Proper Newspapers

12 April 2013

 This was a good while ago, back when I hadn’t been ashore long and was trying to eke out a living as a freelance hack. I’d done neither fantastically nor badly, working for maritime magazines and newspapers, mostly fishy ones. This was back when there were more of them to choose from and editors still had freelance budgets, but we’ll draw a veil over the thorny issue of freelance budgets.

Anyway, I wanted to widen my circle of activity. I sold something to the Mail without even realising it until a cheque for some of Lord Rothermere’s dosh turned up one fine day. So it seemed worth trying a few more ‘proper’ newspapers. It wasn’t a happy experience.

Approaches were greeted with disdain from the journalists covering marine or environmental stuff at the Times (‘Nah, mate, not interested’); suspicion from the Independent (‘Er... Who are you?’); and outright confusion on the Guardian’s part (‘Why do you want to speak to me?’).

Then there was the Telegraph, that old-fashioned bastion of the establishment owned at that time by Conrad Black. A friend gave me a number to call of someone there with an interest in fishy stuff. I had a story worth passing on, with a suitable slant that would certainly reflect the paper’s Eurosceptic stance. So I gave the chap a call.

We talked for twenty minutes or so and rarely have I been on the receiving end of such unbridled condescension. He name-dropped in magnificent style and drawled down the phone at this oik who had the temerity to call him on the telephone, although he must have realised I knew my onions, as he eventually said; ‘send me the story, will you? It might be interesting. I might even pay you for it, if I remember.’

He gave me a fax number to send it to. This was before newspapers had email addresses, dear children. This, it may surprise some of you to know, wasn’t all that long ago. He repeated the number to make sure, and I wrote it down, twice. I wrote up the story, something riveting about EU redfish quota allocations being abused. I tried to fax it that evening, but it wouldn’t go through. Their machine out of paper, I guessed.

Early the next morning I tried again. Same result. So I pressed the ‘repeat’ button. This meant that the machine would try to send the story every few minutes until it was delivered. This was nothing unusual. The line to a busy fax machine would be engaged while receiving other faxes, so it was easier to have the sophisticated electronics do the thinking and find a slot between calls. My fax machine tried half a dozen times and then pinged an alert. I tried again, several times, but with no joy.

Wondering if the machine was faulty, I finally called the number the environment guy had given me. It rang once, was picked up – and silence.

‘Hello?’

I could sense the silence was a furious one and the gentleman on the other end was almost speechless with rage.

‘You have called this number every two minutes for the last half hour!’ he practically yelled.

‘I’m sorry, but this is the number Mr... gave me to fax a story to.’

He spluttered and I imagined a face as red as that of an exceptionally angry beetroot caught up in a tube strike as he sat at his desk, livid with helpless fury as he didn’t say all the things he was clearly too well bred to let fly.

‘He’s not on this number!’ He finally spat out, clearly fighting to control his anger.

And the phone was banged down. I couldn’t blame the chap for being unimpressed, and I could well understand his chagrin. I never did send the story, figuring that the environmental correspondent had either been playing a practical joke on his colleague (unlikely, as he didn’t seem to have much by the way of a sense of humour) or else it was an unsubtle way of telling this dreadful pleb to get lost, or, most likely, he’d simply given me the wrong number. So I sold the story to someone else and decided that the Telegraph and I could live without each other.

In the intervening years I’ve encountered that particular chap again, albeit at a distance, and plan to keep it that way. But I never did find out who the other man was, the one who was so apoplectic with rage that he could hardly speak, who I’m sure didn’t deserve those twenty-odd calls from my fax machine to his direct line at that ungodly hour of the morning.

So, in the unlikely event that he might be reading this; sorry.

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