Belfast Telegraph

An old pro gives a lesson in spinning out of control

By Liam Clarke

Malachi O'Doherty, now writer-in-residence at Queen's, is currently hosting a series of mid-day talks with journalists from Northern Ireland and last Friday it was my turn.

Malachi and I are of similar vintage, so we bounced stories back and forth in front of a patient audience at BBC's Blackstaff studios.

If you have time to kill, Malachi has put a soundfile of it up on his blog - writerslog.net.

The two of us were legends in our own lunchtime, but neither of us managed to spot a real journalistic legend sitting listening to the both of us chatting away.

It was Roy Lilley, who edited the Belfast Telegraph in the rough years between 1974 and 1993. The paper came out even after it was bombed in September 1976.

Roy got the next year's World Associations of Newspapers' Golden Pen award for his courage.

However, the point he picked up on was the number of Press officers and spin-doctors at Stormont, who may well outnumber the province's working journalists.

Roy told me he started as the Tele's Political Editor in 1961, 50 years before I got the job.

"There were three Press officers in the whole of Stormont then," he told me and, of course, the old Stormont got by with 52 members, where we need 108 MLAs.

Could there be a lesson there?

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