TWO months ago, I knelt in front of a cardboard headstone in a graveyard in Enfield, my knees squelching against cold mud and a bitter wind whipping my widow’s veil around my face. I gripped a handkerchief in one hand and tried to focus on the camera being held by our chief photographer Anne-Marie, while Death lurched about behind me.
Long-stalled negotiations between our chapel and Tindle had drawn a frustrating blank and we’d decided to start preparing for a potential strike by shooting some publicity pictures.
It wasn’t difficult to produce a grimace that day outside the church and it has never been difficult since to muster passion and a sense of justification in what we’re doing.
In the three years since I’ve worked at North London & Herts, I’ve seen newspapers which used to scoop awards on a yearly basis be eroded into sad imitations of their former selves.
Though we’ve battled to keep editorial standards as high as possible, the banging of the door behind the latest reporter to leave has been ever-ringing in our ears and just two weeks ago, we reached our absolute limit. We simply do not have enough staff to produce the kind of papers which our readers deserve and of which we can be proud.
Sitting down at the beginning of a news week with papers to fill should feel exciting and full of possibility: people to meet, leads to follow up and some fantastic news patches to explore in Barnet, Enfield and Haringey.
Some weeks this happens.
But more often than not, what should be a challenging pleasure turns into a weary and unsatisfying slog toward deadline day. As so beautifully captured by our esteemed editor, we barely have “time to piss” these days, let alone a slender hour or two to wrench ourselves away from our computer screens and visit the patches and people we are supposed to help represent.
None of us went into journalism for money or prestige and no one expected the recession to be an easy ride. Of course we are lucky to have jobs when many do not and we thank Sir Ray Tindle for not yet having made anyone redundant.
But the question is: are these jobs any longer worth having?
Journalistically, writing for these papers at the moment is about as satisfying as reading about murky super-injunctions – all the tantalising snippets are there but you’re unable to piece them together to make a satisfying story.
Newsrooms are always going to be stressful places where reporters are sometimes forced to fly by the seat of their pants, but while before we had time to speak to people properly and give stories the time and effort they deserve, we now have to rely on work experience students to get the job done in any way at all.
It is unsatisfying, deeply frustrating and – at times – humiliating to have to work in this way.
And it’s for all of these reasons we are taking to the picket line again from Tuesday. Without the staff and therefore time to work properly, reporters will reluctantly be evermore reliant on PR robots with agendas to push and products to sell.
Stories will be re-used, re-shaped and recycled – and our readers left with a pile of stinking rubbish.