Survive Your Newsroom

Survive Your Newsroom: The Specialist

Just like dog-lovers looking like the dogs they own, specialists are easy to spot.

They’re the newsrooms finest. Walking libraries at the top of their field or, in the case of showbiz, at the bottom of the barrel, scraping with everything they’ve got.

There are two kinds of specialist: those that have been on newsdesk and those that won’t file on time.

Ex-newsdesk specialists exhibit a permanent glow of relief – or still twitch, like PTSD Afghan veterans, or at least until the Xanax kicks in.

Specialists are special for a reason

To the neophyte, specialists are the experts behind the illustrious bylines they have followed for years; some even make regular TV forays as ‘talking heads’, some even come captioned as ‘experts’. To the Editor, they are salaries too large to sack because the board won’t give up enough redundancy to replace them.

Any new reporter worth their salt would be wise to cultivate at least a couple of specialists for a) their contacts and b) their contacts. For even specialists go on holiday at least five or six weeks a year and if you want to make yourself invaluable, stepping into their well-worn shoes is one way of making yourself useful.

This requires tact as the smarter breed – Crime Corrs for one – are loathe to give up ‘contacts’. (Or The Press Office out-of-office mobile, as it’s called.)

Drink will go a long way, as will flattery. But be careful. The seasoned specialist will have these tools of the trade already mastered. The solution is simple – more drink and more flattery.

The last resort to ingratiate – and it IS a last resort – is to help them out by offering to do some work. Once this Rubicon is crossed you must dance a fine line between learning their dark arts and becoming a general dogsbody. If its social affairs, these are the same thing.

Specialists, a field guide

So just how do you recognise your specialist and who is worth cultivating?

That guy in the rumpled jacket, cords and hush puppies that looks like a fifth grade teacher? Yep, Education Corr. Taken hostage by the multiple unions he has to deal with years ago. Useful if you want to waste your Easter holidays at one or all of the competing teacher union conferences – they won’t waste their summer break, god forbid. Choosing this path marks you as dependable because nothing sucks up space in a newspaper more readily than education – or its elder sibling, Health.

Education Corrs – like your teacher, only worse.

Health Corrs resemble country GPs, usually women. Expect weird hair – and lots of Post-It notes, pens, bags, mugs and diaries scattered around their desks bearing weird drug brand names you’ve never heard of but invariably are for treatment of excess acid. If being Health Minister is seen as a poisoned political chalice, so, too, is this brief – avoid, unless you like long days, nights and weekends. Guaranteed an award at some point in your career though covering Something Important.

Social Affairs. Avoid. A career kiss of death unless you love planning, housing and other newspaper-destroying words such as Social Policy or Residential Care Home. Recognisable in the newsroom by their smell. Like a care home, slightly medicinal. May smoke roll-ups.

Once a breed dominated by the saltiest of salty men, many with facial hair, the Crime Reporter is now almost exclusively a female veteran.

Male relics of the genre often look like a provincial detective sergeant struggling to burst out of a double breasted -yes, double breasted, suit. This is intentional and many a crime scene tape has been lifted to a hack on account of their world weary garb, and stains.

Other than the political team, this is the brief most likely to get you the splash. When all else fails, an Editor will reach for a crime splash, even a broadsheet although they’ll include some stats on crime to justify the salacious reasons behind Man Chops Off Wife’s Head And Mails It To Dumped Lover.

Women dominate the field because they can multi-task better than men – ie they can drink AND file copy.


Only the beautiful need apply – Showbiz and Media Corrs, oven ready for telly

They also excel at doorsteps for victims and despite the butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth visage, are more ruthless when it comes to supplying the goods. As death knocks are stock in trade, this is quick route to the top. No one relishes them and the neophyte who can knock a street will go far.

Managing Editors, whose job is to balance the books, reserve a special place in their dark hearts for Showbiz Reporters – their expenses claims can top the annual expenditure of a developing country if they are left to their own devices.

Denied the crucial expense fakery of mileage claims since they travel exclusively by taxi, they instead supplement their salary through Meals With Contacts and Drinks With Star’s Agent/Handler/Bouncer. Unlike their counterparts who lunch at lunch, expenses receipts  show a different story – lunch can be at 2am!

Showbiz requires the stamina of an ox – an ox that lives on Pinot Grigot and boxes of M&S salad. Bombarded with PR guff from the entertainment industry, their day AND night often stretches into eternity  as they battle handlers, agents and sometimes the talent itself to bring a reader the best cut-and-pasted blurb from a press release lunch can buy.

Because your showbiz reporter hangs around with the stars – or at least has been to a photocall for one – they exude a whiff of glamour that shames your average newsroom. Volunteering to help on a ‘celebrity ringaround’  will endear you to them as this allows them to return to cut-and-pasting tweets and instgram quotes into their stories.

shutterstock_123429226 - Copy

Dead wood – the guilty secret of the Environment Corr

Since Showbiz receive more party invites than they can possibly attend, picking up the B-list parties and book launches and red carpet interviews will quickly get you OUT of the office and decent celebrity contacts INTO your notebook. Worth cultivating but no uglies need apply. Showbiz is a cruel mistress, after all.

Showbiz’s sensible sibling is Media Affairs – or watching telly. Tabloids will call it for what it is Entertainment Editor but broadsheets prefer to pretend that writing about ‘the industry’ is interesting to non-media types.  Most likely to be gay or metrosexual if a man and most likely to have ‘serious’ glasses if a woman, they are the most networked people in the building. They know where the bodies are buried and are only one phone call away from a new job thanks to their impressive range of editors on tap. Given they have ‘profiled’ many of their future bosses in glowing terms, they can help you enormously.

Media involves writing one of two stories on a strict rotation basis: Why Has Telly Gone To Pot, Why THIS Telly Series Is The Best Thing Ever. Occasionally tasked with writing a knocking story on a rival for your business section.

Science Corrs – avoid.  Only there to explain ‘stuff’ to readers such as Why Nanobots Will Destroy The Earth. Most likely to have Open University hair. They DO know experts though, so if you’re stuck for a talking head, they’ll be happy to help.shutterstock_137469248

Most Likely To Own Corduroy Clothing is, of course, Environment Correspondent.

On local papers this means planning applications – boring. On national newspapers this means climate change – also boring.

Earnest to the extreme, their lecturing on carbon footprints seems oddly out of kilter with a product made from dead forests and delivered by fleets of fossil-fuel consuming delivery fans. No place in tabloids for this reporter but boradsheets love ’em.  If you need to add weight to a CV give this a go but 18 months max or your wardrobe will suffer.

Tech Corrs hard at work

In a time before smartphones, Technology Correspondent meant geek.

Now tech corrs have the latest phones, cameras and more freebies to flog on eBay than anyone else.  Serious coin can be made in this job. And since they are masters of the Internets, most likely to survive when your newspaper closes.

Contain your conversations with them to  excited interest in their tech and get  onto the PR list that sends them the goodies. Given that Tech Corrs often masquerade as Motoring Corrs, the wiley will never have to purchase a car and a parade of top motors will ferry them from work to home.

In time you will master how to use the above to your own advantage and, once you have, you will be ready for the greater challenge – dealing with the Political Editor.




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