Meet the Media

Alistair Bushe is Regional Editor for the Portadown Times, Lurgan Mail and Ulster Star – three Johnston Press weekly titles.  His reporting career began in the Ulster Star (1997-2005) before continuing at the News Letter and Portadown Times, which he has edited since 2007.

How did you get into journalism?
I owe my break to my predecessor as Portadown Times editor, David Armstrong. I was in the middle of doing the NCTQ journalism course at the old Rupert Stanley building off the Ravenhill Road in 1997 when my work caught David’s eye. He was taking a class on a Friday afternoon and fortunately enough he was looking for someone to cover sport over the summer. I obviously did okay over those few months because when a trainee position came up in the Ulster Star that September, David recommended me to the editor there, David Fletcher.

Who have been your main mentors?
Four spring to mind.
David Armstrong firstly. His attention to detail and his absolute insistence on accuracy was drummed into every reporter. At times, you may have thought he was being trivial but his standards were relentlessly high and every telling-off you got as a young reporter was ultimately for your own good.
David Fletcher, my editor at The Star, was another superb weekly editor. He had a great eye for a story. When I started in Lisburn in September 1997, I knew little or nothing about news reporting but David developed my talent and pointed me in the right direction.

During my period at the News Letter, I was lucky enough to work under news editor Jackie McKeown. Jackie lives and breathes news – morning, noon and night. When she was leaving for another post, I remember her telling me my writing had been dull over the previous few weeks. I huffed initially but I knew she was right and a few weeks later she emailed to say I had made some positive changes.
The News Letter editor, then Austin Hunter, was more laid back but he backed his journalists to the hilt. A great boss to work for.

What does your role as deputy group editor involve?
I still maintain the title of Portadown Times editor so that is my main daily responsibility, but I’m also involved in the production of our other titles, particularly my old paper the Ulster Star. At the Portadown Times, I always say we have a small team but I wouldn’t swap them for anyone. The principles of putting together a newspaper remain the same but we are also ‘digital first’ for any significant news event and it must hit our website immediately.

At the minute, we are preparing for the launch of the Johnson Press Newsroom of the Future project, which should be happening around late July or August. It’s going to be a very different way of working. It will be a challenging period but hopefully we will feel the benefits of a system that has worked well in England.

What do you count as your best scoop?
Jeffrey Donaldson’s move to the DUP from the Ulster Unionists back in 2003 stands out. I was fortunate that Jeffrey took me into his confidence about what he was planning to do. I kept it under wraps and we carried the story exclusively in print before anyone else. UTV were a few minutes behind us on their 6pm news bulletin, so it was nice to get such a big national story first.

In your view, what makes a good story?
One that gets people talking and generates debate. The advent of the internet, and breaking news online, has changed the way we think and operate as journalists. Reaction on social media can be used as a barometer by journalists and editors as to what a good story is but it has its drawbacks too. You need to have a thick skin when you read some of the comments on Facebook.

How do you see newspapers developing over the next few years?
It’s no secret that print circulation has been falling and the next few years are going to be critical as newspapers try to meet the demand for instant news. The online media is only going to get stronger and we have to adapt accordingly and continue to break news online as it happens.

We have to make sure newspapers remain relevant in the digital age and having a strong online presence can also help your print product too because there are a lot of young people out there who have never read a newspaper before. Online is a great means of making them aware of us.

What is your advice to someone starting off in journalism?
Be an all-rounder. A lot of people, for instance, only want to cover sport but that’s quite restrictive in terms of your career. I started off with that mindset but I’m glad my editors told me to branch out and be more flexible. It stood me in good stead.

What is the most rewarding part of being an editor?
Picking up an edition of the paper that you are particularly proud of.
Some news weeks are better than others and it’s difficult to beat the feeling of accomplishment when you know you and your staff have covered the big issues well in print.

It’s nice to see one of your stories getting massive hits online but a good print edition still takes some beating.

What are your main interests outside work?
Family and sport. I have two boys, Jacob (three) and Jude (one), who take up much of my spare time now. It’s hectic but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

My sporting passions are cricket and football. I cover local cricket for the News Letter which takes me out of the house over the summer months more than my wife would like. I’ve been involved in the production of two cricket video programmes which has been a new challenge.

Over the winter, I travel across to watch Southampton about three times a season. I’ve been a long-suffering supporter since I was 12 years old but thankfully it’s currently a great time to be a Saints fan.

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