Alison Phillips' Diary

The journalist on column inspiration, Harry Styles, and a package from Mosul.

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Tuesday

I’ve always rather liked a Tuesday. A day slightly more comfy than spartan Monday, yet more purposeful than flighty Friday. However, for the past five years, I’ve approached Tuesdays with wary trepidation. For Tuesday is Column Day. By the end of the day I must have completed my weekly column for Wednesday’s Daily Mirror. 1,250 words of incisive, pithy, hilarious observations. Failing that, 1,250 words.

It’s one of Fleet Street’s odd (for which feel free to read “institutionally sexist”) traditions that tabloid papers all have a big female columnist in their Wednesday editions*. I took over the Mirror’s Wednesday column after the too-soon death of the wonderful, funny, smart Sue Carroll. Each week I’m up against the Sun’s Jane Moore and Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine. Some call us the “Wednesday Witches”. To others we’re the “Glendas” in tribute to Private Eye’s histrionic, hypocritical and hilarious Glenda Slagg column. Although, pity poor Glenda. She’s been consistently out-parodied ever since Katie Hopkins learned to turn on the internet.

Some Tuesdays are horrific – when there’s nothing in the news making me sufficiently furious, sad or morally imperious to fuel a lead item. Today is a good day, though, and inspiration is easy to find. The Mirror has launched a campaign calling for the law on organ donation to be changed, and knowing such a small move could save thousands of lives is a great topic for the Mirror’s readers.

*You’ll be relieved to know that we now have women commentators almost every day of the week!

Wednesday

The Mirror’s campaign – Change the Law for Life – continues apace. At present people have to opt in to become organ donors, but if consent were presumed to be given unless people opted out, millions more organs would be available for those desperately in need of transplants. Two people die in England every day waiting for a transplant. Wales has already changed the law to an opt-out system and Scotland announced last week it would be doing the same. Thousands of readers sign a Mirror petition within hours. Mrs May says doing it in England is “under consideration”, which I think means she’s waiting for a call back from that nice Mrs Foster.

The Mirror has a long history of campaigning on the right side of history. It was our fury at the fate of the poorest on board the Titanic that changed the law on lifeboat numbers. And it was the Mirror that stood alongside the Hillsborough families’ Justice for the 96 campaign when other media organisations lost faith or interest. Our readers have a strong sense of right and wrong. Serving them faithfully, creating an entertaining newspaper with left-wing values and a noisy social conscience at a time when the media industry seems buffeted ever further to the right, is not always easy. But it is also possibly the best job in the world.

To drum up a bit of support for the opt-out campaign, Trinity Mirror’s editor-in- chief, Lloyd Embley, and I pop down to the House of Commons for a chat with our associate editor (and this magazine’s favourite contributor) Kevin Maguire. We have a quick glass of wine in the sunshine. An evening with Maguire is how I imagine it must be hanging out with Harry Styles, albeit the giggling admirers are more mature. And they throw questions on Corbynmania rather than knickers.

Thursday

I’m late to work this morning as my ten-year-old daughter, Eve, has a one-mile swim challenge in Hornchurch baths. “Can you swim that far?” I ask. “Dunno,” she replies. “It’ll be fine.” I spend the car journey there repeating the usual guff about “just give it your best shot” and “when you want to give up… just keep going”.

Eve sings loudly to Heart FM and my pep talk goes unheeded. At the start of last year I edited a new newspaper launched by Trinity Mirror in the hope of attracting back some readers who had drifted away from the offerings on the news-stand. The New Day was aimed at a predominantly younger, female audience. It lasted just ten weeks.

It is some small comfort now that it has given me a story with which to bore the kids when they miss penalty shoot-outs and trip over in ballet exams: “Remember when Mummy worked so hard on that newspaper and it was all a total disaster? Well I had to get back on my feet again. And it was horrible. But I did it. And you can too.”

I have no desire to leave my three kids a financial inheritance. The gifts I want to leave them are laughter and resilience. With those they’ll need nothing more from me.

Friday

This morning there is a mood of apprehension in our Canary Wharf office. Our defence editor, Chris Hughes, and photographer Rowan Griffiths have landed in Iraq to report on what is expected to be the fall of Mosul. The Mirror’s editor, Peter Willis, Embley, and I have had repeated meetings before signing off the trip.

The Sunday Mirror’s defence correspondent Rupert Hamer was killed in Afghanistan seven years ago by a blast that also seriously injured the photographer Phil Coburn. The risks facing staff in war zones are very real to us. By the end of the day Chris and Rowan have filed an extraordinary package of reports on the last pockets of Isis resistance in Mosul. This is Mirror reporting at its finest.

This afternoon comes news that little Bradley Lowery has died. The six-year-old’s fight against a rare form of cancer captured the nation’s hearts. The media industry is changing at supersonic speed. Yet one thing remains constant – the power of human stories. Be they the stories of exhausted medics treating injured children in an Iraqi war zone, or the story of one extraordinary little boy from Sunderland. 

Alison Phillips is deputy editor in chief of Trinity Mirror Newspapers and a Mirror columnist

This article appears in the 13 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Maybot malfunctions