'Absolutely no idea,' I tell them. 'Since when did a journalist know anything? Nobody tells me anything. Don't go to the office much. Don't know where the paper's offices are, actually. Look, isn't that a primrose over there? How lovely]'
If they persist, I usually make up a bit of gossip . . .
'Well, apparently MGN actually stands for Malaysian Government Newspapers, and the whole thing is a front for an attempt by the Malaysians to buy their own newspaper in Fleet Street. No, I didn't believe it when I first heard it either . . .'
'No, come off it, what's actually going on?' they say. I often wonder why people ask me questions when they so clearly instinctively distrust my answers. I should be used to it by now. When I wrote for the pre-Murdoch Times, people often wanted to know what was going to happen to the dear old paper. If I had told them the truth - 'Well, actually the Times is going to be bought up by the Sun newspaper and it's going to introduce a sort of up-market bingo and then halve its price,' nobody would have believed me.
Finally, I did pay a visit to the Independent to see how things really were.
'How are things, really, here, then?' I asked Fred.
Fred is not his real name, actually. In fact, 'his' is not his real gender. But she asked me to protect her identity if I should quote her. Him.
'Everyone is writing books,' Fred told me.
'Do you remember when the Independent was started?' said Fred. 'A whole flurry of books came out about the birth of the paper. One about its design, one about the internal politics, one about the personalities . . .'
I vaguely remembered it. I think I had even bought one. I had looked myself up in the index. I wasn't there. I didn't read the book.
'Well, lots of people on the Independent have been kicking themselves ever since that they never wrote a book at the time, so this time round nobody is being left in the lurch. I myself am writing a book called The Battle for the Independent. There's hardly anyone in the building who isn't writing a book. If you go round the office asking people, 'How's the book coming on?', I bet 50 per cent of them will own up to a work in progress.'
I did go round the building. I've got news for Fred. Three other people are writing books called The Battle for the Independent. And one chap I came across in the news room is writing a book called The Battle for the Independent Observer, but he's a bit late with his deadline.
In the art department I met a man who ascribes all the trouble in the newspaper world to the decision by the Independent to change its initial design. He's writing a book called Design and Fall.
'Are you sure you're not just writing the book along those lines to fit in with the snappy title?' I asked.
' 'The battlelines were drawn up',' he intoned into his tape recorder. ' 'There were those who were happy with the Letters Page the way it was, and those who wanted it put on the front page in five different colours, headlined: You, The Reader . . . with a photo of each letter-writer by his letter . . .'. I'm sorry?'
But I had heard enough. In my travels round the office I discovered 17 other books in progress, including one man writing a crime novel set in the paper's editorial department (Spiked]), a woman writing a children's book called Janet and John Buy a Newspaper, a would-be Joanna Trollope engaged on her soft-hearted but agonised novel entitled The Editor's Wife, and a man doing a thinly disguised portrait of Robert Maxwell called Mr Blobby Falls Off His Yacht.
'So, how are things at the Independent?' a man selling the Big
Issue in the street asked me on the way home, and it suddenly occurred to me that the way the Tory government is going, a daily newspaper run by the homeless could be the biggest thing in British journalism five years from now.
'I'll give you a piece of free advice, pal,' I said. 'If you want to hit the big time, start writing your book, The Battle for the Big Issue, now.'
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