Our political correspondent, Flann O’Brien, provides a reporting masterclass. For a non-refundable fee, of course.
Diversification being the order of the day, I’ve spent a good part of the present emergency stretching my skillset into other environs. Yes, I address you now from my doughty perch as a peddler of learning, caped in knowledge and ready to bend his leather-patched elbow at the levers of education. With little more than a dial-up and a shiny screen, I’ve been instructing young minds in the ways of my trade, giving something back to the next generation, and maintaining a steady retainer all the while. How did this come about, and what insights might you also procure, you ask? I can, and shall, tell you.
THE BROGUES LESS TRAVELLED
I have for some time now been the constant, unhappy customer of unsummoned youths, drawn from the colleges of these isles and eager to follow in the well-battered brogues of Westminster guttersnipes. To aid themselves in this quest, some have forsaken traditional methods – wealth, godparental influence or getting sacked from their university newspaper for making off-colour jokes about minorities. They have instead fallen prostrate in my inbox, their hands out in solicitation.
Many of these gormless gombeens take heart from my repeated urgings on the issues of contemporary journalism. To wit; my oft-stated hope that the great quantity of hacks in this country be swept to sea by a thick and thankless tide. Regular readers will be aware of my dismay that so many principled young students have taken out of context lines I laid down in one piece ‘Have We Considered Poisoning Ourselves?’ (Journalism In Review, Oct., 1994).
I have even been quoted as saying (off the record, after hours and with a few jars on me, but quoted nonetheless), that it would be agreeable if the nation’s correspondents were bundled up in tarpaulin and deposited in lime, so as to spare the cobbles and floorboards of Whitehall from buckling any further under the aggregate weight of the thousand ruddy-cheeked nepotites who form their class. If my targets had been friends to reading, they’d have made a tribunal of it at the time.
Fortunately or not, the only consumers of such pearls appear to have been the freckled debutantes now ploughing headfirst from journalism schools, and the more admirable among this country’s less-connected students have now a habit of suggesting themselves to me as the great replacement for the current rabble, fresh blood to shake the dying corpse.
Worse, they set their hopes on enlisting me to guide or shape their path to our profession by ‘reading’ their emails, ‘answering’ them back, or ‘helping’ them in some other manner more onerous still.
KIND TO TERRAPINS
The issue stands as one of misapprehension. Other critics of the current order, for whom they have me mistaken, will mash their hands and stitch their brow but always make qualifications. They are sure to insist ‘such and such should say his piece attacking the Potato Growers Union, by all means, but there should be more pieces praising tubers of all kinds’ or ‘the issue, dearest reader, is not the individual – but the mechanised order of privilege from which she has been birthed’.
At this point, he or she will make pains to give examples of a close kinship with this or that ‘good one’; a really equitable journalist once you get to know them; the very man to lend you his shoes; awfully kind to his many pet terrapins; a bloody decent skin on the volleyball court, etc. etc.
I am alien to such sophistry, for my feeling is deeply, spiritually personal. I don’t believe I’ve met a fellow journalist I wouldn’t murder if the thing were allowed. I often find myself, in between bites of prawn fondant at the NUJ, drifting into pleasant reveries in which my speaking companion’s windpipe is crushed by an abruptly tightened lanyard, their hair set aflame by the disjecta of a passing cigar.
I would be mortally wounded if any of those gormless dunces, with their cod-Latinate flourishes, garish school ties and spirited discussions of New World wines were to look up from my screeds with the faintest sense I excluded them from my wrath. I certainly don’t want anyone else to take their place, much less to expend my own labour crafting new members of the trade in my own image, since we’d be as like to loathe each other and that would be, as the fella says, robbing Mandelson to pay Maynard.
I conceived, my lip twitching at the thought, of teaching a masterclass with the express intention of scaring these fresh-scrubbed foals away from the horrid business altogether. I quickly devised a course that would capture the tedium and terror of life at the parliamentary coalface, and one so interminably true to life that none of its students would last the full 12 classes (its £499 fee being, of course, non-refundable).
I hurriedly dispatched an offer to my inboxees and began at once. My first class, Unmuted, was a thorough guide to reporting from backbench WhatsApp groups. By the lesson’s end, my class of 20 had dwindled to ten. Five more took their leave after Say Again, a 90-minute presentation on the art of repeating banter back to your presenter to fill dead air while some drab salaryman or other approaches the lectern.
By the time I’d streamed my third lecture, a detailed short-course on weaving government sources into your reporting entitled Just Tweet What They Tell You, I was doing so to a single, embarrassed cub, who promptly made her excuses and left.
It is the horror of a man’s life to be taken for an idealist. But, with my larder now stocked and a score of doughy scribes successfully redirected to a better path in life, I could at least take pleasure in my work. A few more courses and I may dissuade dozens more. If I can franchise the thing out, I could one day deplete the entire profession. It’s either that or a raft of poisonings – the price of a guillotine being, at the time of writing, prohibitively high.
As told to Séamas O’Reilly