First person: 40 years mining for news in Yorkshire

Chris Page

For 40 years, regional journalism has been a part of Chris Page’s life. As he celebrates four decades in the industry, Chris looks back on a career which has seen him experience both web offset, more recently web onset and some of the biggest news stories to involve Yorkshire…

28:03​:78​ Company start date​

Chris wins junior journalist of the year

Yes, you read right. Nineteen. Seventy. Eight. Kate Bush (Google her!) was Top of the Pops.​ And your author was top of the world, beginning a dream job, undeterred by careers tutors who advised the industry was nothing like romantic notions conjured by Citizen Kane and All The President’s Men screen depictions, let alone Daily Planet’s mild mannered hack Clark Kent. They were right.

And yet heroic he felt, Selby Times cub reporter. ​But only after a school friend, who remains a mate today, interviewed better and was given first refusal, before joining fellow classmates at “uni” to leave newsroom door ajar for ​keen ​teen whose work ethic was forged by greengrocer mum and self-made man dad.

​Plagiarising LP Hartley’s The Go-Between opener, the past was indeed “a foreign country, we did things differently there”. And how! Olivetti staccato smoke-logged surroundings, desk drawers clanking with tell-tale chink of elder wordsmiths’ booze bottles.

Wire copy trays, oft thrown in anger by enraged editors, and metal spikes, laughing in the face of health and safety. Hands tattooed with white Tippex and blue carbon paper. Hot metal slugs and, as designated tea boy, white chipped mugs aplenty.

While wider world prepared for Winter of Discontent, MG Midget and journalism college block releases offered opportunity to escape to learn tools of the trade off-site, soundtracked by anarchic punk’s three chord rebellion.

Europe’s biggest coalfield unearthed beneath us made for rich seam of news, fuelling commended “12 Faces of Coal” project alongside Junior Journalist of the Year award.

Average £13,820 house price was way beyond our reach but, with bread 28p a loaf and milk 11p per pint, we didn’t go hungry watching The Good Life and The Sweeney.

And, as stressed over celebratory pint, Yorkshire Editorial Director, Yorkshire Post Editor James Mitchinson was yet to be born.

09:11​:84 Pontefract ​& Castleford​ Express​ Chief Reporter

Comfort zone shift saw junior, senior, then chief reporter progression, latter coming same day Larry Holmes beat Bonecrusher Smith to lift heavyweight boxing title. P&C was itself a big hitter, staffed by among best in the business, half dozen of whom, 30-odd years on, still meet socially as celebrated Six Pack.

The appointment came mid-way through arguably UK’s bitterest industrial action, year-long miners’ strike whose stirring start and emotional end mirrored my March birthdays.

Dawn picket line coverage, warmed by pit wives’ soup, saw mother against brother, dad versus lad, irretrievable rifts resulting in many shafts being mothballed, never again to produce coal. Or provide employment.

Proud to be the people’s paper, untarred by broad brush branding national press politically motivated, we offered balanced coverage, campaigning for our community. Their lives. Their future.

31:10:91 ​Selby Times Deputy Editor

Hallowe’en saw return to my local paper, unaware of horrors ahead that would define this tenure. It started on the school run, increasingly aware of unusually frenzied “blues and twos” activity. It ended with ten dead and 82 badly hurt, Great Heck now synonymous with train crash carnage.

February 28 2001 will forever be etched on our collective memory as, having already published, we realised well-worn cliché and stopped the press, operating in shifts to produce 12-page special chronicling UK’s worst 21st century rail disaster.

Professional pride in our staff’s unflinching commitment will always be tempered by memories of incessant ringing of Nokias, strewn around Spielberg-like trackside scene, all calls of concerned loved ones to casualties, some of whom tragically they would never see alive again.

18:02:02 Selby Times Editor

Big break came as UK’s average house price broke through £100,000 ceiling for first time. Boyhood dream fulfilled, lifetime ambition achieved, editing — if not too Royston Vasey — “local paper, by local people, for local people”.

Editorship offered opportunity to become award-winning headline writer, despite such unedifying examples as “Johnny be good” safe sex campaign and “Udder disgrace of cow sex pest” court report.

Co-founder of Selby Hands of Hope, since burgeoning to become bigger and better charity, steering a crusading title that was tried, tested, trusted, true to its readership, was this home town boy’s honour. It was, to quote a superior scribe, “the best of Times”.

01:09:11 Google (sic) & Selby Editor

HR colleagues, kindly supplying skeletal timeline as it’s all a bit of a blur, promoted me! But that I was Google co-founder namesake Lawrence Page, among globe’s top ten richest, worth $51 billion. It was, rather, East Riding inland port Goole, a priceless position nonetheless.

10​:09:12 Selby Times and Goole Courier​ ​Content Editor

​On this day Andy (​British when he wins, Scottish if he loses) Murray showed true Brit grit to win Men’s US Tennis Open title. And our titles’ management structure switched again. More changes were, within a year, to follow apace. Mercifully all staff survived but our publications were sold. Revisiting Dickens, “it was the worst of Times”.

19:08:13 South Yorkshire Times & Epworth Bells Content Editor

Chris (second left) with colleagues at Johnston Press

As Usain Bolt became World Championships’ most decorated athlete, Johnston Press also sprinted forward like lightning. Remaining content as title suggests, last five years have seen Sheffield digital secondment, Doncaster and Leeds shifts.

North, south, east and west, all God’s Own County compass cardinal points have been good to me. Heartbeat to Chartbeat, if you will. Currently ACH North staffer without portfolio, recent joy helping train apprentices, teaching them what they need to know and, as with who sang “Wuthering Heights,” some stuff they don’t!

Celebrating 40 springs with same company, keeping great company, sees me overlook Elland Road, where my football club during intervening years has employed 30 coaches, one of whose stints was notoriously only 40-odd days. A lot of Tetleys (tea and bitter) has flowed as I’ve managed​, been managed, always managing to enjoy employment rollercoaster of a ride from web offset to Web onset.

“Teamwork makes the dream work” among my well-worn adages, I remain big believer “there’s no I in team,” maxim embellished, becoming partially sighted early in my career, with additional “But Chris has one I”.

So, dewy eyed with misty water-coloured memories, this chapter closes with stanza (after Ernie Wise) what I wrote to mark memorable milestone.

March 28 ’78 sounds long time past
Yet decades four flashed by so fast
Time off refused for bad behaviour
Good workmates ​ever been my saviour

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