15 years… but I’m only just starting, really

Our Sir Stan tribute.

Our Sir Stan tribute.

A £500 pay cut and a demotion. That’s what it cost me to land a job here at The Sentinel in October 1998.

To be fair to the then Editor-in-Chief, who I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by, there were no vacancies on the Newsdesk and so I began life at my home city paper as a reporter.

As for the pay cut, I think it was perhaps his way of saying: ‘You’re on probation. Just another reporter. Show me what you can do.”

Against all odds, I’m still here – 15 years later – having seen off (in the nicest possible way) two editors and almost 200 journalist colleagues who have retired, been made redundant, left the company, or, in some sad cases, passed away.

To say that The Sentinel has changed a great deal during that time would be an understatement – both in terms of our working environment and what we do.

When I started, our photographers were still developing prints in the dark room.

Fax machines were still de rigueur. There was no internet and mobile telephones were still like bricks.

Few people had them and the idea of sitting there and being ignorant of the world and everyone around you while fiddling with a phone would have seemed preposterous.

The internet was still very much a geek thing and if you wanted information you couldn’t just ‘Google it’ or fall back on Wikipedia.

You either telephoned someone, picked up a reference book or looked in our library – which is probably one of the reasons I have such a healthy respect for our archive.

Many of my colleagues (particularly the crotchety old, cardigan-wearing sub-editors) at our Festival Park offices would disappear off to the pub at lunchtime for a couple of pints to ‘liven them up’ for the afternoon.

Half the journalists regularly frequented the ‘smoking room’ which was located up a corner of our vast ground floor editorial department.

It stunk to high heaven and every time someone opened the door the awful smell wafted across the newsroom.

Those early days are a blur for me. Within two weeks of starting my job I was doing shifts on the Newsdesk – the engine room of any newsroom.

The hours were long, as they still are, and I’d be up at 4am to drive into the office and prepare the news list for morning conference.

We had seven editions back then – all printed on site and staggered throughout the day. I couldn’t help but feel proud of working here.

Within a couple of months of me joining the paper the gaffer had appointed me Deputy News Editor.

Since then I’ve been privileged to be News Editor, Head of Content, Assistant Editor and now Deputy Editor and columnist.

My memories of colleagues who have moved on are still fresh and my recollections of each role vivid.

Our campaigns – such as Proud of the Potteries, in answer to some half-baked survey which said Stoke-on-Trent was the worst place to live in England and Wales – really mattered to me, as a local lad.

When Sir Stanley Matthews died I remember the UK Press Gazette (the trade magazine for hacks) lauding the Blackpool Gazette for its special 24-page tribute to the great man which had been produced by its journalists who had worked ‘through the night’.

We had worked 24 hours straight and produced 64 pages for the next day. From scratch. I’ve still got a copy.

I recall our 20,000-signature campaign for a new North Staffs Hospital – taken to 10 Downing Street by a little lad who must now be old enough to go the pub.

I remember the first time I planned and compered a Sentinel event – Our Heroes in 2006. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat a thing and spilt red wine down my tux.

I remember the first Stoke’s Top Talent variety contest – with a queue of entrants snaking round the Victoria Hall at half eight on a Saturday morning.

I recall planning our first Young Journalist Awards and Class Act competition which gave away tens of thousands of pounds to local schools.

I’ll never forget the sheer terror of walking on stage at The Regent theatre in panto for the first time – and the strange mixture of elation and sadness as I took my final bow 33 shows later.

More recently I returned to news writing to help expose wrong-doing by former directors at Port Vale and was proud to be involved in the subsequent battle to save the club.

I was also privileged to travel down to London with two veterans to present our 17,000-strong petition to save the name of The Staffords.

And so it goes on.

Fifteen years ago this week I joined The Sentinel and now I look around the newsroom and there are only a handful of people who have been here longer than yours truly. Suddenly (and I’m not quite sure how it happened) I’m one of the old heads.

Thankfully I’ve still got Rob Cotterill, Dave Blackhurst, Steve Bould and Dianne Gibbons to look up to.

Astonishingly, they’ve more than 150 years’ service between them.

All local. All proud.

I guess I’m only just starting, really.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Advertisements

Why good photographers are still worth their weight in gold

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled 'Dear Happy Ghosts

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled ‘Dear Happy Ghosts’

I’m sure it’s not just me that is still wowed by touch-screen technology and who thinks that cameras on telephones are a novelty.

To the current generation of teenagers who know no different, taking pictures of yourself pouting in the mirror and then uploading said image to Facebook is par for the course.

In contrast there are very few pictures of me or my friends at high school or college because the generation which grew up in the late Eighties didn’t carry cameras around with them. Most of us didn’t have one.

If someone took a photograph there was generally a good reason for it. It was an occasion, an event, a gathering. It had a purpose.

Nowadays every oik with a mobile telephone can take a picture of his or her takeaway tea and display it to the world within seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely in awe of the fact that my six and eight-year-olds are able to use a mouse and navigate their way around an iMac screen and use the internet.

I can also, of course, see the huge benefits of hand-held devices which are part computer, part camera and part phone – even if they have killed the art of conversation for many.

Nowhere has the march of technology been more pronounced than with photography.

You used to walk in someone’s house and there would be the obligatory wedding picture in a frame – given pride of place – along with a few pictures of the kids, maybe a shot of grandad’s 70th birthday bash and a recently-departed pet dog.

Nowadays photo frames are electronic devices – winking at you from the mantelpiece or coffee table as they change from Christmas Day to last year’s holiday in Majorca.

Working in the media, of course, image technology has had a huge impact on the way some of my colleagues work.

I started as a cub reporter at Smith Davis Press in 1989 – the same year as Steve Bould began his career as a photographer at The Sentinel.

Now the most senior man on our picture desk, he’s one of the few photographers who recalls the momentous changes that have taken place over the last quarter of a century.

Back in the late Eighties, of course, cameras used rolls of film.

We would take our holiday snaps to a shop to be developed and every media organisation had its own dark room where a kind of a magic happened.

Even though I was a scribe, I spent many happy hours (though not as many as Steve) chatting away to colleagues under the eerie red light as negatives – or ‘negs’ – were developed (‘devved’).

I watched in awe as images materialised on prints in the trays.

It was a time-consuming process whereby the photographer didn’t really know just how successful or otherwise a particular shoot had been until he was able to view his or her negs back in the safety of the dark room.

In those early days I developed a healthy respect for ‘snappers’ (they hate being called that, by the way).

The importance to me of images chronicling everything from major events locally – from job losses, major crimes and football club successes – to the minutiae of people’s lives cannot be overstated.

That’s why I am so in awe of the treasure trove that is The Sentinel’s library and archive – with its row upon row of folders of prints, negatives and cuttings.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this newspaper’s archive boasts billions.

It was, of course, the advent of digital cameras which ended the dark room’s domination and consigned camera films to the nostalgia pages.

In 1996 The Sentinel’s digital archive began and, to be fair, it’s a terrific, immediate resource.

When I began working as a journalist in the Eighties photographers, the vast majority of whom were men, at newspapers like The Sentinel would travel to just three or four jobs in a day – because they needed the rest of their shift to come back and ‘dev’ their work.

These days, photographers on your average regional daily newspaper will be expected to do six, seven or eight jobs in a day – often uploading the images to a laptop and emailing them back to HQ, thus removing any need for them to return to the office.

They may do more jobs but they also, of course, have the luxury of being able to view images as they take them – re-shooting if they are unhappy with the results.

Steve said: “I guess it’s swings and roundabouts. Photographers will do more jobs these days but the technology at their disposal is far superior to what was available 20-odd years ago.

“The job has changed. Some skills are no longer relevant.

“However, even though most people have devices which can take pictures these days it doesn’t mean the pictures they take are any good.

“Most people don’t have the technical ability to take a decent photograph or lack the courage to ‘get in there’ and get close enough to whatever is happening.

“Simply posing a group of people properly or creating an interesting image from a fairly dull subject matter – that’s a real skill.”

He’s not wrong. That’s why a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold: Because they know a picture of a takeaway tikka masala isn’t that impressive after all.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.