The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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The Life of a Railway Journalist
Philip Marsh
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 they are!
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!