Ah, the freedom of the open road.
You’ve got the address, your subject has not yet given any interviews and thanks to an insomniac newsdesk you’re probably first on the road for The Big Story.
All goes to plan: they talk, they even give you some pictures – hard copy, of course – and you file swiftly before evening conference. For once, all is right with the world.
Is that a hint of a skip on the way to the newstand? The Big Story is on the radio but oddly no researcher rang you at midnight to invite you on the breakfast news talk shows to talk about it.
No matter, an exclusive splash byline will cheer you up.
Except, the black and white does not contain your name. Congratulations – you’ve been Bigfooted!
Bigfooting is the phenomenon where simple addition of late updates to a story or additional comment inserted after filing leaves the original author sidelined. It is also the point where you realise your co-workers and not your rivals are your worst enemies.
In genuine circumstances, an office veteran will anchor a story from the office threading all the updates and their own content together in a seamless narrative. Much like the rewrite men (and they WERE men) of old, they can parse vast quantities of information at speed and order them in the most enticing narrative to deadline. To editors and backbench they are vital.
The most gracious veterans will put your byline first and even forego their own. They learned long ago that bylines are largely meaningless to readers.
However, these deadline knights are a dying breed. But how do you recognise the ones who will scoop out your eyes and use them as click-clacks?
First, rule out the innocents: these include sub-editors and night reporters. They just carrying out orders. They are adding context and filleting quotes from TV and elsewhere. Part of a dozen such back-fills they do all night. It’s just another night’s work to them.
Your worst enemy. Egos fed entirely on bylines, they wither and die without regular feeding. Accustomed to working late on the parliamentary beat and late news talk shows, they will mount skilful ambushes on your copy simply by adding a quote’s worth of reaction late at night. They’ll follow this up with a call to the Night News Editor or Chief Sub with the disingenuous: ‘I’ve filed an add to the splash’.
Production are often working on nameless files and if an addpar comes through with a byline, they will fill the byline with the latest addition assuming it’s a continuation. Job done, the Political Editor is assured of another splash.
Hard-won doorstep exclusives are heavily influenced by crime but many crime reporters no longer hit the road, preferring a few quotes from their police sources. The doorstep is often left to agencies, lower ranking reporters or..er…you.
Given editors’ fondness for ‘Sources told the Daily Makeitup…’ quotes that add an undeserved air of authority to a yarn, you can quickly see your 1200 words traduced into ‘Additonal reporting by…’ as the Crime Reporter inserts the blindingly obvious into your story.
Senior police sources described the mutilation of the family of four with an axe as ‘brutal’.
Really? Thanks for that.
All the times you filed late, all the missed stories, all the unintelligible guff you filed drunk. All of it is remembered, all of it logged, all of it burned indelibly into the News Editor’s brain. For they alone are the ones torn apart in Conference for your misdeeds. This is where scores are settled. They are, after all, the last to touch your copy before it heads off to backbench.
Because. That’s why.
Categories: Journalese, A User's Guide