ON Monday night, journalists, friends and a few north London politicians paid a little tribute to Eric Gordon, the boss, the editor of the Camden New Journal for his 80th birthday. Eighty years old and he is still an irrepressible maverick in the editor’s chair. Of course, of course he rumbled the surprise party that had been laid on for him at the Forge in Delancey Street. He hears everything. Those who have tried to outsmart usually come off the worse. But as Howard Hannah, the features editor at the paper, ran through a sort of warm This Is Your Life tribute on a big projector (some of his back story is here in a Press Gazette interview), I think he appreciated the gesture, even if he is such a hard man to please.
Ten years a colleague of his, I spoke briefly on the stage, trying to somehow capture the sometimes bewildering mix of education and frustration his stickler methods will bring any reporter who passes through these offices. When you decide something is not a story – and he says otherwise – he is usually right. He proves it all the time. He suffers few fools.
But he also loves the challenge. Over the years, he has given so many young journalists their first break and almost single-handedly steered them away from churnalism and broken them free from people who insist on pyramid rules of news writing for every article. I’m sure you learn more in your first six months under his gruff tutelage than on a journo course.
Even at 80, his energy is fired. He turned up behind the barricades at the UCL student occupation earlier this year conducting interviews with the protesters. He still gets frustrated if the paper misses something important to the community, thankfully I hope not to often, and he still fights against the that’ll do mentality infecting some quarters of journalism. It won’t do until all of those annoying but important questions of public institutions have been asked. Who? What? Where? Who Knew What When? You won’t get to leave work too early while working for him, there’s always another night job to cover, press nights can run late into the night and maybe the next morning – but the demands he makes often reaps their rewards. His (although I’m not sure he’d like it to be called his, the readers are the owners) paper still finds its way into the national newspaper offices, its stories still get lifted by their news editors, it still wins awards, it still secures winning results on community campaign. Of course, the reporters who have put in the graft and the non-editorial staff who help keep the place running play such important parts, but he has been the crucial guide since the paper was formed almost 30 years ago.
Even those in authority who he has irritated over the years admit admiration. Sometimes it feels like one of those Ealing comedies where the townsfolk try and hold back the mite of the big privatised conglomerates – I’m thinking The Titfield Thunderbolt in which villagers keep their local railway service running after British Rail abandons it. But as he has been trying to press home for years now, smaller can be more beautiful. The starting point is simply that Camden should have a good campaigning newspaper, not to find dividends for shareholders. It’s an almost unique set-up in the current climate.
So on Monday, journalists who have gone on to the nationals, the Standard, the Metro and radio turned up to say thanks. Some, it seemed, have had a little Eric Gordon screech in the back of their heads since they left urging them not to take the easy route to a page lead. Like Gerald Isaaman, another master chronicler of this borough who devoted a career to ensuring excellence at the Ham & High [he had the likes of Salman Rushdie and Michael Foot writing for its books review section while editor], Camden’s history would not have been quite the same without Eric’s contribution. The area thrives on an engaged, committed local press. Long may that continue.