“Don’t get me wrong,” says Colley, a tad agitated for some reason. “What they do is only massive, it’s humongously important. But it’s a thankless task all the same.”
“What who do?” I ask.
“The lads who decide what goes into the papers every morning,” he replies, tapping the newspaper in front of him before taking another glug of his pint. It’s open and spread out on the bar counter – the newspaper I mean, not the pint of course – and he has it perched on a mound of newspaper supplements beside his creamy pint of stout.
“Oh,” I say. “Yeah. Of course.”
Yes indeed. Blessed be the newspaper editors, the agenda-setters and fact-checkers and cutters and pasters, the traditional information gatekeepers at the very heart of the traditional mainstream mediasphere. The people who decide what does and doesn’t go into our newspapers every day.
“I mean to say,” he continues, “they work long hours for shite pay, sometimes nothing more than the minimum wage. Long hours, zero-hour contracts – it’s a feckin’ disgrace is what it is.”
“Really?” I didn’t think newspaper editors were that hard done by.
“So you can’t blame them when they miss something, can you?” he says.
“No, I suppose not,” I reply.
I notice his paper is open on the puzzles page, the Killer Sudoku already done and the cryptic crossword half-completed.
“Sometimes, though,” he says after another glug, “what you notice first isn’t what they put in but what they’ve left out.”
“Who? Newspaper editors?” I ask. Are we about to have another one of Colley’s conspiracy theories?
“Ah no,” he replies. “I mean the lads and lasses behind the counter.”
“At the till, you know? In the local corner shop. In the Spars and Centras and Londises of this world.”
“You’ve lost me there.”
“Them poor sods whose first job of the day, in all weathers and when it’s hardly even daybreak, is to sort the papers. Them staff, I mean, as opposed to the people who are – I dunno – spreading the butter and marge on the rolls and sambos at the deli counter at that time in the morning.”
“Oh. Gotcha,” I say, unconsciously echoing a Sun headline. “Mind you, I wouldn’t buy a paper that often these days.”
“Me neither. It’s all online, isn’t it? Except Saturdays. I always get the Guardian of a Saturday, come rain or shine, The Manchester Guardian as me Da used to call it. But then when you get home, it’s always missing one of the main sections. Only last Saturday I came home, a big fat Guardian under me arm, put on the breakfast, switched on the kettle, opened the paper and there’s bits of a Daily Telegraph inside! A feckin’ Telegraph glossy magazine, by the right-wing gobshites at the Daily Telegraph, where the Guardian one shoulda been. And the Guardian’s listings magazine was missing too. You see the Weekend magazine and the listings magazine always come together in a plastic bag, so they were both AWOL.”
“So what did you do, Colley? Bring it back to the shop?”
“Did I heck. No point. They’d only tell you ‘It never came from England this morning’. Or ‘The weather recently was terribly inclement’, or ‘It’s the fallout of the air traffic controllers’ strike over France’, or ‘U-boats in the Irish Sea’. Or “They’ve stopped doing that supplement you know’, or ‘Easons didn’t deliver it’.”
(Slight aside: Easons is Ireland’s largest chain of bookstores. It’s also a wholesale distributor of publications through various subsidiaries and joint ventures. A distant cousin works in its newspaper and magazine distribution business, Eason News Distribution I think it was officially called. But then it merged with an operation owned by John Menzies in the UK to create a new joint venture called EM News Distribution. But everyone from media experts to the local corner shop to my cousin Derek still refers to this new crowd as plain ‘Easons’.)
“Maybe it was a simple mix-up,” I suggest. “They just put this lot of supplements in that paper, and that lot of supplements in this paper, the wrong way round like.”
“I know. So some dozy c*** decided…”
“You can’t say dozy c***. I’m recording this for radio.”
“Shit, sorry. OK, some dopey eejit then – badly paid and treated like shite, admittedly, and still half asleep at half six in the morning but he’s still a dozy gobshite – can’t manage to put this magazine into this paper and that magazine into that paper, the dozy f***? Fine. But what I want to know is, how come there’s some feckin’ Telegraph reader arsehole out there who keeps getting my magazines every Saturday, but can never bother his arse to bring them back to the shop? And d’you know what really really gets me about the Irish editions of the English papers, the lying thieving gits?”
I’m expecting him to say the mad price of the Saturday Guardian nowadays, or how half the supplements end up in the green bin unopened and unread, or the racist bile that’s peddled by some tabloids these days, or…
“It’s when they say ‘SPECIAL READERS OFFER’ on the front cover,” Colley continues. “Or ‘FREE FLOWER SEEDS INSIDE’ and say ‘See page eight’. So you turn to page eight and what does it say there, at the very bottom, in tiny print?”
“It says ‘Not available in ROI’. Quick enough to take your €3.50 for the Irish edition, and then they tell you that. ‘Not applicable to ROI’. Or ‘Free Delivery – Mainland only’. Or whatsit Amazon.co.uk is always telling you? “This item does not ship to Ireland.”
Mainland only. The ultimate slur.
(To be continued – and don’t ask what the plate of chowder from Bongo Ryans is doing at the top of the page. I just needed something fishy.)