JOHN Bynorth has been night news editor of The Herald for the past five years.
On Hogmanay night, as most people were celebrating the build-up to the start of 2016, he was working his usual shift at The Herald.
He submitted this a couple of days later…
What exactly is it you do?
I am night news editor at The Herald. Prior to that, I was an assistant news editor at the paper, and home affairs editor of [sister title] the Sunday Herald.
I have also worked in London for the Mail on Sunday, The People and the Evening Standard – covering everything from the 7/7 bombings to the football World Cup.
And I have previously worked for The Scottish Sun, where i covered Dunblane and the Lockerbie bomb trial.
What did your working day on Hogmanay comprise?
The Hogmanay shift is not an easy one. On the train into work for the start of my shift at 3pm, I was sitting next to people heading out to bars and parties and had to walk past pubs and clubs gearing up for the celebrations near the The Herald’s office in Renfield Street, Glasgow.
Meanwhile, I would be spending the next nine-and-a-half hours in a newsroom devoid of any alcohol and muted celebrations as I concentrated on getting readers their first Herald of 2016.
Many of the stories had already been placed by the time I started, with the aim to concentrate on writing about the Hogmanay celebrations.
The biggest non-New Year story I had to deal with was Storm Frank which had left many people flooded out of their homes across Scotland.
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had been out visiting flood-hit communities and there were some good pictures and words from her trip to Dumfries and Galloway.
Prince Charles had also been out and about, in Ballater, but it was the images of the First Minister that were the most striking.
I got our late reporter, Jody Harrison, to work up a lead for page five, mainly based around the Sturgeon visit but also taking in the other flood stories.
We had to keep an eye on any developing lines – such as the conditions of two kayakers who had been rescued from a river in the Highlands. Sadly, one of them later died.
Then, at around 7pm, it was suddenly announced via Twitter that the movie actor, Robert Redford, had fallen off a horse and died – at the age of 79. Before you knew it, tributes were pouring in on social media. Immediately, we began thinking about how to cover such a momentous late-breaking news story.
However, closer inspection revealed that it was, in fact, a hoax. It had been tweeted by a fake website. Ah, the perils of social media. The actor is still with us, thankfully, as I write this…
But before I could draw breath, the news channels were all full of a major fire at a building next to the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai.
The images looked pretty dramatic on TV, with the fire engulfing several floors of the building, but there was scant detail of how many people had been caught up in it or whether any Scots or Brits were involved.
I got the night reporter onto the case and tried to source some good-quality pictures, but these were like ‘gold dust’, with photographers – rightly so, on New Year’s Eve – charging top dollar for the best images.
We ended up writing the Dubai fire into the Hogmanay wrap on page three, and using one of the images that came through via Reuters. Fortunately, there had been no serious injuries, but there were some good quotes from those caught up in the blaze.
Meanwhile, the late reporter phoned around a few of the Hogmanay events going on in Scotland, to get the latest detail on how successful it had been, while keeping in touch with the police to see if there had been any major incidents.
Oddly, while Edinburgh knows how to put on a Hogmanay party, Glasgow is always a damp squib with no official events put on.
With things ticking over nicely, all the copy was coming over for the Hogmanay round-up and I was on a ‘home run’. Then a tweet appeared at 10.30pm from Munich police. It declared a major ‘terrorist incident was imminent’ and people had been cleared from two of the city’s main railway stations.
Was this another hoax? No, it turned out, and soon all the major TV news channels were picking up on it.
I was on duty on the night of November’s Paris terrorist attacks and recall how, within the space of two hours, the news moved from a handful of people being killed to 130 dead. I prayed the worst was not about to happen again…
I hurriedly updated our website, getting the Munich story fairly prominent, even though there was little detail. As the minutes ticked down towards midnight, I was keeping a nervous eye on events in Germany…
One of the main things our readers like seeing in the New Year’s Day edition of The Herald is the traditional front page picture of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay fireworks.
Scotland’s capital is the only place to celebrate a new year and, even if our readers can’t make it along, they like to see that the fireworks have gone off.
Sometimes, the quality of the pictures can vary; if it’s foggy or wet weather, it doesn’t always come across well in print, but, thankfully, this year was a clear, dry night in Edinburgh and the pictures worked really well.
It was now midnight, and having ensured the pictures were on the page and the late sub was happy with their quality, I put together a gallery of images and making sure the Edinburgh fireworks and accompanying story was top of the website. The Munich terror scare had not come to anything, but I squeezed a brief mention of it into the front page story.
Then, finally, it was home. But my new year celebrations had to be put on hold for another 24 hours — I had to be back in the office by 9am, news editing on New Years’ Day!
How different or similar is your average working day to when you started?
My average working day involves attending afternoon conference at which all the major decision on placing the remaining stories for that night’s edition are made, liaising with reporters on breaking stories and developing stories and the political team at Westminster and Holyrood on that night’s output – as well as ensuring we are not missing anything on the wires and liaising with our lawyers on potentially problematic stories, as well as rewriting stories where required.
I also deal with any subs queries or those from the senior editorial team on stories.
I also work closely with the website team – heraldscotland.com – ensuring they are aware of breaking stories or any of our staff copy that has to go up online – or in some cases putting up stories myself to drive traffic to the site.
There is never a dull moment and I’m proud of some of the stories I’ve contributed on The Herald.
The main difference from the relatively recent past is the closer integration to the website. When I started on The Herald news desk in 2009, heraldscotland had only just been launched and Twitter was in its infancy.
I had no involvement in putting stories up on the website or constantly updating them as we do now to ensure we constantly have the best lines and are driving the most traffic. Now, the web and print teams are part of the same team and have to ‘think web.’
The way social media has taken over the news agenda in such as short space of time is simply amazing. It’s difficult to say what will come next.
How do you see your job evolving?
One thing’s for sure – print journalism will survive, but the market for it will change.
You still can’t beat sitting down and reading a good, quality newspaper like The Herald.
I imagine there will be a greater shift to web-based journalism to get stories out there into the public domain. But quality, fact checking and other traditional journalism skills need to remain or news websites will lose all credibility.
What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Knowing that we have put out the best possible newspaper and website.