When I started work for The Independent in 2003 as an admin assistant, I was fortunate to have a seat on the newsdesk, next to the “backbench”. This is the hub of a newspaper’s production operation, where many of the decisions about articles’ prominence and placement are made. It was possible for a young oik to pick up things from the news beasts’ slick repartee.
The key figure on the backbench was a softly spoken man, noted for his calm in an industry given to histrionics: the paper’s Assistant Editor, Wyn Harness. He had a measured detachment from unfolding stress, a dry wit and the most infectious smile, when his whole face would wrinkle. I sat six feet away, and he was kind enough to encourage me as I began to find my feet – yet another young journalist he helped to bring on without them realising. One day Wyn didn’t come in. He had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. He died within a year, on 3 October 2007.
As you can probably tell, Wyn made quite an impression on his colleagues and friends. We’re pleased to invite entries for the Wyn Harness Prize for Young Journalists. The competition is open to anyone aged 25 or under who is embarking on a career in journalism, either in training or their first employment. Please spread the word if you know someone who might be interested.
The challenge, in recognition of Wyn’s love of quirkier elements of national life, is to write a news report of between 500 and 700 words about an aspect of British society that rarely makes the headlines. Our winner will receive £1,000, have their work published in i and The Independent, and be offered a two-week placement in our London newsroom. Entries should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 January 2014. The judges will look for style, accuracy and an eye-opening and unusual subject. Good luck. And thanks to all those people like Wyn who help us out when we’re still wet behind the ears.