“The kind of reporter you need in every newsroom” — tributes paid to reporter George Makin

George Makin

Tributes have been paid to local democracy reporter George Makin, who has died months after being diagnosed with incurable cancer.

George, 62, covered councils including Sandwell and Dudley, and had spent much of his career working in and around the West Midlands.

The BBC and the News Media Association, who formed the Local News Partnership which led to the creation of the local democracy reporter scheme, are to name an award for new LDRs in George’s memory.

George worked as a video production assistant and a freelance photographer for a number of years before taking the step into journalism in 1999.

He worked at the Walsall Advertiser for 10 years, rising up to become deputy chief reporter and winning a clutch of awards for his work.

Following the Advertiser, he worked as a freelance journalist and press officer for a number of years before becoming an LDR in 2018.

Away from work, he was devoted to his wife Deborah and their children and grand children as well as their dog Patch. His interests included a great love of birds and wildlife.

Marc Reeves, marketplace publisher for Reach in the Midlands, said: “George was a journalist’s journalist — the kind of colleague you want to see in every newsroom. He exuded warmth, humour and humanity, but above all an absolute passion for his trade and people he was writing for.

“He had so much to teach younger journalists following him into the industry, which is why it’s so fitting that there will be an award for new LDRs named in his honour.

“He’ll be missed — and never forgotten.”

BirminghamLive and Birmingham Mail editor Graeme Brown said: “George left a lasting impression on the West Midlands through his journalism — but an even longer impression on everyone he met.

“Professionally, he was determined, dogged and tenacious — but always fair.”

Paul Kemp, Birmingham LDRS Content Editor, said: “George was a true, old school journalist with a passion for covering local news and politics.

“He was a huge character, friendly and extremely witty, even when he was facing such a difficult time in the last few months.

“I have had the pleasure of working with George from 15 years ago when he was a journalist on the Walsall Advertiser, and also over the past three years as part of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“He had a keen eye for digging out news, and may have ruffled a few feathers, and he may have used expletives about me a couple of times too, but such was George’s passion for pursuing good journalism.”

Yakub Qureshi, Reach democracy editor added: “After a long and distinguished career in the media, George really found his niche as a local democracy reporter.

“Often an waggish irreverent presence in the newsroom, he was a loyal friend and colleague and he showed enormous courage and dignity in confronting his diagnosis.”

George was among the first local democracy reporters to be appointed when the scheme first commenced in 2018.

Writing about the scheme a year later, he drew comparisons between the job and his hobby of bird watching.

“First off, if you don’t look, you don’t see. If birders don’t stare at trees, you don’t know what birds are in it.

“When I landed my first reporting job a very long time ago, I decided to become the paper’s council reporter; a job normally done by the chief reporter, but he didn’t like going to late night meetings, so he’d ring up councillors in the morning and asked what happened the night before.

“That was good for him and good for the councillors because they got to choose what got reported and what didn’t.

“I decided to read the reports and actually go to the committees. My diligence soon paid off as I was rewarded with a front page story on how a meeting heard the council was on the verge of bankruptcy, before going on to debate whether councillors should get a payrise.

“Back then, a full council was often attended by four or five reporters, filing copy for local and evening papers and sometimes, the big guns of broadcast would also turn up, causing disagreements over the limited numbers of seats on the press bench.

“And that was good for journalism and accountability because it created competition. We all wanted to get the best story, we all wanted to get the different angle and more eyes meant more information for readers.

“That’s important because councils are not about councillors just having political rows in town halls.

“By the time I left that job, I was often the only journalist at committee meetings as the industry closed papers and shed staff.

“That meant readers became reliant on press releases from local councils as reporters, with too little time to dig into stories, concentrated on the hundred and one other types of news they had to cover.

“Council press officers are there to assist the media in making local authorities transparent and accountable but they are also there to protect the reputation of the town hall — and the two are not always compatible.

“As a birdwatcher, no one gets between me and my binoculars to tell me I’m not looking at a slender-billed curlew but I’m actually looking at a curlew and therefore ‘not representative of the of the flock as a whole or the true situation’ and it therefore would be wholly inaccurate if I were to go on Twitter and report it as such.

“Unlike when, in my present job, I reported one of my local councils had, in a closed meeting, renewed the licences of taxi driver despite knowing that he had been convicted of indecently assaulting a 14 year-old girl.

“The council took exception because I used the terms ‘sexual assault’ and ‘child abuse’ in the copy, saying those descriptions were inaccurate and should be omitted.

“As a professional l responded in a measured manner arguing the terms were reasonable and justifiable, while privately thinking the press office should ‘trying telling that to the child’.

“I like my job, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has value, not just to me but for the readers who rely on journalists to tell them exactly what is happening in the town halls which provide important and often vital services.

“And on days like that, I sometimes think, thank God for the birds.”

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