This is the first of an occasional column (very occasional by the way) in which I’ll follow my nose instead and write when I wish.
Technology has allowed us to add value in a richer and far more efficient manner compared to when I started off in journalism with an electric typewriter, rotary-dial telephone and a list of the usual suspects in my contacts book. But more frequent deadlines can drag daily journalism back to the superficial.
I guess I was first personally impacted by a breathless tightening of the news cycle with the advent of continuous news stations in Britain in the late 80s. I saw the Death Knocks come around quicker and crueler.
Generalising somewhat, the previous routine was to cover a shooting or bombing with witness reports first, of course, then interviews with local politicians, priests, friends - before gradually circling in on the victims’ families for comment - all of which could take two or three days.
The news cycle was so tight once that I turned up at a victim’s house before she even knew her son has been shot dead. I still don’t really know how it could be possible, but this was the era before mobile phones. Instead, as she held her keys in her hand, on her doorstep and in the inflamed orange glare of the street lamps, I was the messenger. Except I didn’t quite do that. I scared her half to death anyway by asking her “If she had heard some very bad news...” and suggesting she get a relative around.
Then I got back into my car and soon heard her visceral howls of pain.
I haven’t had to carry out a Death Knock for a few years now. Needless to say I don’t miss them. Quite understandably I was treated with contempt for my intrusion. Or hatred. Or stunned silence. Sometimes I spent long hours counselling. But perhaps the worst was when I was treated with warm hospitality and courtesy when I knew the families had better things to do.
I particularly remember a bright blue-eyed, black-haired girl, about ten years old, who brought “the man from the BBC” a cup of tea and selection of biscuits while I talked about her father’s death with her Mum. She smiled shyly and with a touch of excitement too.
I knew that soon after I left, as dusk fell, that she’d remember again that her Daddy wasn’t coming home.
That’s a pretty rare memory, to be frank. The sheer volume of killing washed so many other faces into my forgetfulness. A mercy for me. And perhaps the accelerated news cycle helped too. No time to dwell.
Unlike the victims' families.
When I started this column I didn’t intend it to end here. Certainly not in such a dark place. And although I fear I might plunge into the world of the pseudo-profound again sometime, I promise a mixture in my columns. Some business commentary. Some travel writing. Some plain fun too. Whatever I pick up along the way.