Future of the Press: Bill Hagerty, theatre reviewer for The Sun

In the fourth part of our series looking at the future of the press with board members of the London Press Club (LPC), Gorkana’s Ronan George talks to Bill Hagerty, chairman of the judges for the LPC’s annual awards and  theatre reviewer for The Sun, about the networking opportunities offered by the LPC, the challenges facing modern journalists and Alastair Campbell’s penchant for the bagpipes.

Bill Hagerty

Bill Hagerty

What do journalists want from an organisation like the London PressClub and how has that changed during your time in journalism and at the LPC?

The Press Club, like many others around the world, was once the social hub of press journalism, with its own premises that included a bar, restaurant and, I recall, a full-size snooker table. As a young journalist I was taken along on a few occasions by senior colleagues, the like of whom kept the Club busy until the early hours of the morning and ensured that taxi companies in the vicinity enjoyed very lucrative after-midnight business.

Again in common with almost every other press club, the LPC lost its premises and, as the industry changed, much of its regular clientele. It is a credit to a succession of chairmen and board members that it survived at all. But the spirit of the club remains in what is a very different but again thriving club for journalists from across all platforms. As a powerful brand, it has spectacularly survived – even if members must now look elsewhere for a game of snooker.

What can a journalist, who is considering attending one of the many LPC events, look forward to getting out of the experience?

Convivial company plus a constant programme of events that the old club never even contemplated. With club membership again growing, it offers unsurpassed networking opportunities for young and ambitious journalists.

What does your role with the LPC now involve and what is your favourite part of it?

I was originally recruited as a member to join the LPC Awards panel of judges and I now chair the judges for what is a unique set of awards, much prized through out the news media. It’s a taxing role every year but one I thoroughly enjoy.

In your time as a journalist, what has been the biggest change in the way journalists operate and is this a good thing or not?

New technology has made the trade unrecognisable from that I first entered. And the culture of journalism has changed radically, with 24-hour, seven-day activity curtailing the excesses – mostly alcohol-connected – of the past. A good thing? Of course, in that there must fewer early deaths and broken marriages as a result.

Your career has taken in the editor role at The People, deputy editor for the Daily Mirror, and The Sun’s Theatre Critic. Which role gave you the most satisfaction and what lessons did you learn from each?

I have covered much of the journalism waterfront in my career, but I’m a daily newspaperman at heart and probably most enjoyed my periods as deputy editor and for a while acting editor of the Daily Mirror. As much as I enjoyed my time on Sunday papers, there’s nothing quite like the continual buzz of a daily.

How important are PRs to your work (or have they been?), and how has your relationship with them developed over time?

Public relations is, and always was, important and I have good friends working in PR. But I can’t quite understand the number of journalists who switch careers to work in PR. It should be the other way round!

You know Alastair Campbell very well – does his reputation do him justice?

Having edited all four volumes of Alastair’s unexpurgated diaries, I am now working on a new set. He’s a long-time friend.

Is Alastair a typical member of the PR profession in your eyes? If not, what makes him the exception?

Alastair was a very good political journalist and, subsequently, an inspired director of communications in Downing Street. And he plays the bagpipes. I don’t know anybody in PR with a similar track record.

If there was one rule any PR wishing to contact you should adhere to, what would it be?

First make sure that I am in any way interested in whatever they are trying to promote.

As a critic, are there any reviews that have come back to bite you? And in addition, was there a show or act that only you championed that later became a roaring success?

Over the years I have given thumbs-down reviews to a number of shows that have gone on to huge success. Most critics can say the same, but that doesn’t necessarily make us wrong!

Recently we have seen the loss of The Independent (in print) and The Independent on Sunday. What do you make of the media landscape at the moment? And, looking ahead?

I was sad to see the print editions of the Independents bite the dust, just as I was when the Today newspaper was closed. I worked for both, but then I’ve worked too for most of those that survive. The future has to be for multi-platform production, of course, but making online journalism pay is the trick that no-one has properly solved as yet.

What’s the best piece of advice you received as a young journalist, and what would advise a reporter at the start of their career?

Never stop asking questions.

Bill Hagerty was talking to Gorkana’s Ronan George.

The London Press Club provides opportunities for journalists and others interested in the media to meet and learn of new developments, debate the latest issues and explore our collective past as communicators. It runs a range of regular events from networking drinks, sponsored by Gorkana, to discussions on matters of importance not only to journalism, but to the furtherance and protection of free speech throughout the world.

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