Probably only a very few people remember a gutsy little local rag called The Update. Indeed perhaps the only people who do recall it these days are its co-founders, publishers, joint-editors, reporters, sub-editors, printers and distributors. And a formidable team we were – me and the boy who lived opposite. In fact he’s probably forgotten.
True, it only ran for a few issues before the publishers disbanded due to gross financial failings and insurmountable editorial differences.
But what a first edition! Judiciously timed to coincide with the 1990 general election, its founders clearly possessed a precocious, preternatural understanding of modern newspaper publishing even in those early days.
The entire editorial team was out in force. The night began with hours of tirelessly canvassing local opinion, conducting an exclusive exit poll (unanimous result = ‘sod off you little brats’) and then in a blur of adrenaline and euphoria, rushing back to the newsroom (his bedroom) to fearlessly begin crafting the words that would become history; the very first outpourings of a newspaper that would forge a new path through the darkness.
As with all debut newspapers, readers were – some might say cruelly – sceptical. Change, we knew, always come slowly. But with the type of jaw-dropping exclusives we would soon be landing on the morning mats we were sure the doubters would fall away. It was only a matter of time before the local newsagent would be wiping a tear from his eye as he locked up his little store for the final time, scratching his head wondering ‘where did it all go wrong?’.
In the end, The Update imploded under the weight of its own success. Or, possibly, because after the election launch special, frantic deadline followed frantic deadline and we were repeatedly forced to watch in helpless horror as the printer mercilessly produced copy after copy of such front pages as ‘CAT STUCK UP TREE – EXCLUSIVE’. A particularly painful memory when I also recall the humiliating and costly late edition we were forced to print: ‘Cat wasn’t stuck, climbs down of own accord after only five minutes in tree’.
We began to fall apart, not helped by my own drinking problems at the time. At my lowest point I was knocking back at least six glasses of orange squash on press day just to get through it with my sanity.
One day the grim reality that The Update simply could not continue hit home. Fresh out of the storm we tried to gather ourselves together. We cleared out the newsroom, wistfully packing away piles of old editions and dog-eared dictionaries, trying to make sense of what we had been through.
Regrets? I have a few. Orange squash was ruling my life and I wouldn’t let that happen again. But I learned many valuable lessons in that strange time of my life.
1. Newspapers need stories
2. Without stories you are screwed
3. Journalism is a profession filled with dysfunctional loonies and addicts
4. It’s a lot of fun
5. Eight year old make lousy publishers