23 October 2007

Pete puts priority on story-getting

A passionate plea for reporters to get out of the office and into the community to dig out stories was made by the latest speaker to grace the guest lecture series held by the Department of Journalism Studies.

Peter Lazenby, veteran industrial correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post, entertained students and staff with a series of telling anecdotes about his 40 years on the road as a reporter.

Picture of Peter Lazenby

Pete has covered everything from a missing parrot in the village of Menston to the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first free elections, and demonstrated he has retained his enthusiasm and love of the job throughout.

He told student journalists they must be prepared to be on duty 24-hours a day and should endeavour to get out of the office and into the pubs, shops and community centres to find the best stories.

“There’s a tendency in modern newsrooms for reporters to be almost chained to the keyboard working the phones or knocking out press releases,” he said.

“But you should be out in the community talking to ordinary people because that’s where the stories are.”

By way of illustration he retold how a scribbled note he spotted on the notice board of a supermarket offering a £200 reward for the return of a missing parrot led him on the trail of a gang of exotic bird rustlers operating an international racket.

One of the highlights of his career was his coverage of the South African elections and he recalled how he was one of the few white faces attending the last rally of Nelson Mandela before the vote took place. He experienced the reality of life in the apartheid state through living amongst the Asian and black communities, he said.

Pete, who is Father of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s National Union of Journalists chapel, urged student journalists to join the NUJ to help protect salary levels.

The chapel was one of the first provincial newspapers in the country to secure £20,000 a year minimum for newly qualified journalists, but he warned that many weekly and evening newspapers paid far less.

Pete reckons he has written between 4.5 million and 9 million words since he joined Wharfedale Observer as a cub reporter in 1967, and on this showing he’s got a few more stories in him yet.