Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Reunited: The Editorial Centre class of 96

20 years on: Graduates from the first Editorial Centre course in 1996. From left with their sponsoring newspaper in brackets: Ashling O’Connor (Bracknell News), Oliver Rowe (Wiltshire Gazette), Don Hunter (Hendon Times), Jo Burch (nee Hillier, Oxford Mail), Guy Jackson (Birmingham Post & Mail), Jonathan Elliott (self-funded), Nigel Davies-Patrick (Brighton Argus), John Weaver (Birmingham Post & Mail), Gareth Dant (D&S Times)
Twenty 20 years ago the Editorial Centre was born. It had been the old Westminster Press Training Centre, based in the ship-shape Marine Court (below) overlooking the English Channel in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings. My wife Pam and I bought the centre at the end of 1995 when it looked like WP was going to close it down. The first journalism foundation course we ran had 21 trainees on it - mostly paid-for by their newspaper employers. They were: 
Ashley Broadley, Gareth Dant, Isabella de Novellis, Irrum Fazal, Don Hunter, Andrew Child, Nigel Davies-Patrick, Jonathan Elliott, Jo Hillier, Guy Jackson, Simon Mowbray, Jim Osborne, Kathryn Price, Oliver Rowe, Gary Stokes, Ashland O’Connor, Dave Pearce, Neil Reynolds, Hilary Saunders, Rachel Thackray and John Weaver.
The trainers were Steve Nelson, who headed up the course, Robin Thompson who trained journalism and law, Sarah Dixon who taught journalism and government and, of course, the shorthand matriarch Sylvia Bennett. They were a bright, social bunch (both trainees and trainers) and I was proud to see many of them enjoy thriving careers. Anyway, to celebrate graduating 20 years ago Gareth Dant formerly of the Darlington & Stockton Times and The Northern Echo, arranged a reunion this month. Sadly, Pam and I were out of the country so couldn't attend but I asked Gareth to write a guest post. Here are his thoughts.

I tried not to see it as symbolic.
My former newspaper journalism training colleagues started arriving to join me in the pub just as I finished reading the last ever edition of ill-fated The New Day.
Two decades after arriving at Peter and Pam Sands' Editorial Centre in St Leonards-on-Sea – (mostly) fresh-faced and almost all of us regional paper trainees – we were gathering near King's Cross for our first reunion.
None of us remains directly employed by newspapers.
We were the first intake after the Sands had bought the centre from Westminster Press, and pioneered a packed 20-week course - the familiar mix of law, local government, newsgathering – and of course shorthand.
Nought to 100wpm in 20 weeks was the most demanding thing I'd ever done in a classroom. The jubilation of passing, on the last day of the course, sent me semi-delirious into the icy English Channel opposite the centre's Marine Court base for a celebratory dip.
It proved to be excellent training (the course, not the chilling swim) and I remain full of admiration for the talented bunch I shared that time on the South Coast with, as well as those who trained us with such nurturing skill.
Last week, a few hours catching up in a restaurant renewed some of the camaraderie we'd enjoyed back then on the cusp of our careers.
About two thirds of the 21 who finished the course had been tracked down, though it is almost encouraging that even in this internet and social media age, people – even those who at least started off a career in the media – are able to remain virtually invisible online.
Of the nine of us able to make it out for a meal that Friday night, two have senior international newswire posts, one was a national newspaper correspondent. Another, who had to call off at the last minute, works for PA.
As far as I could establish, most of the rest of us work in various media relations roles – always close to but never quite part of our erstwhile inky environment and its drastically diminished workforce.
So what, you might think: is it a surprise that in the 21st century, in the era of 'portfolio' careers, the path on which we find ourselves now differs greatly from the one started out on?
After all I, as I suspect many at that restaurant table does, still use daily many of the skills learnt in those 20 weeks 20 years ago.
But perhaps the fact that makes me veer towards the mournful (other than simply nostalgia-soaked middle-age) is that I'd almost certainly not be able to find a way back along that path to newspaper journalism.
Most of the posts I held as a journalist – along with many of the offices I held them in – are no more.
I think I was just about the last in-house trainee sent to St Leonards from Priestgate, the home of The Northern Echo and my first paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times.
After the ending of that long tradition of trainees trooping back across the country from their Sussex sojourns, Darlington editors turned instead to self-funded NCTJ course graduates.
I can make no comment on the quality of the training today's junior reporters receive, but I can be sure about the huge debts they'll carry from £9k university tuition fees and post-grad journalism training.
Of course we didn't know it at the time, but we bunch of 20-somethings embarking on our careers back in the pre-New Labour era were destined to help herald the end of another era, the now almost rather quaint notion of on-the-job training.
But however they come to it, I hope they find their job as fulfilling as I did.

Gareth Dant is a media relations 
manager at the University of Leeds

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