the moon.
“This is what makes teaching worthwhile” she said.
She was the front page and I’d called her a superteacher for organising the trip. She was brilliant.
Likewise I had people who loved hearing about what I wrote. It was so good to make people feel that way… and be the hub of a group.
Was it worth it?
I guess that’s the question it comes down to.
Yes it was. Very much so.
You learn so much about people… how they think… how to entertain… and how to tell a good story, that it’s one of the best things you could possibly do.
You learn about managing a project.
You fail, you learn. You fail again. And then you ultimately become very nuanced in the way of being good with people and writing.
That’s what made it worthwhile.