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Correspondent’s Week

This week by Sunday Times journalist Ali Hussain.

One of my responsibilities is to book people for the Fame and Fortune profile. It is quite a friendly personal finance interview as these things go but most people, quite understandably, do not want to reveal all their financial details in public. The question about how much they earned last year tends to be particularly difficult.

I had a bank of people who I had interviewed but I was hoping that, like in previous years, there would be no profile because of a reduction in pages.

I planned to carry over some of these interviews into this year. I was mistaken about this and the editor insisted that I have someone for the profile. There went my stress-free guarantee for the next few weeks.

After the Monday afternoon news meeting, I am put onto a story looking into BT’s new Fusion phone that allows you to make cheap calls over the internet using wi-fi technology. I am also anticipating the launch of Apple’s new mobile but more out of interest than because I think it might be relevant to the article.

Mobile phones and broadband seem to have emerged as my area of expertise over the six months or so that I have been in the job.

I call around various comparison firms and the telecoms companies to find out how good a deal the new phone presents. Over the past couple of years, the number of ways to call people has ballooned, with w-fi, Voip and Rebtel, not to mention the traditional landline and mobile. With it comes an array of abbreviations and price plans. It is a bit of a minefield writing about it, with tariffs, data charges and roaming rates doing my head in.

The comparison firms are very useful in making it easier to understand, helpfully putting things into tables. I spend some time on the piece and am quite happy when I send it through to the editor. Unfortunately, interest in it evaporates over the course of the week and eventually it is dropped.

I am left having to apologise to the people who helped me put it together. You can’t win them all, I suppose.

However, the Fame and Fortune profile does go in. I had interviewed Duncan Bannatyne, the millionaire “Dragon” who is currently appearing on ITV1.

Surprisingly, he was quite open about his finances and seemed content about his multi-million-pound achievements in life. Funny how the more successful people are, the less they feel the need to hide their financial details. Maybe that is what I need to do in future – only target people with a fortune rather than just the fame.

By Friday, I have finished most of what I was assigned to do for the week and I start thinking about the following week. The section is more or less complete but there are always fillers to do as news breaks.

By the afternoon, I am asked to write a piece on energy following David Cameron’s complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about high bills despite reductions in wholesale energy costs.

After the initial few minutes of panic, thinking that it would be impossible to turn something around in a couple of hours, I manage to pull something together thanks to various contacts.

After submitting the story, it was all a matter of waiting to see if the editor found it interesting enough. Luckily, with a few changes here and there, he did.


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