List the perks of most jobs. A salary- evidently, a company car- perhaps, bonuses- maybe, freebies- occasionally, a pension- if you're lucky. But what about gossip? I'm not talking about office gossip; uncovering the trials and tribulations of your emotionally overloaded colleague, a sordid revelation that your boss has a 'fiddle' in the toilets, or actively seeking out the scandalous stories of the incompetent bitch who sits two desks away. Understandably in an office environment, one needs to alleviate oneself from the monotony of the mundane through gossip- be it meeting at the water cooler or sneaking out for a fag- but what if you don't have to chase gossip? What if gossip comes to your door all day everyday and your job is simply to sit, listen and digest the information? Welcome to the job of a journalist.
Contrary to popular belief, what you read and hear about in the media isn't the result of whimsical investigation. No matter how big the story, scandal or expose, the end product is always a result of a primary lead or an 'undisclosed source' who divulges the initial information. The trouble is when you work on a national newspaper, you receive hundreds of phone calls daily from people who deem their story to be front page news. But how do you know if they're telling the truth? In my time I've heard everything from "I had a threesome with a premiership footballer and a midget" to "I've just seen Elvis Presley in McDonald's" and much, much more.
Last week I was asked to do some freelance work for a national UK newspaper. On my first shift, after trawling through the wire (an internal news system journalists use) I sat twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. As expected, I didn't have to wait long.
"'Allo? 'Allo! Yeah, I wanna report a story....yeah, yeah...I jus' seen Osama Bin Laden in Leicester." mumbled a gruff voice.
"Oh really? What was he doing?" I asked, humouring him.
"Well, I just seen 'im coming out my local corner shop, hijab and all, carryin' a pint'o milk- didn't have time to take a photo though." he said regrettably.
"Very good of you for calling us Sir, but unfortunately we have no evidence. Do feel free to call us if you have any proof of your findings."
After placing the phone back on the receiver I let out an almighty cackle; it was my only form of release after having to remain professional. I didn't have long, the phone rang almost immediately. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
"Hello, news desk" I said.
"Yeah I got a story, how much you gonna pay me?" he demanded.
"It depends on whose involved and what the story is, Sir."
"Well basically yeah- um- I met this bird down the laundrette. I'm a chimney sweeper you see and I was washing my clothes and this bird walked in yeah and we got talkin'-we hit it off. Had a bit of a fling with her you know?
"Right...so what's the story?" I said, encouraging him to hurry up.
"Well 'ang on love I'm getting to that. She's called Clare- and we started having sex."
"What? IN the launderette? I said in disbelief.
"Na na we 'ad a fling- next thing I know she tells me she's married to some famous Australian geezer called Alexander Bunyip. Obviously I was gobsmacked. Anyway...he found out I was shagging his misses and now I got the FBI and the CIA after me. Help!"
"Sorry sir, but what has the FBI got to do with it if you're a British citizen and he's Australian?" I said, with a hint of sarcasm in my voice.
"Well I'm calling for help! I'm in hiding, he got his heavies after me and I can't leave my house."
"Sir, without sounding rude this is a national newspaper not a Samaritan hotline. I'm sorry for your circumstance but we won't be able to run this story, it's not newsworthy."
"Whadddayamean it's not newsworthy! Who are you to tell me what's newsworthy?"
"Who am I? I'm a journalist. And I'm telling you it's not newsworthy. Thank you for calling Sir, goodbye." I said bluntly after using up my last ounce of patience.
Slamming down the receiver, I was annoyed at allowing myself to become riled by this man's behaviour, but it didn't stop me from conducting some pointless research into exactly who Alexander Bunyip was. A mythical cartoon character. Great, another prank caller. The most astounding thing is people actually think they can get away with feeding us lies in the hope of a lump sum payment for their story. As well as being highly insulting to my integrity, this man had simply wasted my time for no reason at all. This is the constant burden of a journalist; sustaining professionalism when you know full well that the person on the other end of the line is wasting your time and is either genuinely loopy, a prank caller or antagonistic. In some cases callers refuse to give in, demanding payment and purporting their story is front page news. As a journalist representing a national newspaper you can't hang up, shout or have a hint of disbelief in your voice.
Although other times you get good tip-off's from callers- truly delightful to acquire such knowledge- and it's what makes being a journalist so worthwhile. I'll never forget the man who called in to tell me about the professional misconduct of a night shift manager at one of the top four major supermarket chains in the UK (which I can't name). He told me that the night shift manager in a particular store had been unwrapping the pastry products, smothering them with his ball sack and rubbing them with his penis, then re-wrapping them and putting them back on the shop floor. At first the story sounded absurdly far-fetched and crucially there was no evidence...That was until he told me the manager had been taking photos of his nightly shenanigans and he had photographic evidence to prove the malpractice. He sent me emails which included snapshots of an unsightly, flaccid looking willy prodding some pork pies. After seeing the photo's I felt sick. Not because of the horrific looking penis, but out of worry that I had possibly fallen prey to this sort of roguery. I don't know about you, but when I go to the supermarket I expect to find 'fresh baked produce', not some cock-flavoured croissant. Disgusting.
As disgusting as this revelation was, it is precisely the reason why being a journalist is so satisfying. You get to find out gossip that most people wouldn't be aware of, and it's up to you how you choose to deal with it. Being the first to hold such information - be it exciting news, quirky stories or cutting edge drama- is what we thrive off. And when we do find a good story it makes our job all the more worthwhile.