Column: Four decades in newspapers, typing with two fingers

Newsroom - Cumnock Chronicle, early 1980s. Allan Crow (front) and Gerry Cassidy (chief reporter) (back).Newsroom - Cumnock Chronicle, early 1980s. Allan Crow (front) and Gerry Cassidy (chief reporter) (back).
Newsroom - Cumnock Chronicle, early 1980s. Allan Crow (front) and Gerry Cassidy (chief reporter) (back).
2021 dawns, and so begins my 40th year in newspapers.

A lifetime spent typing with two fingers - tried a third, ‘way too complicated - is just one of those many personal milestones which will be smothered by the pandemic’s restrictions. I’d throw a party, but, y’know …

Still, I’m lucky. This is what I always wanted to do.

At school I ditched all my science subjects after second year, failed languages in fourth year, and gave up on anything to do with numbers the minute they introduced me to trigonometry. Apparently, the answer to the question “Crow! What’s the cosine of 42” is not “who cares, miss.” That got me detention.

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My two Highers and a bunch of O-Grades, which included music - trust me, you’ll get me nowhere unless you have studied 16th century madrigals - got me an interview.

True, I failed the Sunday Post aptitude test, but I remain grateful to this day to the late Jimmy Ross for giving me a trainee role at the Glenrothes Gazette - a paper I’ve since edited three times. If this was the World Cup, I’d have it for keeps by now…

I learned so much in the North Street office - how to craft an intro, write to length and so on - and only survived those first few weeks thanks to talented newspaper folk such as Jack Sneddon and Graeme Birse.

Five years in Ayrshire flew past thanks to a brilliant editor, Alex Clark, who taught me everything about good newspaper design and whose approach has guided pretty much every decision I’ve taken since they trusted me to be an editor some 26 years ago.

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The typewriters I started out on are now collector’s items, but the memory of those muckle great machines clattering away at full speed on deadline day hasn’t diminished with the passing of time.

And, for all the changes, cutbacks, and restructures, this battered old industry remains captivating and rather wonderful; all consuming but wonderful.

My old college lecturer, the legendary Bill Allsopp, maintained journalism wasn’t a profession - it was a craft. He also said it was a passion.

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First thing he did was make us write our own obituaries, figuring if we couldn’t get them right, there was no hope for us. A tough task when you’re barely 18 years old too.

It’s strange how these memories flood back all these decades later - people who made the footprints which led you to your own path.

I couldn’t begin to list all the names for fear of the sin of omission, but the list is lengthy, and I owe a debt to every single person on it.

This job has turned contacts and colleagues into friends, given me a seat at everything from election counts to major sporting events, and been a glorious, ever changing challenge.

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I came into it with no great career plan - don't tell, but still haven’t actually got one.

Forty years on, it remains fun, and that’s a precious commodity in this work from home era.

My two typing fingers haven’t quite worn away to stumps just yet …

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