The Life of a Railway Journalist
9 October 2006
Phil joined the Railway Magazine after 33 years
working on UK's railways, and he still does three weeks a year with the
West Coast Railway Co. servicing the Scarborough Spa Express.
When he spoke to the Group on 9th October, the November edition had
just been issued - you will recall this was the LNER souvenir edition.
When this had been planned 6 months previously, it was realised it would
be tough to get it produced during September, which is a "short month"
(only 30 days). What wasn't planned is that the editor went off to Tibet
and the rest of the team was involved in getting the special Virgin
record-breaker train organised! It is a tribute to the team that they
managed to succeed in all these tasks. The Virgin event came out of the
blue. The company telephoned the Railway Magazine office to see if they
would partner the Glasgow-Euston run. Initially they were asked to sell
only part of the seating, but as it turned out, all 400 available seats
were snapped up within 18 days. The Railway Magazine editorial staff of 5
people were responsible for taking all the bookings by telephone - a
disruptive process when trying to concentrate on putting the magazine
together. However, raising £36500 for charity was a great success.
Nick Pigott, has been the editor for 12 years, the only other
full-time staff being the Deputy Editor, Chris Milner, and Designer,
Paul Bickerdyke. Phil and Brenda Brownjohn, the other editorial
assistant, are both part-time.
During a typical day, the office receives 50 to 60 e-mails, various
press-releases (some of them pretty wacky - like self-cleaning carriage
loo seats!) and 30 photographs submitted by post. All of these require
quick decisions on whether they should be used. Phil gave some tips to
erstwhile photographers on how to get past this stage, viz: be selective
(only provide your best one or two shots, not hundreds of them!); give
detailed captions (location, date, time, train destination); include
your name and address; and don't adjust the photograph on a computer
before sending it. The latter is particularly important in these days of
digital photography - the magazine designer is much better than you at
allowing for publication ink tones, and he can deal with virtually
anything other than drastic over-exposure or out-of-focus shots -
providing they are newsworthy.
Publication deadlines are much shorter than they used to be. When
John Slater joined, there was a 6 to 7 week lead time between getting
the copy ready and distributing the finished copy (that explains why the
early editions of the magazine reported "news" that was several months
prior to the cover date. Now, the copy is signed off the day prior to
printing and distribution. Some of the articles, of course, can be
prepared well in advance. An example was the "Grantham Crash", the idea
for which came when the son of the station inspector contacted the
magazine with documents taken from the station at the time of the crash
and held in the family ever since. This material was followed up and the
article prepared over several months of careful research. This is also a
good example of how the magazine has become an authoritative source,
but even so, there is still room for readers to add extra information -
which several did following the "crash" article and their comments
featured in a following edition. Another good lead came when a contact
told them of his encounter with the niece of Sir William Stanier, the
result of which was the article that appeared in the February edition
which Phil authored.
Phil gave us an overview of the backgrounds of the regular
contributors, all of whom will be familiar names to you. Surprisingly,
some of them have never visited the magazine offices and the office
doesn't even have a home address for one of them - what a bashful lot
The circulation of the Railway Magazine continues to grow. Currently
there are around 13,000 subscribers with a total circulation including
newsagent and shops sales of some 33,000 copies per month. This is 15%
up over the last 2 years. The average age of the readership is 59, which
may sound old - except their main competitor has an average reader's
age of 65. I refuse to disclose what the average age of our audience
was, but we could do with a bit of new blood!