There are no jobs for trainee journalists, but miracles keep happening to Jeremy Clarkeby Jeremy Clarke / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Just before Christmas, I came down to London from Glasgow by train, feeling a bit gloomy. In October I had started a postgraduate course in journalism at Strathclyde University. It involved sitting in a high-tech simulated newsroom, banging out news stories about Oxtown, an imaginary town familiar to anyone who has sat for a National Council for the Training of Journalists examination. Mr Barr, a hard-bitten, retired Glaswegian journalist with silver hair and elbow clips, would give us each a fictitious press release about a trivial incident-a fire in Oxtown’s bingo hall, a minor road accident on the Oxtown bypass-then give us half an hour to produce copy for the weekly paper, the Oxtown Gazette. The crucial thing, apparently, is to encapsulate the who, what, why, when and where of a story into a succinct opening sentence. Personally, I longed to receive a press release stating that an atomic bomb had fallen on the place, but the mundane fare of car crashes, weddings and vandalism continued unabated.
To keep our spirits up, Mr Barr marched up and down between our chattering Applemacs, scornfully deriding our feeble efforts and regaling us with anecdotes garnered from a lifetime on the tabloids. When we complained to him of boredom or nausea, he would sternly warn us that this was nothing compared with the harsh rigours we should expect when we launched ourselves out into “the real world.”
The first real, live, working journalist to come to talk to us was Neal Ascherson, the veteran foreign correspondent. He came one morning, looking tanned and famous. There was a swivel-chair race across the room as the 30 class members left their Macs and vied to get as close as possible to hear a master practitioner of their chosen profession. We clustered eagerly around him, our spiral bound notepads and contacts books at the ready. I sat throughout the talk with my face no more than a yard from his. It is not often that I find myself in such close proximity to a celebrity. While he spoke, I examined his teeth and looked into his mouth. Then I noticed a nasal hair hanging out of one of his nostrils like a spider’s leg. After I had surveyed his hair and the lines on his face, I looked down at his small hands to try and see whether there was a fate line on his palms…