How to be a journalist

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How to be a journalist

Bill Jamieson, who died at the weekend, belonged to a different age of newspapers.

He was civil, but dogged. Well informed, but entirely suspicious of experts.

The Times obituary noted that his 12 years as executive editor of The Scotsman “encompassed far more than publishing a newspaper; he was part of far wider political debate in Scotland and beyond”.

He was a Brexiteer before anyone thought of the word, and in the weeks before Britain finally cuts its ties with the EU, perhaps he died happy.

He was the Economics Editor when I rocked up at the Sunday Telegraph in 1996.

He sat apart from the rest of us, consuming vast pots of very black, very strong coffee, and laughing a lot, usually at political stupidity.

Otherwise his desk (in Salters Hall on Fore Street) was culture corner. There was opera, gossip and general wisdom.

His example to the youngsters was his behaviour. We might have noticed that the very best journalists are unfailingly courteous (this took some of us longer than others).

My first business splash at the paper was something to do with the gold price. I contributed precisely seven words. Bill wrote the rest and had as much interest in taking the second byline as he did in the England football team succeeding.

A sign next to his desk read: “The floggings will continue until morale improves.”

Management correctly interpreted this as: “Be polite or sod off.”

Neil Bennett, then the City editor, writes in: “He was a pioneer Eurosceptic, and used his column each week not only to fight to keep Britain out of the Euro but also to make it clear that this country had the potential to choose a different economic path rather than tethering its future to Brussels. At the time he was part of a campaign that seemed unfavoured and outnumbered. But his commitment to the cause DID help prevent Britain from joining the Euro and in that way, paved the way for Brexit.”

His biggest scoop was probably the collapse of Barings Bank.

Editor Charles Moore called Bill one Friday night after a dinner party to say he had heard that Barings was bust. Totally disbelieving, Bill traipsed into an empty Sunday Telegraph office on the Saturday morning and got out his black book. He had the home number for a Bank of England director. The wife picked up the phone and instead of just saying her husband was out, exclaimed: “He’s not at home, he’s at the office.” Uh-hu, thought Bill and called his man at the Bank. The question was put: “I’m hearing that Barings is going bust, what can you tell me?” The reply was enough: “I can’t help you with that one Bill.”

He sent a photographer to the Barings Bishopsgate HQ. The snapper called him: “This is a bit odd Mr Jamieson, sir, the whole building is lit up.” He got the story.

On the Sunday, out of curiosity, Bill ventured round to the Barings office which was being mobbed by the casually dressed media throng.

Bill, always properly suited and booted, walked unchallenged past the doormen, into the lobby, up the lift to the directors’ floor and straight into the path of Francis Baring, who said: “What the hell are you doing here Bill? Oh what the heck, I had better tell you the whole thing.”

He got the story. Again.


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