That last post had a lot of links to newspaper articles, didn't it? It sometimes feels like the papers have little left to say (what with the new media being so ubiquitous and all) and then all of a sudden I'll read a whole spate of really interesting articles in the old hold-it-your-hand-and-it-rustles media and...as if by magic... suddenly they don't seem such a waste of space after all. Maybe it's a lack of imagination on my part but I find it hard to imagine a world completely free of conventional crinkly newspapers. What will people soak their new puppy's wee up with, for a start, if we go all electronic? Will the phrase 'just put some newspaper down' vanish from our lives altogether? That would be so strange.
We get the London-based 'Independent' newspaper in this house. It's what you'd call a quality daily I suppose and it's my Mum's choice (remember she lives here...in the same house). The rest of us like it well enough too though and it seems a waste to get another national paper every day for the same fairly small household so we stick with 'The Independent' most of the time. My Mum has read other papers in the past (the Guardian, the Times, possibly even the Telegraph at one point...she is the floating voter/reader) but the 'Indy' has been her firm favourite for some years now (and it always seems politically bizarre getting an English paper called the Independent when you live in Scotland...I wonder how many people pick it up by mistake here, hoping for an SNP special...). She likes the crossword in the Indy (most important) and some of the columnists and it has enough 'proper' news (national and international) and a good spread of arts coverage. It has too much fashion for, well, all of us and it sometimes has a tendency to be that kind of chattery middle-class paper that gives a person a headache but overall it has enough good to outweigh the tedious. Also it's not owned by the monstrous Murdoch machine and it's not full of celebrity gossip/diets/'Britain's Got Talent' bilge (and it has Mark Steel in it sometimes, who I love). My Mark sometimes brings home a 'Guardian' too (IT days especially) and we get regular local papers like the daily Dundee 'Courier' (lots of car crashes) and the weekly 'Montrose Review' (lots of Brownies and hey, Our Girl was on the cover last week with her library group – big news in a small town).
We don't get a regular Scottish national paper (no real reason...Mum was getting the Independent when she lived in England and just carried on with it when she moved back up here). I was reading just lately though (here) how the Scottish papers are not doing so well (well, which newspapers are?) so when Mum was away for a couple of weeks I tried getting the 'Scotsman' and the 'Herald' to see if they might win me over. They were interesting enough but nothing jumped out at me and said 'get me every day, get me!'. But then, in all honesty, would I get any newspaper every day if it was left just to little old me? Probably not. Am I not, after all, just the kind of half-hearted, laptop-happy reader who is pushing the newspapers so quickly towards their demise? Er, maybe...a bit. If it was left to me I'd get a paper once every few days, most likely, and I'd try different ones here and there and I'd often read them weeks after I'd bought them so I'm not exactly a newspaper editor's dream statistic, I imagine. I did also write a not-completely complimentary poem about weekend newspapers which some of you may have seen already ('A weekend lost' – it's in the book page 28 and on the website under 'modern world' poems).
I do think about journalists in amongst all this though (having been one for a while). I never had a big career as a national media journalist but it was something that I much more than dabbled in (arts journalism anyway...I never could hold facts well enough for proper news). And journalists are writers too after all, aren't they? Mightn't we stick together...just a little bit? Like lawyers, traffic wardens and other less popular professions, journalists, somewhat contrarily, get a bad press when really all they are doing (most of the time) is providing a service that a lot of people want (and some even need). Yes, some journalists go too far but most of them are OK and a lot of them (like a lot of us) are just doing the job in hand to pay the bills till something better comes up (like selling their novel to a publisher, in many cases).
My journalism career was mostly in the 1990s and mainly based around a local magazine in Leeds (Leeds Other Paper, then renamed Northern Star). I started out writing reviews for nothing (I was doing paid work elsewhere) but then I made a break from my other job and moved on to working in the office, writing a great part of and editing the what's on/arts side of the magazine. I also wrote music reviews for Record Mirror (part of the national music business paper Music Week), interviews and a column for the Manchester-based 'Big Issue in the North' and a few other bits and pieces here and there. I never quite had the drive and ambition to really succeed nationally as a journalist...plus I never seemed to meet the right people at the right time...plus I never wanted to move to London...plus, oh yes, I'm a bit idle...but in the end, after a lot of scribbling and typing and taping and transcribing, I was quite glad to leave it all behind really. It was fun...I got a lot of free stuff...but it was time to move on.
Some of my strongest memories from that time are of interviews that I worked on (and I'm not talking just Q and A type pieces...they're easy peasy...no, I'm talking proper 'essay about a person' interviews, where you go into some depth, where you maybe have a line of argument, where you might even develop themes, tackle tricky subjects and all that). Interviews are quite a big deal for a journalist – you do a lot of preparation (or you should), you have a lot of responsibility (to get the quotes right, to represent the subject accurately, to tell the truth...as much as possible) and sometimes you're meeting someone you really admire. They can go very well...and they can go very, very, VERY badly. It can be a little like tightrope walking because it looks easy (it's just talking, right?) but getting the balance right can be...anything but. Maybe the interviewee has just done loads of other interviews and is pissed off. Maybe the interviewee is tired and drained. Maybe you're tired and drained. Maybe the interviewee just doesn't like you and won't play ball. Maybe you don't like them. It happens.
I interviewed heaps of different people (mainly for Northern Star and the Big Issue) and lots of the names wouldn't mean a lot to you now but there are some that you might still recognise. For a start I interviewed:
actors Angela Griffin and Marsha Thomason,
the brilliant singer Carleen Anderson,
a Carpenters tribute act (added that in because of the recent Carpenters frenzy on this blog...),
the cartoonist Jacky Fleming,
a whole range of comedians including Craig Charles, Jenny Eclair and most excitingly of all the fabulous Linda Smith,
DJs Janice Long and Sister Bliss (of Faithless),
poets Henry Normal (not a poet/performer now...that I know of... but Managing Director of the TV company Baby Cow Productions Ltd with Steve Coogan) and (someone I still mention quite often) Lemn Sissay
the writers Livi Michael, P.J. O'Rourke and Helen Zahavi.
I had some great experiences doing these (and other) interviews. Singer Carleen Anderson, for example, (formerly of Young Disciples, works a lot with Paul Weller) is about one of the nicest people you could ever talk to and I still remember our conversation fondly (though I'm sure she doesn't). I am also really glad I got the chance to meet comedian Linda Smith too (she died in 2006 - such a loss, such a really funny woman and lovely in person too). It was interesting to meet US writer PJ O'Rourke (I went all the way to London from Leeds for that one) because I'd been a fan of some of his humour but in person...well, it was all I could do to stop myself yawning as he droned on with his 'witty' repartee. Writer Helen Zahavi (best known for 'Dirty Weekend'...made into a film by Michael 'the cringe' Winner) was a great interviewee (I interviewed her twice) and in fact something she said still rings around my head every now and then. Talking about her book and the idea of a woman who kills rapists (as 'Dirty Weekend's main character Bella does) she said “if dead rapists started turning up in the gutters of a few major cities it would concentrate their minds enormously well...like O levels.” Zahavi wasn't one to mince her words, that's for sure. I wonder what she's up to now...
I will be coming back to the theme of press interviews soon (and with a special guest...) but in the meantime how about one last question for me? How about...what was your worst interview experience ever? Well, the Henry Normal one wasn't great, and I did one on the phone with comedian/now writer Rob Newman that was fairly dire (and unusable I think) but both of those were a walk in the park and day at the beach (respectively) compared to a phone conversation I had one morning with the hugely successful comedian Eddie Izzard (I know, I bet you all love him...). I was interviewing him for the 'Big Issue' and it went so badly I just put down the phone on him in the end (well, 'slammed the phone down' would probably be more accurate). I think I might even have said 'you're only a bloody comedian you know' and burst into tears... but it's all a bit vague now. In my defence he didn't answer any of my questions and I was working for some really annoying pseudo-transvestites at the time and I was going through a fairly dodgy patch (very little sleep, perhaps morning interviews not a wise move...). I did write the 'interview' up but it was not nice and the editor wouldn't print it (at the time I was annoyed but really, I was quite mad and I'm sure she was quite right). After that I couldn't watch Izzard on TV for years (the pain...you have no idea...) but I watched his 'live' show on TV the other day...and, finally, it was OK. I even laughed once (the bit about seatbelts on planes). I don't think he'll ever be my favourite comedian or anything though...
But that's old news...what paper do you read? Or do you not read any and you get your news from TV or t'internet instead? And if you do read a paper which bits of it do you read (honestly – hard news or soft)? And which bits would you like to write? And if you did interview anyone who would you choose first? See, I am still an interviewer after all...except now it's more like market research (I did that for a while too...).
Back soon with another interview post...and that guest. And it won't be Eddie Izzard...I can tell you that for nowt.
5 hours ago