It’s hard, as a former local newspaper reporter, not to have rather conflicting emotions when it comes to the humble nib*.
Those whose job it has been to scrape together the damn things minutes from deadline as the subs cry out for more copy would happily never hear the dreaded word again, least of all from the mouth of a news ed desperate to get that last page away.
But deep down I’ve got a lot of love for the nib. Although often inconsequential, sometimes little more than a stream of parish notices racked up the side of the page for the sake of style and story count, these small items of news – rarely more than three sentences long – can sometimes contain the magical amongst the mundane.
Earlier this month, while in the pub idly perusing one of our local papers over a quiet pint, I stumbled across this intro to a nib at the bottom of a rack on something like page four or five:
A MAN was charged £80 for a mop by a gang cold calling at homes in Folkestone
There really was nothing more to the story than that. Some poor sod in my home town had paid £80 for a mop, tragedy and comedy beautifully entwined in just 17 words. I can’t remember a single thing about any other story in that entire edition, but that nib will stay with me for a long time.
Now I fully understand and accept this makes me sound like a desperately sad case, and I won’t even attempt to deny it. I may be lacking in a number of traits, but self-awareness is not one of them. After all, here I am writing about nibs on a Saturday afternoon and there’s simply no way of dressing that fact up.
But it gets worse. My name is Rhys Griffiths, and I have a favourite nib of all time.
Yes, yes, I hear absolutely no one clamouring, but what was this 60-word slice of journalistic genius? Well I can’t recount it word for word, particularly since the cutting in question is where it’s been for the last four years or so – stuck up above my desk in the newsroom. Let’s just say it told a fantastic tale of how rival groups of bearded priests battled it out with fists, brooms and iron rods during the cleaning of the Church of the Nativity.
Never have two sentences painted such an evocative picture and yet, since nibs tend to carry no byline, the identity of the author remains a mystery to me. Whoever you are, I salute you.
So for a number of years this particular nib has held sway, unchallenged in my affections until last month when this gem appeared in one of our local papers:
What is there not to love about this story? So much brilliance in so few words. I love the fact the rumour was ‘quashed’, I have nothing but admiration for the reporter who took the time to ring every pub by that name on the patch, and the landlord’s quote is simply a master class in understatement. “Sure to bring in the punters”? Well it beats a meat raffle any day of the week.
(On a side note, ‘quashed’ is a fine example of journalese, that wonderful language used only by hacks. A prize – likely some old tat knocking around in my desk draw – to anyone who can provide concrete evidence of a real person using the word ‘quashed’ in conversation.)
Now I’m sure some of the usual moaners will decry this nib as another example of why the local press is in decline, but they’d be wrong. Give me stories about Ringo Starr hosting a quiz night at the Dog and Duck or Simon Cowell running the karaoke down the Crown over a rehashed press release every time. And I like to think the paper provided a public service by running the Macca nib, since there’s every chance it was used as evidence to settle a barroom bet about a former Beatle playing at the boozer down the street.
And so ends my paean to the nib. I shall leave you with a quote from a website called JournoWorld, which gives hints and tips to cub reporters starting out in the business. “Do not be too quick in sending your nibs over. The last thing you want is to give the impression that you always have some nibs that are ready to write.”
Wise words indeed. But if you happen to have a favourite or just downright bizarre nib you’d like to share then please do let me know. I promise I won’t ask for too many more – well, at least not until the subs start bawling in my ear.
*That’s news in brief for those of you not up on the jargon of the newsroom. And also for a now-legendary colleague who somehow managed to qualify as a senior reporter without discovering the meaning of the word.