In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: Good stories are like ‘hen’s teeth’

DOES anyone ever wonder why – in my experience – people who used to work in newspapers seldom phone news desks with tip-offs?

Or avoid offering the ‘executives’ of today packages of stories and pictures.

I wondered why this was when an award-winning journalist telephoned me the other day to ask if I could help him place an item in which he had a special interest.

There was no question that the story he had was a good one or that it would be of interest to a great number of people.

He also had pictures and the piece was entertaining and well-written.

But he was disinclined to offer it to his old paper because he thought they would knock it back, and not in a nice way either.

In fact, he thought they would take a great deal of pleasure in turning it down.

It had happened in the past and they had been rude about it.

I took it from him and placed it and it got an excellent show in more than one publication, including his old paper.

He couldn’t thank me enough and expressed the view that I had much more influence than he did.

This begs the question: Why on earth should someone need ‘influence’ to get a good story into a newspaper?

A story is a story is a story, after all, and good ones are like ‘hen’s teeth’.

They are so scarce, in fact, that some journalists have been accused of making them up.

And even of engaging in criminal activity and unprofessional conduct to obtain information.

It couldn’t be because there are too few reporters to deal with the incoming information or that the editorial department is over-burdened, or could it?

Or that the news desks would like the story but that they couldn’t afford to pay for it?

Loosening the purse strings on editorial budgets and employing a few more reporters would almost certainly improve the quality of the newspapers being produced in Scotland today.

It might also halt falling newspaper sales if they stopped being mirror images of one another.

And the folk on the news desks would then be spared having to cover up their own embarrassment by biting the hands of well-intentioned people trying to feed them.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.