And then there were none… and life on the other side of the fence

Half-way to Hull – it’s not the catchiest slogan. Maybe that’s why Howden hasn’t adopted the label, but the town is welcome to have it for free.

The 40-minute drive has been part of my life, twice a week, for a year and a bit now. On another two days, I drive in the opposite direction to Horsforth.

Different roads, a different life. Working in Howden is linked to my past life, as editing is involved; working at Horsforth is linked by journalism, although the teaching is new.

The drive to Howden is pleasant enough, down country lanes mostly, across the flatlands, then on the horizon you see Howden’s half-ruined Minster with its coppery green roof.

A large office in the town is full of journalists, many of whom used to work somewhere else. In this smudgy trade, you are lucky to survive in one place for long.

Yesterday, a colleague came over and told me something that brought everything back. He worked for a while on the Press after I left, doing parts of my old job, and now he edits pages for the Daily Telegraph.

“There’s more jobs going in York,” he said.

We chatted, I felt a lurch, but reminded myself all that was a while ago now. He told me one sub-editor was going: that’s one of two. Years ago, there was a full team of people working on those pages; now there are two and soon, impossibly, there will be one. Worryingly, it is hard not to quote Agatha Christie at this point: And Then There Were None. A group of strangers are lured into working for a newspaper on Ink Island, and then – one by one – they are finished off by a blank-faced murderer called progress

That was all I knew for a while, then a friend on the paper sent me a message. Another job is going, belonging to someone I worked with for 27 years. I don’t want to name this cruelly dislodged person just yet, as I don’t think the redundancy has been made public.

Losing your job, especially one you have done for a long time, is dislocating and can take a while to surmount. You feel rootless, cut adrift, unwanted – and clueless in a real-life game of Cluedo when Mr Pink the accountant has just knifed you from a distance and without ever once seeing your face. It’s not personal; and yet it feels deeply personal. After all, you are a person and another person has done this to you, done you in for the balance sheet.

I’ve learnt much in the past two-and-half years. I’ve learnt that I couldn’t make a living as a freelance feature writer/novelist/blogger, although all three impecunious occupations still take up my time. I’ve learnt a new skill in this busking life: teaching students at university. I’ve built on old editing skills. Mostly, I have survived, a bruised banana but still in one piece.

Do the relentless redundancies suggest that newspapers really are heading for the end; do they indicate that journalism is a shit-bucket trade with no clean water left in that leaky bucket? Well, I hope not. An optimist might see this as a period of transmission. I try to be an optimist but it’s not always easy.

I hope newspapers survive in some form; I hope the Press survives in some form, although each diminishment takes something else away, another chip in the china until all that’s left is a broken cup.

Anyway, good luck to those who must leave. There is life on the other side of the fence, but you might need a compass. That’s me done – I need to take the road to Howden for the late shift. A life shift in my late-shifting life.

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