The nightmare of national newspapers

You know what really pisses me off? Not so much when a commissioning editor says no to a pitch (even when you're certain it's ideal for their publication); no, it's when you write a piece, review it, sharpen it, send it, get comments back, rehash it, sharpen it, send it and *then* have to chase them for weeks because it hasn't appeared. They never, ever tell you they're not running the piece you've spent bloody hours working on.

The strange thing is that whenever a commissioning ed actually asks for changes to be made, they usually hate them afterwards.

That's not the only issue with commissioning eds. Although you find incompetence at every level in the media, it strikes me that this strata is streaking ahead. A good number of them are probably wondering how they're getting away with it. Constantly worried about being found out, they decide the best approach is to be so relentlessly unhelpful and arrogant that no one dare question whether they know what the hell they're doing.

I am still gob-smacked by the rejection of a great piece on the story by The Sunday Telegraph magazine. The editor actually approached me asking for it after he'd noticed a piece I'd written in The Guardian. I told him a new angle on it – concentrating on the international multimillionaire con-man at the centre of it, and he liked it. I wrote it and was rather pleased with it.

Then I received a long phonecall with requests for extra information, which I duly provided. Then nothing. I chased, and was then asked for yet more information, which I supplied. Then suddenly I was told he wanted it more like my earlier Guardian piece but updated. So the whole piece was rewritten. Then another long phonecall asking for more snippets of information. Then nothing.

I tried calling and emails and nothing. Eventually I got an email saying the piece was “too much like the Guardian piece” – which I pointed out, rather fairly, was precisely what I had been asked for.

I think commissioning eds just get sick of a piece if they read it more than twice. There rarely seems to be any sense of shaping a piece beyond a one-off total rehash and then the bin.

Mind you, that experience was nowhere near as depressing as having a similar piece on the same subject turned down by men's mag Esquire because “the pictures aren't strong enough”. This was a story about two men fighting each other ownership of the most valuable domain on the Internet. It involves legal battles, gun battles, millions of dollars, scams, private detectives, mansions, drugs, the sex industry and so on and so on – and it's rejected because the pictures aren't nice enough.

Now you know why magazines are so unreadable – no one gives a shit about what the actual content is so long as it looks nice.

I remember The Times spiking a feature of mine on the Internet and the US government. I pitched one story, it was accepted and commissioned. I wrote it in super-fast speed and sent it over. Then it went quiet. I was asked to re-angle the piece into a story which simply did not exist. I did it nonetheless – and then, after yet more chasing, found out that it had been spiked because the very angle I had been asked to recreate out of thin air “wasn't strong enough”.

Another incredible fact: people with no knowledge of a subject decided what they want the story to be, and then spike it if it doesn't turn out how they want it. If you ever wondered how newspapers are often so wildly inaccurate, it is this single process that accounts for a good majority of it.

Even more ridiculously, the very angle they wanted – the United Nations fighting with the US government over control of the Internet – actually happened a fortnight later. I thought I was quids-in. So I contacted The Times telling them the story that they had *wanted* to happen had actually happened. They weren't interested. To their minds, it has already been done.

The same happened again with the Mail on Sunday – same subject. The commissioning ed in that case – a very nice woman – contacted me and was quite honest about what they wanted. “We will want it to be quite scary – we do like to terrify our readers.”

So if you ever wondered about the Mail's approach – there it is in black and white.

I wrote and sent the piece immediately – I had a six-hour deadline from phonecall to finished piece – she got back saying it wasn't fiesty enough, scary enough. I rewrote the piece and sent it… and heard nothing. It didn't appear in the paper, so I chased. I was advised to “hang on in there a while”. When it wasn't published for the third week in a row, I asked for the address to send my kill-fee invoice. Only then was it accepted that the piece wasn't being published. But what is crazy is that the piece is *still* current, the news continues, yet, again, it has been done and covered to the paper's mind – even though the piece was never printed.

It's no wonder I tend not to pitch to the nationals very often – it's just not worth the hassle.