It is a brilliant concept - Garth Gibbs, The Independent
Books about journalism
(that everybody should read)
By Garth Gibbs (The Independent, November 2008)
The newest genre in the frantic world of book publishing – books by journalists, for journalists, and about journalism – has already been dubbed ‘hack-lit’.
Mike Molloy, when editing the Daily Mirror, once remarked that half of his staff had written the first five chapters of their great novel – and that the other half had written the first chapter of five great novels.
So what is hack-lit? It is a brilliant concept. Revel Barker, a former Mirror Group managing editor who runs a website for old Fleet-Streeters called GentlemenRanters.com, started his own ‘macro-publishing’ outfit in spring this year.
Barker had read and enjoyed a book published 25 years earlier called Forgive Us Our Press Passes and persuaded the author, former freelance newspaperman and broadcaster Ian Skidmore, to double its original length. Barker agreed to publish it himself and promote it on his website.
Within weeks, it was in the top ten of Amazon’s best-sellers list.
Skidmore, who has published 25 books, was amazed by the impact of Forgive Us Our Press Passes. ‘I am prouder of it than any [other] I have ever done. New and splendid artwork, very professional publicity material, with pictures, sent to every media outlet in Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, North Wales and East Anglia, a BBC radio interview, as well as a mention on Start The Week.’
Barker’s second venture was to republish The Best of Vincent Mulchrone – described as ‘a lifetime of wit and observation of the folly and splendour of his fellow humans by the Daily Mail’s finest reporter’.
‘I spoke to his son Paddy, a reporter on the Daily Mirror, about royalties and he and his brothers immediately suggested they should go to Leukaemia Research, which is what got Vincent at the age of 54. The Daily Mail, as copyright holder, readily agreed to the suggestion,’ says Barker. Encouraged by its success, he secured permission to republish Cassandra at His Finest and Funniest, a collection from the Daily Mirror’s legendary diary column.
Barker is now awaiting the printers’ proof of his fourth project, Slip-Up: How Fleet Street Found Ronnie Biggs and Scotland Yard Lost Him by Anthony Delano.
‘It is the only book that out-scoops Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. And it has the extra advantage of being true in every detail,’ says Barker. The novelist Keith Waterhouse described it as ‘perhaps the best analysis of Fleet Street at work ever written,’ and The Times said: ‘No journalist can afford to miss this cautionary tale.’
‘All these books were out of print,’ says Barker. ‘They were still being sold, mainly online, by second-hand bookshops but the authors were not getting a penny from them.’
Barker’s view is that these books are classics and that they should never be out of print. ‘There’s an entire generation out there, lots of them probably studying media, who have never even heard of the authors on my list. They should be given the opportunity to read and learn.
‘If the current teachers of journalism know or care for anything about the business, or want to show examples of how it was properly performed, they should be handing these titles out to their students.’
In addition to his reprints, Barker has commissioned two new titles. Liz Hodgkinson is producing a book about the history of women on Fleet Street, and Shan Davies is writing about her experience as a crime reporter on a Sunday tabloid.
‘There are still no clues at all about what the market can stand,’ admits Barker. ‘Journalists are not natural buyers of books, they are more used to picking them up free in the office or blagging them out of a publisher, so we shall have to see...’