It’s true I didn’t have to negotiate a crowd of photographers blocking the way to my opening day in charge of the first newspaper I edited.
Neither as I stepped into the newsroom was I potentially preoccupied with the problems of my parliamentary constituents from my other day job or still hankering to play a major role in Brexit.
But did George Osborne arrive at his editor’s desk to find the computer had been removed or be met by general indifference from a roomful of journalists loyal to the person they had assumed would be the next person in the chair?
The first day taking over as editor of any newspaper is a conflicting time. It’s one of great excitement, for me the culmination of many years work, securing the job I’d worked towards for more a decade. (I think George probably had ambitions in other areas).
There’s also the trepidation of assuming that top job and leading a team of talented, but diverse and never easily satisfied journalists. I, at least, had years of living and breathing the unique atmosphere of newsrooms to call on. I’m not sure glorified work experience on the Daily Telegraph diary pages a few years back amounts to quite the same thing, though Mr Osborne has of course seen it from the other side having been grilled by the toughest names in the industry.
I understood, or at least had some insight into their psyche; their rituals. What they considered important; being honest with readers, sticking up for the little guy, seeing their name on the front page.
The former Chancellor may have steered the country through the odd financial crisis or two but that – as some of the hacks I encountered would be only too happy to point out – doesn’t necessarily qualify him to decide what the best splash for the next edition should be.
The pivotal point of any newsroom day are the conferences. That’s when the crucial decisions are made. What stories are going where, what pictures, have we got that story checked out yet, if not, why not.
I can’t claim I remember much about my first conference. Any ideas I had that I was going to instantly mould this team of disparate talents to my way of thinking was temporarily hampered by the ongoing search to find a spare computer I could actually use.
I’d also made a fatal new boss error of assuming I knew best about what time conferences should take place and found, not surprisingly, that the seasoned professionals who’d been successfully putting out perfectly respectable papers on time for many years didn’t share my view.
Now, with something like 14 years experience of the highs and lows of the top job in editorial, I know that having people you trust and who’ve got your back is vitally important.
In the early days, while relations are still being formed and you and the sceptics are weighing each other up like a pair of opposing prizefighters, the editor’s PA can play a vital role. He or she knows where the bodies are buried, they know the people to be trusted and those the last editor was just one final transgression away from firing.
When I arrived, I didn’t know I had a PA, not that it mattered because she was on a fortnight’s holiday and so I spent those first weeks groping my way in the dark.
As I was to learn over the coming years, a good PA is worth their weight in gold to any company or senior manager. They hear things you simply won’t, they see things you simply can’t and while you’re agonising over the intricacies of the latest company strategy they have the handy knack of spotting the flaw in page one of your presentation.
Earning your spurs and the trust of the newsroom is something every editor of whatever standing has had to go through over the years.
For Mr Osborne, his high profile past, will bring him many advantages. But he’ll still have to prove that he’s worthy of the respect and consideration of these journalists. I decided early on that we needed to do more to re-engage with some of our communities and get back to what we’d made our name doing, sticking up for readers.
We launched campaigns, we raised money for local worthy causes, we injected character into our pages. Despite the occasional tutting and raised eyebrow, I could sense this was what the team thought we should be doing. That was a huge step forward in relations.
That and a very public row with one of the ad managers, whose constant demands for ‘another favour’ ignited my then short fuse and probably did more to cement my place as leader of the editorial floor than any of my planned actions. (This was all pre credit crunch, before Google and Facebook were eating the newspaper industry’s lunch and when having a digital policy meant marking each day’s print edition with crosses to signify which stories we’d publish online at some point that day.)
Every reporter and editor at whatever level of publication likes to believe they have a contacts book to die for. Nothing impresses journalists more than being able to pull in a big interview or favour.
Need to speak to Downing Street? Bank of England top brass not returning your calls? See if the boss has their numbers on speed dial.
Other newspapers and periodicals will watch with interest to see what kind of political and business clout the man formerly at Number 11 still has. Considerable, you’d think, isn’t that why he got the gig?
But as he’ll find out, journalists are the hardest people in the world to impress – it’s just not in their make up to be bowled over by power – and nor should it be.
*David Helliwell is formerly editor of The Gazette, Blackpool, The Cumberland News and Carlisle’s News and Star.