Newsman was a calm force

November 26, 2016

Bill McCarthy 80th birthdayat the Sherbourne TerraceNora and Bill McCarthyShepparton News on 28/08/2014 CAPTION: Bill McCarthy 80th birthdayat the Sherbourne TerraceNora and Bill McCarthy

Someone who works well under pressure and copes in a high-stress environment is a standout.

In fact, their calm and moderation is almost an irritant to the rest of us who struggle with work-place demands and find ourselves jumping when we should be still and speaking out when we should be reflecting.

This week I paused to remember the disarming calmness and focus of a former colleague, Bill McCarthy, who died on Tuesday.

Deadlines pressing, phones calling, priorities changing, colleagues interrupting, Bill was able to manage his way through the demands of daily journalism with remarkable aplomb.

He was hard to rattle, but just occasionally, when someone tried unconvincingly to manipulate logic to their own end, or tried to persuade him that black was white, he would present a quizzical face, and you just knew that something important was coming.

The response, usually delivered with questions, would break down the rhetoric, the flimsy argument, or the superficial and unconvincing story presented by the hapless young journalist.

Bill developed his craft in small-town newspapers in the country, belting out stories on manual typewriters, where you were so close to your readership that you couldn’t get away with lazy journalism or sloppy writing.

You would bump into your contacts in the street, or on the tennis court the next day.

Bill also had a meticulous eye and a respect for the English language, which served him well as a journalist and was ideal in his role as sub editor.

While writing ‘‘history in a hurry’’ as some media pundits describe the job, a tendency can develop to gloss over the detail and fail to challenge the status quo.

Bill battled to avoid this trap and in his role as chief of staff at The News, Bill taught many of us the benefits of digging a little deeper.

As the ‘‘traffic cop’’ of the newsroom, directing staff to particular stories, and determining which stories made it into print, Bill would often give written instructions to his reporters, setting out what he thought was the real story in the issue, and describing what questions they could ask and who they could talk to.

He grew intimately acquainted with local government procedure and machinations, so much so that councillors would occasionally seek out his private opinion on issues as they developed, and he had a good memory accompanied by good research skills, which irritated quite a few politicians when they were challenged.

While Bill, by necessity, had a highly refined rubbish detector, he never let cynicism rule his life, and he was also prepared to take new people at face value.

His close relationship with readers ensured he had a good sixth sense about what made a good story, and never felt the need to exaggerate when simple story telling would do the job.

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