I’ve yet to meet a news planner who enjoys their job.
Yet it’s one of the most fundamental roles of the newsroom.
News planners look ahead to find upcoming stories they can work on in advance to fill airtime or newspaper space.
Without them, the cogs in the news engine stop.
The essential role of news planners
If a press officer wants publicity for an event taking place tomorrow, in a week or six months, it is to the planning desk they must turn.
Planning was the only job where I was allowed to reduce my hours from 8-6 to 10-6 (with accompanying pay cut).
This was an unusual move in the days of non-flexible working and soon most of the colleagues working alongside me were journalists with children.
Other than the family-friendly hours, it was a soul-destroying encounter.
My days involved staring at a screen reading badly-written press release after badly-written press release about topics that defied understanding.
Why would someone think a new ramp outside a supermarket might interest a national newsroom?
The emails described events that weren’t events, pioneering schemes that weren’t pioneering and groundbreaking research that was anything but.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
It was not what I’d gone into journalism for, which was to boldly go or go boldly after the truth.
The truth of this was dismal.
Older hacks reminisced about the glory days of big news budgets when reporters had their grand pianos shipped to Moscow if posted there on long assignments.
They were the days of plentiful resources, when planning desks were able to dig deep and investigate stories with the luxury of time.
But by the time I arrived, the scaling back of news teams and the introduction of the ‘multi-skiller’ had begun.
Stress, pressure and missed deadlines were common. It was a miracle to reach 4pm without internally combusting.
The sinking mud of waffle
Most of the calls to the planning desk about forthcoming ‘stories’ were a waste of time.
Likewise, most of what pinged into the inbox was incomprehensible.
My forefinger and delete key grew intimate.
And yet someone somewhere had taken the time to craft this waffle.
And had been paid to do so!
Probably far more than me, sitting there boldly going after the truth.
Looking ahead – how ‘news’ isn’t always new
There is a bright side.
Planners are very often the gate-keepers to the news. If a press release catches their attention they can nurture and develop it and perhaps weave a human into it – if one doesn’t exist already (which, by the way, it ought to – read more here on what makes a good news story).
They’ll go out of their way to find potential in press releases because they too are desperate.
At forward-planning meetings the pressure is high to produce news lists bursting with hot stories.
Talking up a ramp outside a supermarket would most probably get them fired.
A whiff of something resembling a story and they’ll work with you to make it happen in order to have something to sell to their news editor (the person in charge).
I’d receive around 200 emails a day from communications offices.
Most fell victim to my ruthless finger/delete key relationship but occasionally something jumped out.
And this was usually the well-written email.
As I drowned in a dark sea of waffle, it appeared like a luminous lifeboat bobbing towards me, arms outstretched ready to restore hope.