Having been self-employed for nearly 25 years and not having had to go to work in an office since 1989 I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a proper job. Though nearly everything about being your own boss is preferable (as long as you can make it work and earn some money) I have occasionally missed the camaraderie of having regular work colleagues and felt lonely at home on my own. Today, due to my regular column at the Metro newspaper, I got a little taster of having to go into the office. I had been called in to attend a seminar about IPSO. I had no idea what IPSO was, but the email I had received said that attendance was mandatory. I wasn’t entirely sure it would apply to me and had a feeling that if I just didn’t go that nothing bad would happen. But then a part of me was curious to be a part of it and to pretend I had a proper job. At the very least I might get a Metro column out of me being forced from my glamorous life in show business (i.e. being asleep in bed) to see the kind of shit that regular people had to deal with. Also they might tell me what IPSO is. Which would be good to know in case it ever came up in a pub quiz. They did tell me, but I can’t remember now. I’ll have to go upstairs and get the sheet they gave me. I can’t be bothered. It was something to do with Press Complaints.
I was heading into the belly of the beast as the Metro is owned by the Daily Mail group. It doesn’t really bother me that I am essentially working for the worst newspaper in the country. As long as they let me write what I like then on the whole I see it as a positive thing. Maybe I can sneak in a few left wing ideas into my stupid columns about yoghurt and wool boys. But as the seminar was for all journalists working for the company I did find myself sitting in a room of people whose values I don’t really share. It’s rare that I am the most left-leaning person in a room (except when I am alone in a room), but I am pretty sure I was today. I felt a bit like a spy. Also I learned today that due to new powers given to the Press Complaints people, the Daily Mail group could be fined up to a million pounds. I could bring the company down with a few lies, as long as my editor didn’t spot them and take them out. I could destroy the Death Star from the inside. Though then I wouldn’t have a job any more and would lose literally tens of pounds a month. Perhaps I could blackmail Ian Mail and say I will write lies unless he gives me half a million pounds to tell the truth.
The seminar really didn’t concern my humorous column at all. I spent most of my time wondering how the bald man sitting in front of me kept his head so shiny and then looking at some of the other employees and wondering how they slept at night. But then I looked at myself and realised I also worked for the same paper, and justified it to myself. The man giving the seminar seemed to be slightly resentful of having to do this at all and also was not a great showman. So he made quite a dull topic all the more boring with his soporific delivery. For some reason the Daily Mail gets more complaints for its articles than any other newspaper and now that there is going to be some actual bite to the regulatory body this will be a problem for them. So in essence the talk was all about how to ensure that all articles were checked for facts and accurate. He gave an example of a man who had been caught by the police doing wheelies in a school playground. The article said that this had all happened during National Road Safety Week, which the man acknowledged was a good line. However it wasn’t true. It was about six months after National Road Safety Week. So, you know, you can’t just make stuff up to make the stories better. This seems like a good rule of thumb for journalists to me. I suspected I was the only person in the room who had sympathy for Hacked Off (a name that the speaker spat out whenever he needed to say it - seemingly annoyed that they had made his job a bit harder with their insistence that stories are true and not obtained by illegal means). After the 40 minute talk about how to be a journalist (you’d think they would have done this earlier) the man asked for questions. I wish I had had the balls to say, “So to sum up are you saying that as long as we don’t just make shit up then we’re all ok?” It would have made no one in the room laugh, but would have made a great story for me. But just like when I failed to ask Al Pacino who would win in a fight between Shylock and Scarface I don’t have the balls to mix things up in the way that a proper comedian would. It was fun to imagine that I was naughty and subversive and not like the other people in the room. But given I was in the room then I don’t really have a leg to stand on.