My Greatest Mistake: 'My only job was to write down the lottery numbers accurately, but they appeared incorrectly'

Donal Macintyre, investigative journalist
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The Independent Online

In the early stages of the national lottery in Ireland, the most important job of any journalist in the country wasn't reporting on the conflict in Northern Ireland. It was all about the results of the national lottery.

In the early stages of the national lottery in Ireland, the most important job of any journalist in the country wasn't reporting on the conflict in Northern Ireland. It was all about the results of the national lottery.

The lottery figures came out in a two-minute bulletin at 8pm on Saturday. My job as a young cub reporter on the Sunday Press, my only forensic job, was to write those numbers down accurately. Unfortunately, the numbers published in the paper the next day were incorrect. There was a great deal of consternation among those who thought that they had won the lottery and those who certainly had won the lottery but wondered why I had taken their millions away from them.

The phones did not stop ringing the following day, and I'm not saying that I contributed to the demise of the newspaper, but within about three years it had closed. I can't help thinking in a guilty moment that getting the lottery figures wrong would have cost the newspaper hundreds of thousands of readers.

I received a rollicking from a guy called Dermot MacIntyre, who was no relation, but it was made worse as everybody thought he was.Swearing was normal in the newsroom, and I was on the receiving end of it.

I did go on to produce a follow-up that was perhaps the second-greatest mistake in my journalistic career. It was to assistant-produce a documentary on the launch of the English national lottery, for BBC1. It started off as an exposé of the lottery as a gambling tax and a terrible infliction on the poor.

My idea got canned and was resurrected as How to Win the Lottery with Jonathan Ross. So instead of making a hard-core documentary, the BBC decided to turn it into light entertainment, which in retrospect was very amusing. Some may feel my journalism never recovered.

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