19 February 2024

Mining for radio news in an editorial black hole : 2004-2007 : Paul Boon, The Radio Magazine

 Magazine editors. What do they do? “They create editorial calendars, develop story ideas, manage writers, edit content and manage the production process…” according to Google. Makes perfect sense. Except sometimes…

Journalism started for me in 1976 when I volunteered for student newspaper ‘Palatinate’ and attended regular meetings under editor George Alagiah who managed a team of section editors, discussed ideas for stories and sub-edited our writing efforts. Subsequently I contributed articles to many publications, including ‘rpm Weekly’, ‘City Limits’, ‘For The Record’, ‘Jazz Express’, ‘Broadcast’, ‘Music Week’, ‘Jocks’, ‘NME’, ‘Now Radio’, ‘Music & Media’ and ‘Radio World’, whose editorial systems worked in much the same way. There was dialogue, there were meetings, story ideas were passed upwards and downwards, teamwork and editorial direction were de rigueur.

In late 2004, lifelong radio industry buddy Bob Tyler called to say he was relinquishing his job as news editor of ‘The Radio Magazine’ and asked if I wanted to take over. I was desperate for paying work, having just returned from a poorly paid freelance contract in Cambodia and then been hung out to dry by ‘BBC World Service Trust’ whose promise of further, more lucrative work never materialised. I had been applying for radio-related job vacancies but none had resulted in an offer. This was the second occasion that Tyler had passed on his editorial jobs to me, for which I remain eternally grateful.

I knew ‘The Radio Magazine’ as the only weekly publication for the UK radio broadcast industry, published as a colour A5 booklet. In May 1986, it had been launched as a scrappy paid-for fanzine named ‘Now Radio’ by Howard Rose, former pirate radio presenter under the aliases Crispian St John and Jay Jackson, filled with gossip and opinion for wireless ‘anoraks’. In October 1992, I had begun to write and publish a weekly four-page ‘Radio News’ newsletter which I photocopied and distributed for free by mail to a small group of people I thought would be interested, not as a competitor to Rose but complementary since my focus was hard news, information and statistical analysis of ratings.

Unexpectedly, within weeks of my newsletter’s debut, Rose relaunched his fanzine as ‘The Radio Magazine’ with a new layout and new features that looked remarkably similar to mine, such as an events calendar and analysis of ratings. This seemed somewhat coincidental, given his fanzine’s prior six-year, 177-issue history. Any ambition to eventually transform my tiny newsletter into a paid-for magazine had been effectively scuttled, so I persevered for twenty issues before ceasing publication. Unfortunately, ‘good ideas’ prove impossible to copyright and I had already learnt to my cost that the radio industry included people not averse to taking credit for my innovations.

Nevertheless, twelve years later, I was so desperate for income that the opportunity to write for ‘The Radio Magazine’ had to be accepted. Rose had tragically died in 2002 during routine surgery, bizarrely one week after selling his magazine business to Sir Ray Tindle, a local newspaper and radio station owner. Paul Boon had taken over as managing editor and had employed acquaintance Bob Tyler as news editor until now. Boon was asking me what payment I would require to do the job. I quoted him the National Union of Journalists’ rate per word for contributions to the very smallest publication. He responded by saying he would only pay half that rate. I was disappointed but reluctantly accepted his measly offer, reasoning that some income would prove better than none at all. After all, this job might not last long.

At the outset, I decided upon a financial survival strategy for myself. I would need to spend zero to gather news stories because my expenses were not to be reimbursed. This meant no phone calls, no interviews, no travel to meetings. I would have to depend upon second-hand sources I could cull from the internet, newspapers and magazines. In order to maximise my payments, I would submit as many news stories as I could write, since I was to be paid per word written. Doubtless, the magazine must be receiving dozens of press releases from every organisation connected with the UK radio industry. Naturally, as with my previous magazine work, I anticipated these would be regularly forwarded to me by the editor for a quick rewrite…

Except that they were not. I quickly learnt that no press releases, no news tips, no rumours, no nothing was forwarded to me by the magazine. There were no editorial discussions, no phone calls, no meetings, no guidance, no delegation of work. In fact, nothing at all except the odd emailed complaint about things I had written. I started work in December 2004 but, by New Year, Boon wrote a complaint to my predecessor Bob Tyler:

“I've just had David Bain of CFM on the phone complaining about an out-of-context story with the "wrong perspective" which was printed this week.  It was a local press story and as we all know local reporters do not understand radio and in this case printed a story which was not factually correct.  We then reprinted, courtesy of Grant the same errors. While I know it has been difficult to contact people at stations over the Christmas period I really think these types of story need to be checked out.  We are not in the market of producing overtly partisan stories which demoralise staff at stations. I had a similar call from another station before Christmas.” [sic]

Already, I was baffled as to why ‘The Radio Magazine’ functioned unlike any other publication for which I had worked previously. The managing editor was printing my stories mostly verbatim (fine), sometimes chopping their ends to fit a page (okay), changing my headlines (no problem), but otherwise was only communicating with me by forwarding complaints. Another one arrived in April 2005:

“We have been fending off an irate Simon Horne of Virgin Radio who says the article you wrote (Issue 681) was based upon a mis-quote published in the Scottish Daily Record (or similar paper). Furthermore he is upset that he was not contacted over the story to either check the facts or to give them an opportunity to respond.” [sic]

Surely, this sort of beef should have been with the journalist who had originally quoted the complainant’s words, not with me who had merely extracted the quote from a respected newspaper. Normally, you might expect a managing editor to defend their staff when they had evidently done nothing wrong, but Boon’s reaction in a further email to me was:

“We just cannot let this continue.  The Scottish press are notorious for getting facts wrong, heaven knows they have some big axes to grind up there. Time would have allowed for a quick call to the appropriate press officer, Collette [Hillier] can give you a list if you don't have one. Even an email would have given us some support.  Virgin are advertisers as well as news fodder, so treating them fairly seems only reasonable.” [sic]

Editorial ‘dialogue’ continued in a similar vein for my entire time as under-resourced news editor of the magazine. Every Monday morning, I emailed as many stories as I could muster, receiving no feedback other than occasional complaints from radio industry personnel who did not approve of what had been published. However, I was submitting so many news stories to maximise my earnings that the magazine regularly added additional pages to print them all, week in, week out…

Except for four issues per year when Boon required no news stories from me because, despite my training in statistics, he insisted upon covering the radio industry’s quarterly audience ratings results. Having collated and analysed radio station data since 1980, I regularly attended the RAJAR organisation’s press conferences announcing its latest numbers at a central London lecture theatre. Boon was present too but did not acknowledge me or seek to collaborate.

Apart from Boon (and Tyler), nobody was aware of my role providing the bulk of ‘The Radio Magazine’s editorial content, as a result of its news stories being published without author bylines. At the time, I was content with this arrangement because I was busy applying for full-time jobs in the radio industry and believed that I was unlikely to be offered employment if it were evident that I was reporting everything that was happening within the sector. 

My somewhat distant relationship with the magazine continued until March 2007 when I received an unanticipated email from Boon:

“I am sorry to say I have been forced to bring to a close the freelance arrangement we have with you for news stories. I am sorry. […] On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for the detailed and analytical dimension you have brought to your stories covering the radio industry in these stormy times. My thanks once again.” [sic]

It was the first (and last) occasion I received positive feedback from Boon. By then, I had thankfully found better paid work as a media analyst so the resultant loss of earnings was less consequential. However, this apparent ‘warm glow’ of gratitude vanished almost immediately. Prior to my abrupt dismissal, I had registered for a free press pass to attend a forthcoming radio conference whose organisers then contacted ‘The Radio Magazine’ to rightly confirm my credentials. Boon responded to them bluntly:

“Grant Goddard does not work for this publication.”

I wrote to Boon accusing him of “rudeness” because, instead of simply explaining to the organisers truthfully that, since registration, I was no longer news editor, his words connoted I was a liar. Was he already seeking to erase my substantial and transformational involvement in his magazine during the previous two years? My suspicions were far from allayed by Boon’s response to me:

“I think rudeness is rich coming from you, but that is a separate issue. […] Just chill my friend - life is too short!” [sic]

On that sour note, our email correspondence ended once and for all.

In November 2008, Boon started a job with government regulator Ofcom’s radio licensing division in the same role I had held five years previously. Perhaps he was sat at my former desk. Given that I (and predecessor Bob Tyler) had written 90% of his magazine’s editorial, I pondered whether any number of anonymous “detailed and analytical” news stories published in ‘The Radio Magazine’ might have accidentally fallen into Boon’s journalism portfolio. Any number between zero and the 848 I had written? Those words ‘detailed’ and ‘analytical’ might even have figured in Ofcom’s job description for the role.

During Boon’s subsequent “nine-year stint” at Ofcom, his CV states he was:

“Chapter Editor of the radio & audio chapter of Ofcom’s Communications Market Report an annually published in-depth insight into UK radio and audio developments.” [sic]

My work had once again passed through Boon’s hands! In 2003, having been The Radio Authority’s staff member with a maths/analysis background, I had been ordered to undertake a mammoth project to create for Ofcom the new regulator’s first historical database combining commercial radio licence, audience and financial information in a group of interlocking Excel spreadsheets. My complex formulae were required to summarise the state of the UK commercial radio industry, for publication in Ofcom’s initial annual ‘Communications Market Report’. Naturally, uncredited once again.

[None of the hundreds of issues of ‘The Radio Magazine’ appear online. My news stories for the publication are available to read at https://www.scribd.com/lists/3527224/Radio-broadcasting-industry-news-stories-by-Grant-Goddard ]

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