In My Opinion: Derek Masterton: ‘Tis the season to be jolly?

‘TIS the season to be jolly – but not, alas, it appears, in newspaperland.

The impression I’m getting is that Scotland’s newsrooms are full (perhaps ‘full’ is the wrong word these days) of journalists who would have given the late Rikki Fulton a run for his money in auditions for the part of the Rev I.M. Jolly.

Typical phone conversation:

Me: “Hi, it’s Derek Masterton at the Red Cross, How’s it going?”

Typical reply (delivered in flat tone): “Aye, awright mate. You know how it is. Same shit, different day.”

Maybe there’s no time to think happy thoughts any more. Maybe it’s because all the fun and excitement has been cut from the job – along with expenses (even to taking a contact out for a cup of coffee), travel and meal breaks.

It’s so sad because it used to be the best job in the world.

In fact it wasn’t a job, it was a way of life and one that none of us back in the days of yore (ie the late ’70s and the ’80s) would have traded for the world.

Enter the Ghost of Journalism Past.

And it wasn’t just the morning conference pints, the daily two-hour boozy lunches, the afternoon conference pints or the after-work G & Ts that made it fun.

It was the thrill of the chase on a big story. It was your team (yes, team!) of reporters being up against every other title’s team of reporters, battling it out – sometimes literally – for the best line, the exclusive collect.

Nowadays, I’m told, the media pack doesn’t hunt in the same way. In fact, given staff numbers, Scotland’s main titles would be hard pressed to muster a combined pack reaching double figures.

The other day, I was trying to get hold of a journalist at one title (anonymous for reasons of commercial sensitivity). Turned out there were just two reporters in the newsroom. All day. That was it. And no, it wasn’t a wee, local paper. This is a true story – honest.

So can anyone explain how news editors can be expected to produce quality schedules with top stories when reporters are chained to their desks?

Technology has changed the face of the media – sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad – but I’ve yet to come across a computer that can get out there and meet contacts, form a relationship with them and pick up good stories. Reporters permanently caged in an office can’t do it, either.

So is it any wonder that journalists are lacking in festive cheer? Is it any wonder that the hacks are hacked off? They have talent, they have commitment, they have desire. But they also have the frustration of not having enough time to do the job the way it should be done. The way they used to do it.

Maybe if newspaper owners learned the lesson of Scrooge and put some more jobs into the journalistic stocking this Christmas, they’d banish that frustration and give the industry back some sanity.

Or maybe Chico Marx was right when he said: “You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause.”

Derek Masterton is the media relations officer for the British Red Cross in Scotland. He is a former assistant news editor with the Daily Record, where he was a news journalist for 30 years. He is writing in a personal capacity.