Kevin Maguire gave his first lecture as Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Sunderland this week. SRNews Reporter Clarissa Murphy met him to talk about news, pubs, the war in Syria and how an After Eight mint was the catalyst for his favourite ever story.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor and political columnist at The Daily Mirror. With many successes under his belt, Maguire served as chief reporter at The Guardian and worked for The Telegraph and the Press Association. A proud North-Easterner, he is a Black Cats fan and the new visiting professor of journalism at the University of Sunderland.
What did you want to do as a child? Did you always want to be a journalist?
Well, I toyed with a few ideas like most people do. I thought about being a pilot and a police officer but then, when I was at sixth form, I thought I fancied doing a bit of journalism. I was familiar with papers and magazines and found it fun. That is the good thing about journalism, it gives you the right to go and ask questions you would not normally – it is a good fun.
How did you end up working for the Daily Mirror?
Well, we didn’t do media courses back in my day – in the pre-historic period when they were still building Stonehenge. I did a Politics degree at York and applied for 60 jobs. I got one interview and no job! I would say the one that hurt the most was the rejection from the Croydon Advertiser. Following that, I worked down in London for a year, and got on the post graduate course at Cardiff, and after that went to work in Plymouth for three years. Things began to flow and when you open one door it is easier to open the next. I then joined the Press Association news agency and then The Telegraph in 1994. Fortunately, I was in the pub when I heard about a job going at The Mirror. I then spoke to the editor in the pub and got the job.
What is the highlight of your career?
Surviving. Still in a job. You do lots of different stories over the years, some of which get you awards. My favourite was when I helped a waitress get her job back after she was sacked for eating an After Eight on shift at Boots HQ. It is amazing what you can do with a bit of bad publicity and a big company.
Is there anyone you have not worked for which you would like to?
Well I have worked for the Telegraph, The Guardian, The Mirror and news agencies. I used to get offered jobs in TV which I thought about but I was comfortable in print, because I enjoyed it and lacked the drive to change.
Now, I would advise those offered the chance to do both TV and print to do so rather than stick to one news outlet.
What would be your advice to upcoming journalists?
Try different outlets such as TV, print and online. There are so many jobs in TV and, as we all know, newspapers are going down as it is moving to online, so you need to make the most of your opportunities. The more strings you have, and the more experience you can offer, the better. I was just in my comfort zone.
Do you think print will ever disappear?
Print will not go away. There might be fewer papers existing, but there are too many people that do still buy them so they will not totally disappear.
Will you stay at The Daily Mirror for the rest of your career?
I will stay till The Daily Mirror leaves me. There are websites, such as Buzzfeed, which have come along that people do leave print to work for. But I have a great job, as they give me a lot of freedom. I write about politics and I am based at The Commons. The Mirror has been very good to me. I would feel I was betraying them if I did leave.
What do you think is the current position for journalism?
We could be entering a golden age for journalism and journalists. This is because there are people coming through who have all the skills to upload, download and just know how to do these things naturally. And then there are those like myself who have experienced typewriters in newsrooms.
Do you ever find it challenging to write for a paper’s political stance?
My politics are on the left. I write our editorial, so it is not so bad, as I have a voice and input. However, when I worked at the Daily Telegraph (which is very much a right-wing paper), it was very easy to write the straight news stories, but they would never let me near the editorial or opinion pieces. But, in all honesty, I would not have wanted to anyway.
The bit that always pains me as a journalist is that some journalists write things that they do not think are true or right but they are trying to fit in with their paper’s morals.
What do you think of the current situation in Syria?
I am against the bombing in Syria and so is The Mirror. I think it is absolutely crazy. I can’t see how it will improve what is happening in Syria, but it will make us a bigger target. It is utterly counterproductive, but Cameron just wanted his war. Prime ministers get seduced by international events and they see a fight and they want to join it.
What do you think is the way to go with Syria?
There is a kind of boys and toys kind of glamour to dropping bombs and flying, but the truth is Syria is in civil war. It will mean long, painful, slow and patient diplomatic political initiatives which consist of stopping people buying oil from Isis, freezing assets, stopping their flow of money and somehow solving a long bloody civil war, which will involve sitting people together to talk to each other. It happens elsewhere in the world but it will take time. We need more than Captain Cameron firing in.
You’re very big on Twitter, how do you think it aids your work?
Twitter is fantastic. It gives you an independent voice and brand. As a journalist, it is important as once upon a time, if you lost your job you lost your identity.
Do you think online can fund journalism?
Trying to crack that is difficult. The Financial Times have cracked it and I am sure others will in the end. At the end of the day they have to. I am sure people will come up with ways to make money in the end, it is just how much money. If you get a big enough audience you can sell advertising and you will succeed. You have YouTubers now who are making money from all sorts.
Will every paper make money online? No. Will every paper survive? No, but that has been the case for years now.
Do you think this is the best position journalism has been in?
It is exciting and unpredictable. If you are a journalist now you will be better trained and have skills others do not have, because it is changing. There are loads of jobs out there in journalism because it is changing so fast. You can do the lot – TV, radio, online etc.
For too long the whole the debate has been around affordability and circulation of newspapers and that in itself over exaggerated. There is huge growth in newspapers online and the audience is there to be taken. The glass is very much half full not half empty.