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Harry Robinson: An appreciation of ex-News Letter news editor

By Sam Butler

Harry Robinson, the former news editor of the News Letter who has just died, was a tremendous mentor and a loyal friend throughout my time as a reporter, deputy news editor and subsequently editor of the newspaper. A generation of trainee reporters, many now holding senior positions in the industry, also benefited hugely from Harry's skills and friendship.

I certainly valued his support and commitment immensely during my time in the editor's chair. While he was a loyal member of the team, Harry didn't pull any punches when he thought I'd made a mistake.

He'd make his point, often forcefully, and then move on with the job in hand. He wasn't one to hold the mistakes of others against them.

I came to value greatly his opinions and judgment. He was a talented "hard news" journalist, who was content to run the News Letter newsdesk, which he did exceptionally well and with great integrity until his retirement. Pursuing news stories was his life. He was also a very private man. Harry had no interest in moving up the editorial ladder. I'd have promoted him, but he wasn't interested. He certainly had the talent and dedication.

Unfortunately, he didn't always receive the respect he deserved from other members of the management team.

My first news editor, Harry readily passed on to me everything he knew about identifying and shaping stories for publication. I learned a huge amount about interviewing, especially over the telephone, and crafting stories from watching Harry in action, telephone clamped under his chin while he tapped the bones of a story on one of the newspaper's clapped-out typewriters.

Harry was relentless in pursuit of a news story and not one to respect position or title. He treated everyone - politicians, police commanders, paramilitaries and others - the same. If he believed they had a good story, he wanted it before other newspapers and broadcasters. He was interested in everything going on in Northern Ireland.

He was a tremendous competitor, who wanted the best stories to appear first in the News Letter, and it didn't matter to him if his name wasn't associated with the piece in the newspaper. Indeed, he probably crafted more front-page 'News Reporter' tagged leads than any other member of the reporting team during the Troubles.

While his forte was security stories, Harry could handle other areas. He was also adept in shaping the human-interest stories he loved.

He'd be the first in to the newsroom in the morning, usually with at least one story to work, and be the last to leave at the end of his shift. He'd also regularly work beyond his shift to find a story that could be used to lead the front page.

Harry Robinson was a talented newspaperman of the old school. I have very fond memories of my time at the old News Letter in Donegall Street with Harry.

I extend my condolences to the family circle.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Harry Robinson will be held today at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church (1pm). Sam Butler was editor of the News Letter from 1983 to 1990

Belfast Telegraph


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