Confessions of an IBA journalist

This year is IBA’s Golden Jubilee – 50 years as a publishing house, journalist hot shop and international Press Relations pioneer.

The company was the first publishing house 50 years ago to launch a magazine helping accountants to use information technology to run their business. It had the catchy title of Mechanised Accounting and Computer Management, later shortened to Computer Management. It was an instant success. In due course we launched other titles including global business journal Export Direction. Both became field leaders and were later sold. Now the company offers the only single service international PR, from a central hub to companies looking to put a significant footprint down in the international marketplace. Plus ça change…

Enough of that. I thought you might find it amusing to hear how journalism and PR has changed since those early days when I was an editor and IBA was on the other side of the fence… so here we go.

Can you type?
When I started my career as a journalist, the first question was – can you type? I said yes! Got the job, and phoned my mother in a panic because I had never seen a typewriter let alone used one. She paid for me to go to somewhere called ‘Sight and Sound’ on a high-speed one week course to learn to ‘touch type’ before my first day.

Phew… but when I arrived at the office, I discovered I was the only one who could do this weird thing called ‘touch typing’ (they all thought I was rather strange or maybe that I’d been trained as a secretary). Everyone just two fingered away, bashing the keys with zeal, pen stuck in one ear – just like the films!

Now of course, even four year olds can type.

A whole new meaning to Cut and Paste
In ‘the old days’, we typed copy on small sheets of paper, so that when the sub-editor wanted to move pars (paragraphs) around, he or she just re-ordered them.

Then wow… Tippex technology came onto the scene, transforming copywriting and subbing – the sub’s typewriter keys thick with wet Tippex as copy was changed before sending to the typesetters.

Journalists and subs now make adds, amends and deletes with a sweep of the finger, then straight to page.

Oh yes, typesetting and the stone
So here’s the next step in the cycle – the type was set in metal, laid out with pictures in metal and tied together on ‘the stone’, page by page, ready for printing. So imagine changing copy at a late stage – not the way to win friends. Top down writing was a must so that lines of type could be removed from the bottom up.

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The notorious stones

Top down writing
We train IBA writers always to write news stories top down – the heading tells the story and engages the audience and the story must be complete by par three which is traditionally a ‘good time for a quote’. But nowadays we do it for the maximum take up.

Stop the press? Hold the front page? No more!
Yes, I did both once – Stop the Press – mistake found just before 70,000 copies were printed. Expensive.

Hold the front page for major news scoop? No more – now we have something called ‘breaking news’ 24×7 – a quick edit online, and it’s a done deal.

The newsroom gone virtual
In those days there were loads of us on the magazine side – an editorial office jam packed with hacks all bashing away at keyboards. Now we have virtual newsrooms, and fewer journalists mostly working from home – we recently invited the features editor of a NY publication to have lunch with our client, and his response? “Actually I live in Chicago”.

The all powerful sub
This is the person who checks all the copy, makes sure it is on message, and takes out what you thought were ‘pearls’. Unlike most public relations companies, at IBA we still have sub-editors. They rescue articles where the writer is waxing lyrical and needs to be brought down to earth. They keep us on message but above all they make sure a journalist understands our stories.

Escaped the bin – but you’ve been spiked
I lost my office trash bin once and became quite stressed. Silly you might think but when you receive 1,500 paper press releases a week not to mention the 70 press invitations a week, it is an essential office tool. And then there’s the endless telephone calls from ‘Fionas’­* as we used to call them at the PR Agency following up invitations and press releases. Most of the releases were badly written PR blurbs and the bin was usually full but some were re-written and sent to the sub, some occasionally ‘spiked’.

Although we still refer to stories being ‘spiked’, sadly the metal spike where the sub filed copy that were deemed unusable – is now gone – destroyed first by Health and Safety, then by Microsoft.

All those events!
Every day, but mostly Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, there was the round of press luncheon conferences. You left the office around 11.00am, turn up at a top hotel 11.30, have coffee, hear a half hour presentation, ask questions take notes, take the kit, drink the wine, eat the food, go back to the office, write the copy.

I once lost my kit and had had rather a lot to drink so couldn’t remember anything that happened and never wrote any copy. I was renowned for turning up a little late so the chairman of NCR sent round a taxi to collect me from my office just to make sure I turned up on time.

And then the jollies
Journalists used to live like kings. Business class to NY, luxury room in the Plaza hotel, theatre performances in the best seats, oysters before… off to Monte Carlo business class, helicopter in from Nice, supper on Cap Ferat, casino in the evening… then there was the entire Vienna Boys choir to serenade our supper… oh and yes, I think there was a customer or launch event somewhere in all this.

Now no-one does press conferences, lunches, round tables, and certainly if they fly you in to their user conference, it’s in steerage…

Phew – a world without Twitter
…and finally here’s my ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’ stories:
We got stuck up a mountain once on a press trip in Germany – the bus to collect us got lost, as the night closed in, we journos opted to play ten pin bowling with the fast emptying beer and wine bottles… I think the PR manager lost her job for that one.

Sudden airline staff strike – journos all assembled at Heathrow ready for trip to winery in Bordeaux, quick-witted PR man chartered a plane, we all piled in, landed at a little airport near Bordeaux, oops, no steps high enough to reach the exit door – a long wait…

Looking at Belgium’s nuclear power station on a press trip for a mainframe computer company, boat docked in the wrong place, gang plank too narrow, slightly inebriated journalist fell into the swirling sea, seen by all clutching press kit in hand – lifeguards out…

But phew, no Twitter… and this is the first time these stories have been written up.

*Fiona. Nice girl, nicely brought up, seriously useless. If you employ a traditional PR Agency, you’ll have met her.

Judith Ingleton-Beer is CEO of IBA International

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