Belfast Telegraph

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News Extracts started clipping newspapers in Belfast 20 years ago. Back then, two readers worked their way through a pile of newspapers.

Today, the organisation employs 15 people in Belfast and reads for more than 150 clients. Since that day, November 22, 1986, they have read more than 135,000 newspapers. To celebrate News Extracts' 20th birthday today, we have asked some of Northern Ireland's top journalists to recall their most memorable stories from the last 20 years

Noel Thompson, BBC Newsline and Hearts and Minds presenter. He first darkened the doors of BBC Northern Ireland in 1979

I was presenting Good Morning Ulster on the Twelfth of July 1998, at the height of the Drumcree protests. Between seven and eight o'clock we were running the story of the death of the three Quinn children in a fire at their home in Ballymoney. At eight o'clock the police officer in charge told us live on air, and without any warning, that the fire had been caused by a petrol bomb, and it was now a sectarian murder inquiry. This was an extraordinary development. The programme's running order was thrown out the window.

It was one of those programmes which became more and more emotional, with contributors expressing their horror, and exchanging accusations about the motive and perpetrators. Sometimes, as political rhetoric flew, it seemed that they were losing sight of the fact that three little brothers had been murdered. I recall the last word came from Monica McWilliams a few seconds before we went off air, when she told the Orange protesters that on a day marked by such tragedy, they should go home to their families. At that moment it felt like very good advice.

Donna Traynor, BBC Newsline. She has been a journalist for 21 years and joined the BBC in 1989

August 1994. The IRA had given details of a ceasefire to the BBC's security correspondent, Brian Rowan. I rushed into the Radio Ulster studio and prepared to read a newsflash.

I was to be the first person to make the announcement public and since we were expecting an IRA statement that day, I had a TV crew for company.

When the green light cleared me to broadcast, I read the words that have been used in so many history programmes since then.

'The IRA has announced that as of midnight, August the 31st, there will be complete cessation of military operations ? '

I was so aware of what was being broadcast and the enormity of what was being stated after a quarter of a century of death and violence.

Paul Connolly, deputy editor of the Belfast Telegraph

From 18 years in journalism, two stories come prominently to mind. Firstly, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6, 1997.

I was sent to London to cover the death and funeral of Diana for the Belfast Telegraph and it was a humbling experience to be present in Westminster Abbey where, almost literally, the eyes of the world were focused.

History was being made around me.

Fast forward to 2005, and, under my direction, the Belfast Telegraph launches a campaign called Herceptin: Time For Action, demanding that all suitable early stage breast cancer patients in Northern Ireland be given the life-saving drug immediately. After a short battle, the Government backs down, and the lives of several dozen Ulster women are saved or prolonged by this important new drug.

Two types of news - one the simple recording of history, the other the achieving of change through campaigning.

Mark Simpson, former Belfast Telegraph reporter and now North of England Correspondent for BBC News

It was one of the most significant days in Northern Ireland's history and I was in a makeshift media hut outside Stormont sipping cold coffee, and trying desperately to stay awake.

Suddenly my BBC mobile phone started ringing. It was Jeffrey Donaldson.

I knew him well. During my days as a political correspondent at the Belfast Telegraph I'd written a profile of him, and revealed, among other things, how as a boy he had rebelled against the quality of his school dinners (now we know where Jamie Oliver got the idea from).

Anyway, this was the day of the Good Friday Agreement and Jeffrey was phoning to reveal he was part of another rebellion - he had just walked out of the talks at the last minute.

I dropped the phone.

Admittedly this was probably due to exhaustion after covering the all-night negotiations rather than shock at his decision.

Nonetheless, it was an important twist on an historic day.

It was the moment I realised - in spite of the widespread euphoria - that it was too early for the media huts at Stormont to be decommissioned.

Nick Garbutt, former deputy editor of the Belfast Telegraph

For me the story has to be President Bill Clinton's first visit to Northern Ireland on November 30, 1995. Within minutes of touching down at Aldergrove the day took on a dream-like quality with the president stopping his motorcade in order to buy a bunch of flowers for his wife from Violet Clarke's greengrocers on the Shankill. Soon afterwards there was a "chance meeting" on the Falls when Gerry Adams just happened to be strolling past as the Clintons nipped into McErlean's bakers.

Later on he addressed thousands of us outside the City Hall before switching on Belfast's Christmas lights.

It was a magical day made even more special by Clinton's extraordinary charisma.

We worked far into the night producing a special morning edition of the Telegraph. It felt like the end of an era - and for me, it was. It was my last day as a journalist.

Paul Clark, anchor on UTV's flagship news programme

As soon as I heard about the Omagh bomb I headed straight for the news room in UTV. In situations like this, you act instinctively as a journalist. You don't wait to be asked to go to work! The following week I fronted the programme each evening from Omagh, reading out the litany of names of those who had been buried that day. I memorised each one!

The next Saturday, we broadcast the open-air memorial service from Omagh.

Afterwards, I took a walk along the banks of the river Strule.

A man said to me: "Welcome to Omagh." I thanked him, but replied that I would rather not have been there.

This was because of the circumstances which had brought me to the town in the first place.

He said he understood, but added that he was "glad" to be here, because he had been in the town centre the previous Saturday.

Ken Reid, UTV political correspondent

After the Good Friday Agreement the negotiations were fraught with tension, mistrust and sheer suspicion. David Trimble and Seamus Mallon may have been in office as First and Deputy First Minister for a time, but a bright new dawn for the political process was still some way off.

With the institutions suspended in October 2002, after the Stormontgate affair, the governments still planned for an election in May 2003.

Working in London, I was covering complex negotiations between the Prime Minister, Trimble and Gerry Adams just weeks before the planned vote.

It was assumed the election would go ahead as the Dublin government considered it was vital to keep the process on course. However, my sources were telling me something different.

In a live two-way I was able to break the story the election was postponed.

It was a good scoop. Many leading political figures and senior Irish government officials told me the story was wrong. Next day in Downing street the Prime Minister confirmed the story. It was nice proving so many people wrong.

All hacks love a scoop and respect their competitors when they come up with the goods.

Ivan Little, former Belfast Telegraph and Downtown journalist, now UTV

Nothing sends a shudder down my spine quite like the day I stumbled into the hell that was Sean Graham's bookies shop on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in 1992.

I have, of course, covered other massacres like La Mon, the Shankill, Greysteel, Omagh, Enniskillen and Loughinisland.

But for the most part, I arrived on the scene long after the event. But I had been driving past the bookies when I saw the terror unfold and I witnessed sights inside and outside the shop which I pray I will never see again.

It was a full 15 minutes before any other journalists arrived on the scene. A rival broadcaster congratulated me and my cameraman on our "scoop".

It was all I could do not to punch him. Whatever else the Ormeau Road was that day, it was not something to celebrate.

Maureen Coleman, Belfast Telegraph journalist

One story which stands out is the death last year of George Best and the subsequent coverage of his funeral. In his final year, I wrote numerous accounts of his illness and decline and though I only met him once, shared that sense of loss that people across Northern Ireland felt at his passing.

On the morning of his funeral, a freezing, rainy day in December, I stood outside the Best family home in Burren Way with hundreds of mourners.

I was there to cover the first stage of the funeral proceedings and like so many others, was touched at the dignity shown by the Best family, particularly George's elderly father Dickie. This was a moment in history and the eyes of the world were upon us.

The camaraderie among the mourners that day will always stay with me - from the people who made me tea while I stood in the street to the football supporters who shielded me from the rain. I felt proud to be from Belfast.

Kate Smith, presenter and reporter, UTV

It was October 24, 1990, and I'd been sent to Derry to broadcast the six o'clock programme from there showing the other side of life in the city, apart from the Troubles.

But midway through the week our plan was dramatically halted.

My phone rang very early in the morning. It was my editor in Belfast saying a bomb had exploded at Coshquin border post and six people were dead.

We raced to the scene and after speaking to local people, who'd been evacuated to a leisure centre, it began to emerge that five of the victims were soldiers and one was a local man ? He had been used as a human bomb.

This was a first ? a human bomb.

Patsy Gillespie had been taken from his home, strapped into the cab of a lorry and forced to drive the massive device to the border where it exploded while he was still in the driver's seat.

We went to his home in Shantallow ? His distraught wife had no confirmation of what had happened to him but that he was missing.

The camera rolled and she sobbed her way through an interview, fearful of the worst, yet desperately hoping her husband would walk through the door.

Never in my days of reporting all kinds of tragedy had anyone had such an effect on an entire television crew.

We packed up, walked to the gate, got in the car and drove in complete silence back to the studio. We'd left a woman struggling with her personal grief in the midst of what we knew was another milestone, another new low in our bloody history.

Our week ended in stark contrast to how it had begun.

Belfast Telegraph

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