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In the written wor(l)d

Sitting here with my laptop, I am feeling more than a little sense of inspiration for the written word and the majesty of putting together a series of facts or opinions, or both, in a way that is both engaging and a pleasure to read.

My inspiration has come from reading the brilliantly written article entitled My Turn To Share My Writing Process: Part Of A Blog Tour, penned (or should that today be keyboarded?) by talented Huffington Post blogger Cathy (New) Chester. It is a pure delight to read, easy to follow, simple yet thought provoking.

Anyway, Cathy’s story about how she put her passion for writing aside for many years as she concentrated on other things has prompted me to tell you my story.

It all started as a schoolboy aged about 10, maybe even a little younger. It was then my decision was made. When I grew up, not for me the boyhood dreams of being a train driver or a policeman, no, my chosen role in life was to be a newspaper reporter.

To say that idea obsessed me would, I think, be somewhat of an understatement. I remember quite clearly using a toy typewriter to put together ‘newspapers’. It was quite a challenge but I did it and then ‘sold’ it to members of my family. Actually, the term ‘sold’ is used loosely because as soon as mum or dad had read it, it was reclaimed and resold to my next victim. My paper had a total readership of four- my parents, my brother and my sister.

To be fair, my parents took delight in encouraging my efforts and one day gave me my very first portable typewriter which stood me in good stead for many years, well beyond the days of producing my own newspapers. Of course, at that time there were no such things as personal computers, neither desk top nor laptop. What computers existed were enormous, kept in chilled conditions in huge offices. Nothing like today!

School for me finished at the age of 17 when I left having managed to gain the minimum necessary qualifications to secure a job working for a newspaper. That really summed up my efforts in school, I knew what was needed and made sure I got them. Why do more? Over achieving was not my style. And so it was that just three weeks after leaving school in July 1970, my first job began – as a junior reporter on a local newspaper in south-east London.

You can imagine my delight as I learned my trade as I worked. To say it was like being thrown in the deep end would be an understatement. It was sink or swim; and my steely self-determination ensured that sinking was not an option.

Back in those days, reporters’ desks were surmounted by the large and heavy typewriters of the day, manual of course. Electric machines had certainly reached commercial offices but not our newsroom. Reporters typed their stories onto real paper, carefully numbering each page, before giving it to the sub-editor who would check, correct and hopefully improve it before adding a headline and allocating it to a page.

From then, the page layout design along with the written copy and photographs were sent to the printers. There, typesetters retyped the stories, photos were prepared for printing and then compositors made up the finished page ready for proof-reading.

In less than 20 short years, that way of doing things had been overtaken by more modern methods. Reporters wrote on computers linked to a network. Sub-editors did their work online too, laying out the pages on the screen so no typesetting nor compositing at the printers. Instead, straight from the newsroom to the printing press.

Actually, back in the early 1970s, a useful lesson was learnt. One day, another junior reporter and I both handed our stories to the sub-editor at the very same time. He did not even glance at them, he just gave my story to my colleague and his to me. And he just said for us to go and improve them, working alone. Both stories were improved and from that we were both taught not to get upset if our writing was changed. Later, as a senior journalist, I passed on that lesson to more junior staff; getting them to realise that it is easy to improve a story, the hardest thing is to start writing on that blank page or screen.

Unfortunately, I had to admit defeat and give up work in November 2006, aged just 54. Four years earlier I had been diagnosed with MS but the neurologists told me that they had found evidence of me having had the condition since my early to mid-20s.

One thing that newsrooms have to cope today, which I never had to face, is with the demands of the internet with the vast majority of newspapers also having stories available on their websites. Then, of course, we have bloggers….

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Ian Franks started work as a journalist in 1970 and between then and his early retirement, he fulfilled a variety of roles. These included Reporter, Feature writer, Theatre critic, Political correspondent, Sports editor, Features editor, sub-editor and Rural Affairs editor. It was that role which led to him being named as Welsh Farming Journalist of the Year in 1999.

Today he writes for and runs this website and is also Chief Patient Columnist with MultipleSclerosisNewsToday.com.

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