In 1988 I found myself at a career crossroads. I put a small ad in the Irish Times seeking editorial work, hoping to learn on the job.
One of the (very few) responses was from a man I’ll call John, who was running a free newspaper in South Central Dublin (Ireland). He suggested that I might take charge of a new sister publication aimed at North Central Dublin. It seemed like an exciting opportunity, especially as we were to split the profits 50–50.
So, I started work in John’s office on Baggot Street, and began to compile material for the first edition. I went to the National Library to research an article on traditional Dublin signs (my girlfriend and I had been doing signwriting, so signs were on my mind). I went to the new James Joyce Cultural Centre on North Great George’s Street, interviewed its director and took photos. I got a testimonial from a prominent local politician who would do anything for votes. I wrote ad copy and edited press releases. I even devised a crossword: Fred Hanna, a famous Dublin bookseller, gave me a book token for a prize.
And I trudged the streets. The promised sales backup did not materialize; soon nearly all my time was spent in trying to sell ads. I covered every inch of the north inner city (a good walk from Baggot Street) on foot, many times. I sold quite a few ads but, as it turned out, not enough. The first edition came out and covered its costs, but my share of the profits was 50 per cent of nothing.
John was an ideas person: having had an idea, his mind moved on to other things. His office was in the South City business area, and he filled his paper with press releases and photos of smiling people at some launch or other: nothing too deep. The North City, across the Liffey, was grim and down-at-heel in comparison. There was a recession; times were tough and emigration was high. The odds were against me.
We brought out a second edition of the paper; again, there were no profits to speak of. At this stage I’d been working for a couple of months for little or no reward. John and I agreed to abandon the project.
One thing I did gain was a pair of inscribed wedding rings: I made a contra deal with a friendly jeweller whereby he received an ad in exchange. My girlfriend and I got married in July and moved to England in November.
During a job interview at the Institute of Metals, I produced copies of the two editions of the free newspaper. The interviewers were impressed (unduly, I thought). I got the job. That was where my editing career really started.
And I’m still wearing the wedding ring.
Did your editing career have a rocky beginning? Share your stories below.
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