As part of his training materials, George created an entire country called the Delta Islands. Trainees had to visit these fictitious sunny islands to cover all sorts of events, most memorably, a military coup to oust its “playboy president” Nero Belsac.
The Delta Islands even had a flag:
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?
I was 22 and in the middle of my first “live” appearance on television at Reuters. I’d been shoe-horned into a tiny room and left to talk about Alan Greenspan’s appearance before the US Congress. I was going great guns – until an arm shot round the door and squirted me with cold water. It was George Short.
Thankfully, that was only a training exercise. But like countless things I learnt from George during my seven years at Reuters, it’s held me in good stead. That dousing was nothing compared to the perils of reporting live from Oxford Street during half term.
Every budding journalist should have a George. He was training editor at Reuters news agency for years. He’d devise mock trials for us to report on and fictional coups in West African dictatorships. But George didn’t just teach me to write. He also taught me to drink, swear when necessary and generally hold my own with hardened hacks. When I was delivered into his care, I’d gone from convent to Cambridge to the Bank of England. But George soon made it clear he had no truck with fancy Oxbridge types. He put some rough edges on me – I would have been eaten alive without them in the newsroom.
George was from the old school of journalism, the one where grammar, drinking and accuracy, and drinking, featured heavily. He taught me the thrill of chasing a story and the sheer delight of writing. He talked of pieces being made up of pots of colour – a dab here, a dash there. I learnt so much from George until he died in 1997. One of the most memorable things was a technique he taught us – to grab the best space at the bar. It involved a complicated system of categorising drinkers as lions and zebras. But perhaps the most useful piece of advice was on writing. I can still hear his voice as I’m composing my scripts: “Make it sing.”
Jenny Scott is co-presenter with Andrew Neil of The Daily Politics on BBC2
Many people have sent me photos and memories of George during the last ten years since he died, and it has always been my intention to set up a website and try in some small way to create a suitable on-line memorial. However, whenever I have sat down to design such a site, and started to rummage through my boxes of papers, photos and videos, I have always become so daunted by the task, or so overwhelmed by the flood of memories, that I have never got started. In any case, George had such an unbelievably wide and positive influence on so many people that it seems inappropriate that his on-line memorial should be the work of one person.
George died in 1997, just as the web was gaining popularity. With his outstanding writing skills, and his uncanny ability to master new fields, George would have made an incredible contribution to the on-line world had he not died at such a young age (only 58). As it is, George’s outstanding career and influence was not documented in any web-accessible fashion, and most of the photos and memories are still in paper-only form. This site is my attempt to put this right and start something that will slowly grow into the web-presence he deserves.
If you knew George, have any memories or photos to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post them up.