Thursday, 12 July 2012

"Whine, Whinge, Moan, Gripe" - yes, now you too can speak Plymothian like a native...

"You love us, you really love us..."

Ooooooooooooooh, some people. I mean, really, some people. It's gets so that you hurry the day when you have to pass a test and get a licence to allow you to put comments on the internet.

Fortunately, that day isn't here and anyone can put the boot in on anyone else, ideally under the cover of a false name with no chance of anyone finding out who you are... unless you have the bottle to say who you are... or are stupid enough to say who you are. Yes, I am the latter, welcome to my small world.

I found this on a story which I'd spent much of a Saturday out in the rain covering, then followed up with a corking tale about an escaped suspect from a police station. By the time I got home (around 8.30pm), the kids were abed and upset I hadn't read them their bedtime story as I always try to do, dinner was cold and the Mrs was doing a fair impersonation of a highly unamused partner. And who could blame her? I am not the kind of guy you find in 50 Shades of Grey... more like 17 Versions Of A Sickly Green Colour...

I mean Nevman has a point, I'm not saying he doesn't. But he seems to think we have an army of reporters and the kind of backing seen at The Mail, the Sunday Times or the Observer, with hosts of reporters, plus stringers, freelances, part-timers and oodles of subs and proof-readers. We don't. We're a local paper. We do, however, have articles which those three newspapers, along with all the other nationals, regularly partake of (read "steal") and then put their name to.

So it got me to thinking, what the blinking flip have I been doing since I got here. I mean, I'm no investigative journalist. I'm no Nick Davies, or Seymour Hersh, or John Sweeney (although I have worked alongside Sweeney on a piece of investigative journalism which I'm particularly proud of and really, really got up the noses of the MoD, but that was another time and another news organisation)

So, I had a bit of a dig in respects to what could be construed as my own "lack of depth and background to articles" and my own "absence of investigative journalism":

Well, we could start here – which we got first and then BBC et al followed up on…

Earlier this year there was - - this one took, off and on, a year of digging and being knocked back, even to the point of getting an MP to ask a minister who appeared to not give the full picture.

Then there’s some late night being out on the beat: –having already done a day’s work in the office, and yes, this'll get to be a moaning theme of mine, as it does with every crime reporter because our subjects do not like to keep respectable hours)

Then there’s the times I’ve been out into the very early hours – having already done a full day at work - & (and no, we don’t ever, ever got overtime payments… again another theme with reporters, sorry to go on... and on... and ... you get the picture)

There's kind of a theme with these three: - which again took ages of interviews with detectives who weren't usually okay with talking to a reporter. 

Then there’s this ongoing story which I'm particularly proud of for personal and professional reasons, yet no other news organisation was interested in for around a year, where Plymouth schools, council and police lead the entire country on something truly worthwhile -
as long as you ignore the commendation bit... I'm vain, but there's only so much adulation you can take.

Add to that the Kelly Edney story ( which took nearly two years of FoI haggling with Prison Service and Information Commissioner. Okay, it's a bit old, but cases like that don't come around often in sleepy Plymouth.

Now this is just a quick-as-I-could-get selection of stuff I’ve written in the past four years… there’s lot of stuff I know I’ve written but can’t find online about police investigations - the Chinese brothels/traffickers case, the Essex/Plymouth cocaine dealers,  the Vietnamese cannabis crime gangs which I was the first to highlight down in the South West, even the in depth interviews with rape victims, victims of domestic abuse.

Now, that’s just my stuff. Admittedly, I could be doing more, but there is the day to day gubbins to be getting on with, writing about incidents and crimes, doing picture captions for charity events, schools events, amateur theatrics, appeals for witnesses (many of which work and I have coppers galore admitting to me that they’ve had a result from The Herald and/or thisisplymouth appeals), plus fluffy bunny stuff like and (I know, shame about the heading, eh)

Now, add to this some of the phenomenal material dug out by people at The Herald like Edd Moore who covered the Plymouth Argyle shenanigans solidly for more than a year so brilliantly that other news organisations were reading him to find out what was going on. Some of political reporter Keith Rossiter’s work, and health reporter Diana Prince’s work has been incredible, insightful and revealing, covering both the nitty gritty of the NHS and council to the personal stories.
Not to mention the award-winning work of defence reporter Tristan Nichols who spent three months alongside “our boys” in Afghanistan, one of the first local reporters to be embedded for such a length of time with frontline operational servicemen.

I really think not enough credit is given to The Herald for having not one, but two full time court reporters Stuart Abel and Graham Broach - one for the magistrates and one for the crown. My last paper in Essex had one such reporter, just for crown and just for Basildon. The Southend office would occasionally go to mags and crown court, as would the Thurrock office, but not everyday and not both courts. So to have two is quite remarkable and really gives Plymouth a view of the justice being meted out in the public’s name. I wonder if the Plymouth people would rather that was hidden from their gaze?

One thing which bothered me was the dismissive tone about the “human interest” stories. My old news-ed (Dave - he'd been a reporter for longer than I’d been alive by the time I started at the Echo) used to say “people like to read about people”. Which meant that whatever the story, however big, however seemingly divorced from mere mortals, it would actually always have a human dimension worth revealing. A massive new housing development? Who will it benefit and who will it harm? Incinerator near a school? Talk to the pupil or teacher with asthma. A crime or court verdict? Talk to the copper and the victim, or the victim’s family. 

Dave also used to say "Eve, what's this sh**? Can't you spell properly? If you send me one more bit of copy with a 'teh' instead of 'the' I'll come over there and rip out your liver you feckin' muppet" on a regular basis, so take what he said about people-wanting-to-read-about-people with a pinch of salt if you wish...

As for not noting Plymouth’s weaknesses? What, like this paper has never ever mentioned the city's racist element, it’s above-average number of child-abusers, it’s small-minded stuck-20-years-behind-rest-of-UK mentality, it’s crap internet speeds and train-to-London timetable, it’s lack of a bleedin’ airport, diminishing dockyard and lack of use of its derelict spaces and properties left to rot….

I mean, the paper loves the city, but you have to be honest in any relationship, don't you?

Personally speaking, and keeping in mind I'm not local, as is often said to me with a finger jabbing into my chest by someone with three-too-many fingers on a regular basis, I’ll tell you one thing we really don’t focus on in this city as much as I’d like to since I arrived here six years ago – how much people in this city feckin’ moan… I mean they REALLY do moan a lot. Everything from the sky to the ground, the sea to the rivers, the view to the smell, the streets to the pavement. (Although, the potholes are a real pain in the suspension if you know what I mean, I'm with you there on that one folks)

What I will say in defence of the paper is it’s not perfect, despite the efforts of the staff at the place. It’s easy to carp from the sidelines, (especially anonymously, without risk of being identified), it’s easy to forget the good articles (such as the Support for Devonport campaign), it’s easy to remember the spelling mistake, or the missing word or comma.

It is not perfect, but I'm pretty sure that here, as with many other local newspapers up and down this green, pleasant and wet land that the reporters and others at those papers will continue to do their best to get the news of their town/city to the people of aforementioned town/city.

Meanwhile, for those of you who girded your loins to read this ongoing pile of horse manure I write, if you've been invited by the guvnor of The Herald, why not take a shot and give it a go? What have you got to lose, other than your pre and mis conceptions?

Love, as always... (mutter, mutter, grumble, grouch, mutter, grumble...)

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