Wonderful memories from ex-trainee Jeff Swimmer

I was sent this fabulous email from Jeff. It made my day!:

“Hi Joe, I started at Reuters in 1988. I was in that fancy complex out near the Tower of London. Maiden Lane, or some such…? I can’t remember the name. It was in the Fall. There were 10 Brits and one person each from the other continents – a woman from Egypt, an Aussie, another from Hong Kong, one from Buenos Aires and I guess I represented North America.

Reuters got me a place right near your Dad’s place (Chelsea, correct?), where they also got a place for a good friend – Silvina Gonzalez Cigoj, from Buenos Aires. He had us over for dinner several times, cooked up plates full of dripping meat, which we loved, and showed us around some great Chelsea pubs. He was such a potent emotional connection to London for me in every way. His huge smile, massive laugh and copious appetite for all things life were magnetic to me, unimaginably exciting and inspiring.

During the trainings, he de-frocked all of us earnest but dead naive scrubs by bellowing out his Rules –

When writing about shipwrecks – “No bloody fucking ship ever went down to its bloody fucking ‘wet grave!'”

To a stupefied Yank (ok, me) who handed in an article with a lead he was delighted with: “Oh, aren’t you so bloody clever…get that grin off your face and sit down!”

On having a fellow hack yell at us about a plane crash in Lockerbie right as our holiday party in St. Bride’s pub was getting underway: “Oh….this something…had better be nothing…”

On first walking into an American bar and seeing a huge banner advertising “Happy Hour, All You Can Drink – 5 to 7″…..”Oh…you people are so naive….”

When I got back to the States from London in Spring of ’89 I was working on various desks in NYC and around the States and always missed George, but loved hearing George stories being passed around the various bureaux I worked in. I certainly shared lots of stories with a longtime fellow Reuters hack, Oliver Ludwig, who became one of my best friends and with whom I shared many a laugh in bars talking about your Dad. I may even have had the chance to introduce him to George at one point – I can’t remember. I hope I did.

The last thought I’ll share is that since leaving London in 89 I’ve gone back many times and even took my family to live there for 3 years (’99 – ’01). And every single time I’ve gone to London since he died in ’97, I’ve made a stop on my first day to 85 Fleet Street, and then to St. Bride’s next door, drank a beer, sat on those cold stone steps under the wall of names, and relished and cherished the amazing memories, fortitude and joy he gave me and so so many others.

Best Regards, Jeff Swimmer”

“Dabs not slabs”

Peter Mosley

Background is essential but good writers take great care where they choose to place it. Too much background too high in the story is a switch-off for readers; however, a little explanation and context is usually needed quite quickly – is this event a ‘first’?, for instance, or maybe it is a tit-for-tat situation or a court case where a charge needs to be explained briefly. The trick is to weave such ‘instant’ background into the running narrative, rather than interrupt the flow by inserting a whole slab. “Dabs, not slabs,” as the late, great George Short, Reuters Training Editor, used to say. More next week about how to handle in-depth background.

Peter Mosely

Brill, trif, ex, fab…

“Good for the character.”

“Make it sing.”

“Just write what happened. WRITE WHAT HAPPENED!”

“Brill, triff, ex, fab, perf, marv, sup, wiz, hun.”

“Everyone needs a sub.”

“Chicken nothing.”

“Soldier on.”

“Mope not. Doss not. Flop not.” (I particularly remember this from when I was a teenager.)

Back to basics… 2 – the Shout from the Bus

Still on about getting straight to the point (I’m talking about a hard news story here, not a feature), George Short, regarded by many as Reuters finest trainer, used to say, “Imagine you are on a bus and that you have to quickly shout out some big news to a friend as you are driving past – now mentally try that exercise with your story.” It does concentrate the mind. Ask yourself, what is the absolute essence of this story? Have I got it in my intro or is it buried or smothered in too many words?

Peter Mosley