Today I met Andrew Gilligan. I’d contacted him last month about interviewing him about his role in the David Kelly saga, and to my delight, he’d suggested I come down to the Standard to meet him and have lunch.
So I hopped down to London (not literally…) today. I’d never been to the Evening Standard which, as I’ve now learned, forms part of the Northcliffe Building in Kensington.
And my, what a grand building it is. The visitor entrance brings you through to a tidy little entrance way, where fresh copies of the day’s Standard, Metro and Lite (all edited here) lie neatly on the table. Andrew was running a little late — he was covering a breaking story — so I had a few moments to take in my surroundings in the waiting area. Looking up and around, my appetite for all things internet was well and truly whet — a big screen displaying snapshots of Associated Northcliffe Digital’s finest online offerings was on rotation.
I was impressed. Humbled, even. After all, having made some great progress with university media at Lincoln (founding The Linc) and my reasonable success with this blog, it’s easy to forget just how minute one single journalist is in this vast media world. I’ve never assumed otherwise, but today was a reminder that even media small-fry are plenty of rungs up the ladder from me, and will be for quite some time.
Thing is, I wasn’t even in the proper building yet. I was ushered upstairs by a security guard (at least… that’s what I assume he was…) into the main area. Restaurants, trees… fountains. Walk into that building as a journalist and try not to feel inspired — I challenge you.
I was taken up to the Standard newsroom by a woman named Liz. This was the first person at the paper I had come in contact with so, wanting to appear keen, I attempted some form of related chat.
“This…er…. this place… fantastic!” I managed, sounding like I hadn’t quite grasped how to speak, let alone be a journalist.
Liz sat me down at Andrew’s desk. I took a while to peer around the newsroom — by far the biggest I’ve been in so far . I don’t know if this is the norm with all large newsrooms, but half way across the room is a massive digital clock, like the sort you’d find at train stations, ticking away. Sure, you’ve seen one clock you’ve seen them all, but I imagine that come deadline time (of which there are three a day!), that clock clatters the back of your head, making that noise you hear inbetween scenes on 24. Chu-chunk! Chu-chunk! Aaahhh!
The newsroom was decorated with all sorts of digital gadgetry, including what looked like a rather sophisticated subbing and layout chart that I couldn’t make head nor tail out of. Thankfully, I won’t have to.
Andrew arrived from his story at about 2pm. He took me around the building, through the Daily Mail offices which, for some reason, were a lot more friendly looking than I imagined. It felt odd. At that moment I was among a group of journalists that I constantly disagree with — often very strongly. I could sit at my computer all day and say “this is crap, that was wrong” etc, but yet when actually there, I would have found it difficult to even take the mick out of someone’s tie.
I tried to spot some recognisable faces, but didn’t manage.
We headed out the building to have some lunch. A brisk walk around Kensington (for it was the coldest day since the Ice Age) led us too a cracking little restaurant, and Andrew and I discussed a whole range of topics, mainly focused around the Hutton Inquiry.
He was refreshingly frank with me about the whole affair. He expressed regret at some aspects of what had happened, such as the wording of his answers on the Today show. Given another chance, he said, he would certainly have pre-recorded the segment that caused the uproar.
Most interesting, I thought, was how he said the BBC reacted. Although he was never pressured to leave, Andrew felt that, seeing as the likes of Greg Dyke had resigned, he just had to go, even if it did appear to be an admission of guilt. Which, he stressed, it wasn’t. He saw no future at the Beeb. In his words: “I didn’t want to be the BBC’s highest paid traffic reporter.”
He doesn’t feel responsible for David Kelly’s death, and accepts it was suicide (rather than murder, as it has been suggested, at least between some lines of newspapers). I get the sense, though, that it has taken Andrew a while to swallow that thought.
On the subject of the BBC, Andrew worries that too many people in high positions have come from the producer route, rather than the journalism route. He poked fun at the all too common scene of some hapless reporter stood outside a building at half past ten telling us all that, amazingly, nothing really has happened since this afternoon.
We spoke about a lot more, but I’m going to perhaps save that for another time.
After lunch, we headed back to the newsroom. At this point I wondered how Andrew manages to actually write any copy. His piece in the Standard today was no small effort — especially when considering the delicate subject matter.
I’m absolutely delighted to say that following our lunch, Andrew has invited me back to the Standard in the new year for some work experience. Of course, the opportunity to work alongside one of the finest investigative journalists in the country is one I couldn’t possibly turn down.
I’d like to publicly thank Andrew for inviting me to London today.