Hemingway had bull fights. Papers have conference.
A fireside chat, they are not.
A cross between a stag weekend in Vegas and Guernica, newspaper editorial conference has enough blood, sweat and tears to entice even the most jaded HBO executive to reach for the cheque book and screen it live on pay-per-view.
If you find yourself being asked into conference by a shifty news editor with a 1,000 word stare, you’re going to need to know the basics.
Like Vegas, physical bruises aside, what happens in conference , stays in conference. There exists an omerta, a code of silence between the participants, their shared complicity in the brutal spectacle enough to buy their silence. Like a child porn ring, but without a working knowledge of IT.
And like Picasso’s awful imagining of the horrors of war in his massive gore filled Guernica, blood is shed, egos fractured and reputations severed by the vorpal snicker-snick of its presiding marshal: the Editor.
Newsroom fledglings wrongly assume that morning and evening conference are where seasoned media professionals thrash out the merits or otherwise of the News Editor’s newslist. Stories are analysed, weighted for impact, accuracy and fairness, before the collective will of conference agrees by consensus an article’s place within the run of the paper.
Happily, its much more exciting than that.
Morning Conference: A mere trifle, a warm up for evening conference. This is where a hung-over News Editor – sans news desk allies – explains to the Editor why he or she has personally missed ALL THESE STORIES! Despite packing a paper with exclusives, including the splash, the Editor will focus only on your failings. Expect to hear the following refrain several times within the first hour:
“Every other paper has this, why don’t we?”
This is easily parried. After all, what is the point of a Night News Editor if not to blame? It is, by default, their fault. NOT to blame them is seen as bad form. The news list at this stage is a mere phantom and with some 32 pages to fill there is little point in pretending you have anything substantial to offer. Pack the list full of questions which appear to suggest you are in the PROCESS of FINDING OUT. So that murder victim’s mum’s house?You’re seeking! This suggests a positive outcome which should placate the Editor until at least his or her own hangover wears off.
Your trusted ally in Morning Conference is your Picture Editor, for only they are under the same pressured to deliver. In the case of broadsheets, they will be clutching pictures of Iraqi market bombs, insurrection or a celebrity fancied by the Editor. In the case of a tabloid, any old twitter selfie. Their job – and yours- is to corroborate and reinforce blame on the night operation. After all, everything was in perfect order when you crawled out fo the building for the pub last night.
Your only hiccup will come from the panoply of Associate Editors and Leader writers who may have bothered to turn up for conference. Only they will have read any of the other papers with any great degree as their job titles are just that, titles. With no real role they exists only to agree with the Editor. If you are unlucky to have one in morning conference who is dreaming up an idea based on an old story, nod and say ‘we’ll look into that’ while pretending to write it down. Features and Sport can be ignored.
Evening Conference: Caligula, Nero, Darth Vader. All of them more predictable and charming than an editor at Evening Conference. Where only a handful of souls may have attended morning conference, and even then, without much enthusiasm, this is the moment of truth.
Or, as it happens, lies. You will need every lie known to humankind to pull off evening conference.
Like a bullfight at Ronda, you will prance proudly in with your newslist. It is bulletproof. Your hacks have toiled all day, doorsteps have been hit, copy has been cut and pasted from websites ready to pass-off as your own. You’ve even tucked away a back-up splash on the second page of your list.
In a broadsheet conference, you may be afforded a table, boardroom class, to give you some dignity. In tabloid conference, you’ll get a chair, if you’re lucky.
First the picador:Subs, night editor will encircle you and the ritual begins. No big guns, you can take these on, but it’s wearing. You’ll need all your strength for the Editor. A few facts will be questioned, nothing too onerous. You’ve lived with the story all day, they’ve watched twitter on their iPhone. Some wounds.
Second, the torreodors: chief sub (see ferrets passim); fairly hefty assaults on the point of the story. Chief sub is fairly relentless, like a Jack Russel with a Bonio. You’ll have to run a chaff operation. Try lying, but keep fidgeting to a minimum, maintain eye contact. If pressure continues and you don’t have the answers, make it look as if, in fact, you DO have them. Use the following precious heirlooms, handed down from News Editor to News Editor.
‘We’ve got the calls in’ (A voicemail’s been left with the receptionist’)
‘We’re at the door’ (We’re not there yet)
‘We’ve got a sit-down (The door’s been slammed in our face, but we got a quote)
‘It is my understanding…(Everything I am about to tell you is bollocks…)
Depending on Chief Sub’s frame of mind, you could still be in good shape by the time the Editor chips in for the kill. You could have found the Pope’s lovechild, and have pics, but this counts for naught. The point of conference, is simply to prove the Editor is a meaner bastard than the News Editor. So the pummeling will begin line by line, story by story. You’ll be mocked, shouted at, your ability to remember 32 pages of news in detail will be sorely tested and finally the splash will be spiked. Don’t fight this, the Editor’s ego must be protected.
Instead, meet the Editor’s gaze (they hate fear) and wait for page 2 of the list. Your back-up splash.
Congratulations, you’ve made it through another day – just in time for morning conference.
Categories: Journalese, A User's Guide