Friday, 25 June 2010

Hold the front page

This morning the very pleasant Joanne Savage of the News Letter (whose proud boast is that it is the oldest continuously-published newspaper in the English-speaking world, having been founded by Francis Joy in 1736) called to interview me for a two-page News Letter regular called The Quite Big Interview. We talked about everything - childhood, my father and politics; island life, Santa Fe-style and contemporary art - and I am to send some hi-res images to Joanne over the weekend. The piece will appear on Monday week, and my feeling after talking to Joanne is that it will be fair and well-presented.
You cannot always guarantee this. I must have done several dozen interviews about The Blue Cabin or Still On The Sound, and all have been positive. Except one. Painfully enough, it was the first one, when The Blue Cabin hadn't yet hit the bookshops and I was at my most vulnerable. The journalist in question came to the island with a photographer, and I thought in my innocence that everything had gone well. We entertained them, fed them, laughed with them and talked about the book, the challenges of island life - and again, about my father and politics. In retrospect, I can see that it was the politics that was the problem. It should have been obvious to Lynn and I that the reporter was less than sympathetic to my father, his background, his politics - and, by association, to me and what she thought I stood for (most probably, comfortable middle-class Protestantism). She was wrong in this anachronistic labelling, which had more to do with her than with me. But in my naivete, I thought nothing of it until I saw her off at the boat park, when she rolled down the car window and said, without blushing, 'Don't worry, you won't be horrified!' My blood froze in my veins, and when the piece appeared 48 hours later, I was not only horrified - I was mortified, shocked, dazed. I read the piece once and haven't looked at it since.

Looking back, it was a lesson worth learning. You shouldn't be complacent; you need to grow a thick skin; above all, you should be aware that if, from your point of view, the idea of the interview seems to be to record your thoughts, from the journalist's it is to sell copy - and sometimes this means relegating the book (or whatever) to a footnote. It was a salutary lesson.

Today's chat wasn't like that at all, and I look forward to seeing the piece as printed.

I mentioned the News Letter's venerable history. Well, my favourite story about the News Letter is the occasion of it's biggest scoop. In August 1776, the text of the Declaration of Independence (signed, of course, on July 4th) was dispatched by ship to King George the Third in London. Storms forced the ship to put in to the port of Londonderry; the Declaration was sent by fast horse to Belfast with a view to onward dispatch to London; the editor got hold of it; and the entire text was printed on the front page of the Belfast News Letter before even King George had got a chance to read it. Nothing changes. Excellent.
blog comments powered by Disqus