In praise of bullying: Yes, you heard right

There’s no I in team, apparently.

Every once in a while, we like to swing by our marketing department at the paper to see how most normal co-workers go about their day.

They’re smiling, chatting, talking about their kids, asking where outfits were bought and for how much, debating questionable penalty calls. Normal stuff.

Some days we hear singing, and a cake is brought out and one them is apparently a year older than 12 months ago. Heartwarming stuff.

Their walls have pics of kids, Athena posters filled with aspirational quotes, setting suns and tucked away in the corner, at the tidiest desk, an HR manager.

They go to conferences, team-building away-days, pay-day group lunches.

These people are normal.

These people are normal.

Luckily, our building architecture keeps the newsroom out of eye line.

Which is just as well because a) we don’t sing and b) grey walls covered in typo-cuttings, banjaxed headlines and bonkers letters from green-ink readers don’t really match the corporate mission statement.

There’s also a lot of swearing.

In recent years our newsdesk has seen one incumbent taken out on a stretcher with blood coming from their eyes, another collapse with a brain aneurysm, one quit just a day into the job and the last hospitalised twice with a stress-related ulcer.

All were bullied by brutal editors and a tabloid newsroom culture that fostered its continuance.

But here’s the thing. And it’s not very PC.

It was necessary.

And don’t take our word for it. One of the best investigative reporters in the UK, Andrew Norfolk,  whose shelves groan with awards, said he owed his career to one of his earliest news editors who he simply said was ‘a bullying bastard’.

Recently, Norfolk explained his early years on a local evening paper in Yorkshire:

 “It sometimes felt as though if you farted in Scarborough we’d stick it in the newspaper.

“To fill the pages for each edition was a daily challenge.

“There was, of course, the daily routine of police calls, magistrates court, council meetings, vox pops, press releases. Pretty soon I thought I was getting quite good at all that. I also fancied myself as a bit of a writer.


The Times journalist Andrew Norfolk was ‘landed with a bullying bastard of a news editor who wouldn’t leave me alone.’/credit: twitter/@newsworks_UK

“I started doing features, theatre reviews. I started, almost, to feel quite pleased with myself. At least maybe I would have done, had I not been landed with a bullying bastard of a news editor who wouldn’t leave me alone.“He was always on my back, pushing me to do more, telling me to go out there and start to find my own bloody stories instead of being handed them on a plate. It took a while, but eventually I realised he was right.

“He looked at me and saw a soft, privileged prima donna. He saw a kid who’d had it easy all his life, and who needed to get his hands not just dirty but filthy. And who was never going to make a decent journalist until he did. I sulked; he bullied. And in the end I did what I was told.

“He’s now one of my best friends.”

Perhaps it’s deadlines, perhaps it’s competition, perhaps it’s the echoes of once male-dominated newsrooms, perhaps it’s workload, perhaps it’s the pressure on a desk editor who must come up with enough ideas to fill 32 pages by 10am and morning conference.

It ain’t pretty, but for years it has got the job done.

HR finally came round our way recently and now that culture has been shown the door.

Now there’s a quiet hum of efficiency, backstabbing office politics is done without shouting and public swearing has been all but eradicated.

And so, too, have the scoops.



Categories: newsroom

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