BROADCHURCH versus The Wire is not a contest many people would think of holding. But both deserve a smudgy honour for their portrayal of newspapers.
The American drama goes deeper into print, with an entire series set in and around a newspaper. The paper is modelled on the Baltimore Sun, where the writer David Simon worked as a journalist. In one episode, an editor stands on a chair in the newsroom to announce cuts, saying: “We will have to do more with less.”
More with less. My life captured in one of the greatest TV dramas ever. My life and that of just about any other journalist attempting to stay afloat on a local newspaper at the time.
In April 2009, the BBC showed all of The Wire and Simon said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph: “All the things that have been depicted in The Wire over the past five years – the crime, the corruptions – actually happened. The stories were stolen from real life.”
The newspaper sections certainly rang true, as did a sad moment in ITV’s Broadchurch this week. Writer Chris Chibnall’s drama is back on fine form after a misfiring second series, with a disturbing rape storyline, and passing hints of a swinging scene in Broadchurch.
The plotting is great, the suspension twanging. As always, the relationship between Hardy and Miller sings like a simmering row. Miller came out on top this week and she does get some great lines, snapping after interviewing a suspect: “I am never in the mood for swaggery young shits.”
Perhaps only journalists will have noticed the relevance of one moment this week. The local newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) is a solid presence in Broadchurch. This week she is summoned to the newspaper group’s HQ for a meeting with a much younger woman executive, who airily tells her that the Broadchurch Echo office is being closed and the newspaper absorbed into a larger group paper, with a wider news focus.
Maggie puts up a spirited defence of the importance of proper local news, and defends the role of a paper that’s been around for a century (or something). And she is right, and yet spitting in the wind. Or in the face of corporate indifference and incompetence – or that curious mixture of the two, a sort of arrogant shrug. That’s just the way it is. Get with the modern world.
The young executive editor whisks off with her salad and her fragrant stupidity, back to bla-bla-land, leaving faithful, work-obsessed old Maggie with her redundant beliefs. She seeks solace in the churchyard and ends up losing a misery show-down with the local vicar, a man whose God is always frowning.
Back in the real world, this week the company I used to work for announced that it would be closing the subbing-hub in Newport. Two years ago, the hatching of that plot cost sub-editing jobs throughout the country, including mine.
The last few months of my life on the Press were spent getting to grips with the new system, and working with the people in Newport, many of whom were new graduates paid around £13,000 a year – about half the hardly generous usual salary.
Some were old hands like myself, bouncing from one thing to the next. Now they are all being bounced away, with a few going to another hub in Dorset (ah, perhaps that is where the Broadchurch paper is going to be padded out with non-local local news).
Nearly everyone with any sense knew from the start that the Newport hub was a terrible idea. I heard from an editor once that it was introduced purely as a way of breaking down old editing structures and making it easier to offload people. That wouldn’t surprise me, but it does still sadden me.
Decent people remain on the Press and tomorrow one of them is leaving (for another job, not thanks to corporate whim). Goodbye, then, to Gavin Aitchison and his gruff good heart. Gavin is the news editor, beer writer, weaver of internet spells, dealer in old photographs of York, and surely more besides. He will be missed by those who remain.