DERRY JOURNAL 250: ‘The wee girl from the Journal’

I was just sixteen years old when I did my first work experience in the Buncrana Road offices of the Derry Journal.
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I gave up a week of my school summer holidays to find out what it would be like to be a journalist – convinced already this was the career for me. I was put to work by then deputy editor Siobhan McEleney – who I thought was impossibly glamorous – and by the end of the week was only more determined I had found my dream career.

Five years later, when I was studying for my Masters in Newspaper Journalism, I found myself back on placement at Buncrana Road, and less than a year after that, in 1999, I became a staff reporter.

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In those days cub reporters hit the ground running. We learned our trade on the job and with the help of sarcastic slagging from our colleagues. (You needed a thick skin to survive the Journal newsroom!)

Claire Allan is an author and former Derry Journal journalist. (0209C01)Claire Allan is an author and former Derry Journal journalist. (0209C01)
Claire Allan is an author and former Derry Journal journalist. (0209C01)

The immense variety of news we covered was at times completely head staggering.

Along with the much loved community notes, we could find ourselves covering the petty sessions at the Magistrate’s Court, or speaking to the family of a murder victim, or interviewing a soap star bringing their latest production to town. There were days we could do all four, and more, besides.

There were more days than I care to remember when I was referred to as ‘the wee girl from the Journal’ – a title a shared with all my female colleagues.

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I was 23 when I started working at the Journal and I left to pursue my career as a novelist two days before fortieth birthday.

A lot of people in Derry say they grew up with the Journal – well, I grew up in the Journal offices. I saw the best, and worst, of this city. I cried many times with interviewees whose stories touched me so deeply. I felt immense pride in our city when I covered the Saville Inquiry and saw first-hand how a city which had been brought to its knees could climb back on its feet with dignity and determination.

I made friends among my colleagues who will be friends for life, and I was honoured to have been mentored by Siobhan McEleney, who I miss to this day.

Journalism has changed almost unrecognisably from those early days. It has been a challenge the Journal has faced admirably and one which allows me to say, with hand on heart, I am forever proud to have been ‘the wee girl that works for the Journal’.

-Claire Allan

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