The Ticket: how we usually do it, and how we did it this week
“Great idea. Week off for me,” I thought when my boss suggested bringing in a guest editor for an edition of The Ticket.
How do you choose a guest editor? Some folks in the office wanted a superstar. Others said it just had to be someone hot. I wanted someone who knew something about music and/or film, the principal subjects covered by The Ticket. They would have to be keen to take this on as a creative project (cos there’s not a lot of cash sloshing around these days), and to be comfortable working outside of their own discipline.
There were lots of suggestions: a dishy actor, a cerebral film-maker, an iconoclastic comedian, a down-with-the-kids novelist.
We eventually whittled a longlist of 20 or 30 names down to four possibles, and the first one we approached was the lead singer of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody – or his publicist – who accepted the invitation pretty much straightaway.
There was just one problem: Snow Patrol were bang in the middle of a world tour, and he’d have to do the job remotely: by phone and e-mail. Gary had some experience of blogging and interviewing musicians, but had never edited a mass-circulation publication before. So much for my week off.
It was decided that I would do the nuts-and-bolts stuff of putting the issue together, but Gary and I would work together on choosing content. The hope was that, with his external perspective, we would create something visibly different from the average weekly Ticket.
With the input from two fine film journalists and a handful of experienced music writers, The Ticket is usually a smooth-running, shiny Luas of an operation; would our rockstar editor knock it off the rails? Hopefully, was my view. There’s not much point inviting an outsider in to do the job if they just do what I do.
All the same, I didn’t want someone to come in and wreck the damn thing. I spoke to a journalist in Film Ireland magazine, which has had several guest editors, and read up on how this experience has gone elsewhere. I learned that Nick Hornby had been a handson guest editor of Time Out, and that Elton John never saw the inside of the office when he did the same job. A New Statesman contributor quit after Alastair Campbell’s stint as guest editor. For all our sakes, I laid down a couple of preconditions. First: that The Ticket has a commitment to review every new film released and to publish a comprehensive listings service each week. And second: that the paper has an editorial policy and ethics code that transcend any one person, in case he tried to ram through any outlandish, offensive – or rubbish – ideas.
The ideas came, and they were refreshing without being outlandish, and I certainly didn’t have to nuke ’em. Gary wanted to send a child to review a children’s film, so on page 12, Orla Fahey has reviewed the latest Ice Age movie. He chose which musicians should be highlighted from the coming week’s gigs: panels on Lisa Hannigan and Josh Ritter appear on pages 17 and 20.
At Jim Carroll’s suggestion, Gary chose the bands that Jim would write about in his weekly New Music column on page 7.
We also agreed that Gary would write a festival survival guide, based on his and the band’s experiences (pages 8-9). And that they would give their personal recommendations on which acts to see at Oxegen (page 9), which they headline next week.
The only sticking point was the idea that that Gary might interview a music journalist, to turn the tables on the rockstar-journo relationship that defines so much music coverage in the media today. Gary showed initial enthusiasm, but when I suggested Brian Boyd, who had written some negative articles about Snow Patrol in the past, he baulked.
He was eventually persuaded that it was a rare opportunity for a rockstar to question a music journalist – on behalf of all musicians – about why they write the things they do about bands. The interview was scheduled and rescheduled several times, but never materialised, though the two met briefly in Barcelona on Tuesday after the opening night of the U2 tour. Maybe he didn’t like the idea of sitting down with someone who had written negatively about his work.
In the end, we treated this as a normal journalistic job, and I conducted the interview with Brian Boyd myself, using some of the questions I had initially suggested to Gary. It appears on pages 6-7.
At the time of writing I have just e-mailed PDFs of near-complete pages to our guest editor, who is on a day off between U2 support dates. Hope he doesn’t have too many changes. Now I really do need a week off.
Gary Lightbody: not in The Ticket office Photograph: Bradley Quinn