Life after editing

From beekeeping to running multi-media workshops in Africa, and from teaching bushcraft to good old sub-editing. Steve Dyson discovers what life’s like for six ex-editors.

By Steve Dyson

Richard Best

Richard Best edited Northcliffe’s North Devon Journal from 2006-2009, and then the West Briton, based in Truro, Cornwall, which was absorbed by Local World in 2012.

When Richard resigned from editing in 2014, staying in Cornwall was a key priority because he and wife were settled, with their young children in primary school. The 46-year-old now sells eggs and honey from his own chickens and bees, and operates Straightshot Communications Ltd.

He tells me: “I used to watch fellow editors leaving the industry and tell friends to shoot me if I ever became a media consultant. But in the end, I decided to start a communications company. I’ve always enjoyed writing and now I get to do a great deal more of it.

“Editing gives you fantastic skills for the outside world. It used to feel as though I spent half my life in meetings discussing budgets, business plans and the constant reinvention of the newsroom, and the other half dealing with personnel matters. I think some journalism was occasionally squeezed in.

“But that training means I now offer much more than straightforward communications advice. I have a handful of clients, from varied fields, but each with a strong ethical strand. I like providing a bespoke, personal service, and am in no rush to employ anybody else. I enjoy only having to think for myself.

“I enjoy more flexibility. I have more time with my children, have become a voluntary director of the local primary school multi-academy trust, and have taken up beekeeping, in addition to my fascination with the Cream Legbar [chickens].”

Richard also serves on the complaints committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), an “incredibly stimulating” role that “provides a fantastic counterpoint to my life in Cornwall”. But does he miss editing?

“I do miss the buzz of the newsroom when a great story was breaking, and the company of my colleagues. Journalists are a fantastically entertaining, sincere bunch of cynical misfits, united under a common purpose.

“I don’t miss the annual round of being asked to do more with fewer resources, or the way the industry tears off, with barely a backwards glance, chasing what it believes will be the next big thing. The regional press has at times lost sight of how it needs to keep the home fires burning too, and I think the decline of print titles has sometimes been unduly hastened.”

As for other editors seeking a new life, Richard, contactable at richard@straightshot.co.uk, advises: “You don’t get to the editor’s chair by being a shrinking violet. If people have what it takes to be an editor, they’ve probably got what it takes to make a success in another walk of life.

“There’d be nothing worse than looking back and wondering what might have been if you’d only had the courage. My main frustration is that there’s still not enough time for fishing…”

Sam Holliday

Sam Holliday was group editor of a string of weekly Northcliffe titles including his hometown paper, the Tamworth Herald, from 1999-2005. He then became editor at the group’s Bath Chronicle, the first UK paper to switch from daily to weekly in 2007. Local World took over in 2012, and Sam left the Chronicle and now works for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Sam, aged 51, married, living in Gloucester and with two grown-up children, tells me: “I’d like to reassure anyone who has a major career change ‘mid-life’ that it can work. Faced with the ‘what next’ question is scary for a one-career man but, after a few months searching, I found a great job as the FSB’s development manager for Bath, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

“It basically involves working with 7,000 members across this beautiful patch to promote small businesses and entrepreneurs, acting as a lobbyist with MPs, councils, the press and other ‘stakeholders’. It means I’m still very much involved in two of my major passions – politics and the media – but I’ve also learned lots of new, unexpected skills and have met loads of great people.

“Yes, leaving journalism was either brave or stupid, but it was also absolutely the right thing to do for me and the papers I worked for. I’m now in a new career with the same enthusiasm and passion as I ever had as a proud old hack.”

Sam, contactable at sam.holliday@fsb.org.uk, added: “I loved every minute of my time in the regional press and worked with some inspiring people in some amazing communities.

“I just knew it was time to leave, and I’ve no regrets other than missing the team spirit and passion I found everywhere from the boardroom to the coalface. I’ve nothing but respect for all former colleagues and wish those still in the industry every success.”

Peter Charlton

Peter Charlton spent 49 years in regional newspapers, 25 editing daily titles. He edited The Gazette, Blackpool, from 1988-1992, The Star, Sheffield from 1992-2004 and the Yorkshire Post in Leeds from 2004-2013. His role as Johnston Press’ editorial director also put him in charge of the Yorkshire Evening Post and other local titles.

Peter, who’s married and the father of a daughter at university, tells me he had “a spell of home improvements” after leaving his job before launching All Square Media with Andrew Vine, previously his assistant editor at the Yorkshire Post.

He says: “We left on the same day and now jointly run a company specialising in media training, corporate strategy and a full suite of editorial services, often using the talents of former colleagues. The company is a year old and has exceeded expectations – although the opportunities have probably come from areas that we did not fully anticipate!

“It’s totally different to editing: after years of being in the ‘driving seat’ yet a slave to deadlines, our new business offers us much more freedom and the flexibility to capitalise on our core editorial skills – we just apply them in a different way.

“We’ve been able to offer fully-funded training to charities in the Leeds city region; improve the image of clients… and still be involved in daily publishing, advising The Scotsman on its future strategy.”

Asked what he missed from editing, Peter, now in his 60s, says: “You cannot be a news junky for nearly half a century and not miss it. Above all, I miss my colleagues – and the inevitable banter.”

Peter, contactable at peter.charlton@allsquaremedia.co.uk, has this advice for editors considering leaving the chair: “Use the skills that journalism, editing and managing gave you, but apply them in a way that helps others and don’t be frightened of saying ‘no’.”

Jon Stokoe

Jon Stokoe was a trainee reporter at the Whitby Gazette in 1995, and returned as its editor from 2009-2013. His paper enjoyed a 2.1% sales increase in his final year but Johnston Press, his publishers, decided it could be run remotely by the editor of the Scarborough News.

Since redundancy, Jon, aged 41 and a married father-of-two, has become a sub-editor for Local World-owned Lincolnshire Media, working on titles including the Lincolnshire Echo and the Retford Times, as well as running his own freelance services.

He says: “After redundancy and before Lincolnshire Media’s Steven Fletcher offered me a role, I founded Stokoe Media which offers bespoke services to individuals, businesses and organisations in Whitby, Yorkshire and beyond. We offer anything from PR and copywriting, photography, videos and websites to IT solutions, voiceovers, social media management and advice.

“I’m part of a fantastic team in Lincoln, singing from the same hymn sheet as we battle through challenging times by producing a cracking range of newspapers, supplements and magazines, complemented by excellent use of web and social media.

“I love getting stuck in, in a newsroom full of news-hungry journos, too much coffee and awful banter. When logged off on an evening and weekend I then dabble in the world of freelancing. I’ve always had a love of writing and that gives me the chance to continue to do so.”

Does Jon miss the editor’s chair? “I do miss editing my home town title. I had a great team in a busy little news patch with a coastline and countryside to die for. There are a few people I could namecheck that I don’t miss, but I’d better not!

“But gone are all those meetings, production issues and dreaded complaints from readers and advertisers. And it’s nice now to work for a company which values its staff. Keep them happy and morale high and productivity increases and the quality of the product increases. It’s not rocket science.”

Jon, contactable at jon@stokoemedia.co.uk, added this advice: “An editor of a small, single title is a dying breed so make the most of it. Ignore the doom-mongers – there’s still plenty of life left in local newspapers. But you have to embrace all the new technologies and different platforms for spreading news.”

Darren Parkin

Darren Parkin first became editor of a weekly newspaper aged 24, and was at the helm of Trinity Mirror’s Coventry Telegraph from 2009-2012. When he left, he had a spell editing in Lanzarote but is now living in Devon and working as a freelance copywriter, editor and travel writer “specialising in SEO web copy”. He also teaches woodcraft, and is attempting to write “an epic novel”.

Darren, aged 43, and a married father-of-two, says: “My wife [also a writer] and I timeshare our home office which means one of us looks after our toddler while the other works. We alternate day-to-day, so it’s a wonderful quality of life, and we’ve each built up a solid base of clients.”

Darren says today’s life is hard to compare to editing “without sounding like I’m being disrespectful to a career that was good to me for almost half of my life”.

But he adds: “It’s a little bit like having a straight-jacket taken off without realising you were wearing one. Running your own business gives you so much freedom and a life you have complete control over. You don’t have to answer to people further up the chain of command who you may not agree with.”

Darren rates the skills that journalism and editing gave him: “Attention to detail, getting things right, knowing what angles will grab a reader’s interest and delivering perfect copy – all are key ingredients to gaining the respect of clients.”

He misses “newsroom characters” and, as editor, making big decisions: “I took a weird pleasure from the pressure of carrying the weight of a huge decision on my shoulders. But I don’t miss the hours. I’d work fourteen hour days, seven days a week, and even sleep in the office at times, thinking I was the best editor in the world. Turns out I wasn’t.

“And I don’t miss some of the silly management politics either – especially strategic back-stabbing. I hated watching people jostling for the crown of champion arse-kisser round the boardroom table. For goodness sake, just focus on doing what’s right for the business, not what’s going to get you invited to the boss’s golf club. Show some class, you know?”

Darren loves his new life: “Having lunch with your other half, being home for your children’s bedtime, surfing, gym, tennis, fishing, the countryside and teaching outdoor survival and bushcraft skills… all things I’d been denying myself with those ridiculous 14-hour days.”

Darren, contactable at darrenparkin@rocketmail.com, has this advice for editors wanting a change: “If you respect yourself and love your family enough, just think about what makes you who you really are and ask: ‘Am I being denied the very things I enjoy because I’m so obsessed with my career?’

“If the answer’s ‘yes’, then you really need to think about doing what you can to start enjoying life again. Don’t worry about what you might be leaving behind – people move on quickly, and you’ll be forgotten sooner than you think. Besides, chances are that a rapidly-shrinking newspaper industry will die long before you do.”

Dan Mason

Dan Mason was the Coventry Evening Telegraph’s editor in pre-Trinity Mirror days of 1993, then its managing director, before becoming the Birmingham Post’s editor and publisher. Later, he was managing editor for Newsquest titles in London.

He left at Christmas 2009 and set up Dan Mason Media – working as a multi-media trainer, project manager and consultant everywhere from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. He also runs mobile and social media workshops in the UK – but with most of his work overseas, he currently doesn’t even own a house here.

Dan says: “I parted company with Newsquest feeling guilty that my industry was imploding on my watch, and I didn’t know the answers. It didn’t seem right to ask fewer journalists to spin more plates without a fundamental rethink.

“I left, immersed myself in social media, inbound marketing and WordPress, worked as a communications volunteer with local charities to test my thinking, then took the leap. Now I work with amazing journalists and communicators in fascinating countries like Azerbaijan, the Caribbean, China, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

“I could call a couple of them home and treasure friendships I’ve made. I’ve toured Azerbaijan with my mobile journalism roadshow, delivered social media training in China, and training for women journalists in Riyadh.

“If I know what’s happening a couple of months ahead, I’m lucky. But the satisfaction is immeasurable. As an editor, I used to say: ‘I have the best job in the world.’ I’m still saying it. It’s still about people, service and sticking your neck out to make a difference.

“Some of the projects I’m involved with – teaching storytelling skills for people with disabilities, for example – really do make a small dent. I still can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning.”

Dan, in his late 50s, rates what he learnt from newspapers: “The confidence to know that when things don’t go to plan we can make decisions, galvanise those around us, and get the job done.

“In Harare, after my group and I were escorted from the university by security when I refused to pay the IT manager a ‘technical support fee’, we ended up training in the environment minister’s private office, Mugabe’s portrait smiling down on us. There’s always a solution.”

Does Dan miss being at the helm of newspapers? “I look back on the teams I managed with enormous pride; and not much matches the excitement of managing big breaking stories. But I don’t miss it. The buzz I get from developing new ideas and seeing my training succeed is every bit as exciting and rewarding. The money [from newspapers] was rather helpful while my son was growing up, though.”

He adds: “I don’t miss one bit the orgy of corporate buyouts through the 1980s and 1990s; the pressure to drive shareholder value for which, ultimately, our communities paid so dearly. As a manager, I was part of the problem, but never comfortable with what stopped us being truly responsive to local markets.”

To editors wanting out, Dan, contactable via @masondan on Twitter or at www.danmason.co.uk, says: “If you’re considering it, you already have one foot out the door. What are you waiting for?”