I have enjoyed writing hard copy to tight deadlines ever since I kept a daily diary as a teenager. Nothing concentrates the mind and raises the pulse quite as much as hearing some editor ask at 11am if it is possible to receive 1200 words on some world-shaking story by noon. It is even more challenging if you have to do much of the research in the same timeframe. I foolishly once let slip to the Times obituary editor on the phone that a grand old man had just died. Quick as a coronary came the request: “Could you do his obit by in an hour?” I knew nothing about the guy except I used to play cricket with him – there was a frenzy of research as I wrote.
I remember being phoned by the Daily Mail in a panic because one of our great problem page writers was close to her end and they had nothing about her on file. I slaved to produce 2000 words before they turned off her machines. Luckily, she then made a full recovery and I guess my piece is mouldering away in the grave in her place.
I recall writing a tough piece about the Soham murders from a laptop in Cornwall after being called on my mobile while drinking coffee down the harbour. Some subjects do break your heart. These pressures grow worse when the deadline is thwarted by a cockup.
My piece on the Natascha Kampush affair was fine. But the next commission about a poor child kept as a pig by a couple of human monsters in China was actually lost in email translation even though it was delivered in good time. Always ask editors to confirm they have received your copy – servers sometimes refuse to serve.