I was awarded an honorary fellowship today, my birthday, by the University of Central Lancashire. It was a really special day. My Dad and his wife were there, so was Rachel. I had to do a short speech to the students and their parents, which I include here.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, recent graduates, parents and friends.
First of all, could I thank the University of Central Lancashire for this award.
50 years of running the journalism course is some achievement and I am honoured and humbled to be here today.
The kind words bestowed on me made several references to the journey I’ve been on through my career.
My hero, my inspiration to get into journalism, was Hunter S Thompson, the Godfather of Gonzo journalism. This was a quote attributed to him that fuelled my fire in the late 1980s:
“Journalism is a money trench, a long plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free and good men die like dogs. It also has its downsides.”
I’ll come back to that.
But I am mindful today of the uncertainties that confronted me on my graduation day in 1988. And at many other occasions at crucial turning points in my life over the last 24 years.
None of what has happened to me was part of a masterplan.. Some things I fell into. Others I made happen.
Sometimes, I’ve been lucky. And you will be too.
But it’s hard out there, I know that.
But if I may, I would like to address my brief remarks to those of you receiving your first degrees and MA certificates today.
As an external marker and guest lecturer at this university, I know how hard you have worked to achieve your degrees today.
And I recognize too that many of you will be looking for careers in industries where the structures have crumbled and the very foundations of the media sectors you want to work in are in undergoing a constant period of change.
When I did a series of mock interviews with students from this university recently I was struck by a number of things.
Firstly, I was impressed at the lengths to which Cathy Darby (left), a wonderfully generous and devoted course leader had gone to extraordinary lengths in order to make you even more employable.
Secondly, it really struck me what a fantastic education you have received here. As I said to the group afterwards, I saw something in all of them that would have made me want to employ them and help them along.
But thirdly, I emerged with a certain sadness from the day because of the reluctance many of them displayed in wanting to show off their remarkable achievements.
The one skillset I never learnt at University, or I properly gripped until my second job, was entrepreneurship and enterprise. Don’t confuse that with selling your soul to the advertising devil. Or compromising your values and journalistic integrity.
And don’t think I mean becoming a big head.
But sell your achievements. Be proud of who you are and what you have done. Make the person sat opposite think that you can make their life easier and better by working with you. The same applies to a film graduate pitching an idea, or those of you with business degrees looking to raise funds for a business idea.
Realise that old people like me need young people like you, to understand how the emerging generation use social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as instinctively as we use our thumbs.
But think too what advertisers want, but create for yourself a space to do what you do best – to tell stories and speak truths.
But how you do that is changing too. Like at no other time in the 50 years of this course.
Rightly, this University, through the Journalism Leader’s Programme, is at the forefront of research and debate about the future of media. Get involved and stay close to that work.
The most successful amongst you will start to work out a new and different economic model for content. I’m sure you are doing that already.
A friend of mine used to have a suitcase full of contact cards that he’d drag around between the Sunday Times and the Manchester Evening News and, God help him, the Daily Star. Now of course they’ll be his contacts on LinkedIn, or saved on his phone – and backed up on a cloud.
It shows the power of networks, the connections between people that make things happen.
Contacts are currency – so work hard on building your own networks, starting today on this day where all of you in the room, from countries all over the world, have something that links you for the rest of your lives – your graduation day.
Back finally, to Hunter S Thompson. That quote I shared at the start is made up. It’s a composite, a twisting of the truth. These things often are.
Don’t rely on Google and Wikipedia. Talk to real people and get real quotes.
But there is a further skill you will all need.
You just never know who will be able to help you. So in everything you ever do, remember these three things. Be honest, be loyal, be kind.
And remember the old Chinese proverb, which may also be made up, but it still stands – “the wise man knows everything, the shrewd one knows everyone.”