When I was doing my GCSEs, I wanted to be a journalist. I told one of my teachers this: she shuddered as if I’d said I was planning a career in the brothel over the kebab shop, and then said, “You do know that journalists have to do some awful things.” I was 14, so I wasn’t quite savvy enough to explain that I was after a job writing well-informed topical essays rather than one where I had to doorstep the bereaved.
Anyway, the summer after that and before I started college, I did three stints of work experience at the other sort of journalism: three local papers took me on and assigned a patient hack to show me around their world. I interviewed a new lady priest. I scammed sandwiches and wrote the restaurant review. I turned police reports into crime stories (getting bollocked by the sub for my sloppy tabloidese) and magicked interminable NFU press releases into news-in-briefs. I went to the magistrates court, and I went to county council meetings, and found them both fascinatingly banal.
Some of the journalists who taught me were middle-aged and comfortably cynical; some of them were young and ambitiously cynical. But importantly, there was lots of cynicism and a fair amount of smoking at desks, which is what counts when your idea of glamour is mostly derived from Brighton Rock. Ian Jack wrote a good column this weekend about why the local paper matters. Ignore the junior Marxists in the comments: they’re only half right, and Jack’s half is more important.