4 March 2022
Who knew that a Ladybird book could alter the course of your life? One woman’s did and that is Catherine Pepinster, journalist, broadcaster, religious commentator.
Speaking to Kilgraston pupils from her base in west London, the journalist was delivering a lecture as part of the school’s Women and Business industry expert series: “I was only about seven or eight at the time and there, in my Christmas stocking, was the Ladybird book of newspapers, featuring a lady with a reporter’s notebook, and I thought, “that’s what I want to do!”
And she did, regaling pupils with stories of a childhood home filled with stimulating political discussion and intellectual reading material, noting, “My parents were always shouting at politicians on Panorama!”
Editing her school’s magazine fully galvanised a career in journalism, prompting Catherine to read Economic and Social Studies at the University of Manchester, before doing a Post Graduate diploma in journalism at City, University of London: “I know that being involved with the student newspaper at university definitely helped with my post-grad application. Work experience is absolutely vital, as is being insatiably curious; essential for a journalist.”
Proceeding to local papers, Catherine highlighted lessons learnt when pounding the pavements, attending courts, council meetings and inquests, explaining: “Very quickly, you learn the power of good contacts and being held to account by your community,” adding, “developing trust and respect lead to more stories being directed your way and that holds true to this very day.”
Moving-up to national newspapers, Catherine’s talent was spotted by The Tablet magazine, becoming its first female editor since its 1840 inception and where she experienced one of her career’s biggest scoops: “I received a tip-off about the resignation of Pope Benedict XV1 in 2013. It wasn’t trite to say this really was the first draft of history.”
The power of working and thinking as an individual – having ideas, following instincts – was counterbalanced with an explanation of how news comes together and the line-up behind production: “Always remember, well-presented, accurate reporting takes a large team of professionals.”
Concluding her talk, Catherine highlighted how her long career in journalism has offered “a reserved” child, self-belief and confidence: “During downing Street’s Tony Blair era, I was curious to know about the acquisition by the Labour Party of a sizeable London building,” she continued, “Looking-up an old contact, I was able to request – and receive – information evaded by others. You have to hold your nerve and poise so people feel they can trust your judgement.”
Asked about the future of her profession, the focus was on ‘data journalism’, from the likes of Freedom of Information requests, and the creation of stories from available material: “I think that is definitely the way it is heading.” However, the power of the ‘long read’ was, she said, not to be under-estimated, referring to weighty weekly, The New Yorker’s terrific pieces.
‘Long reads’ is something with which Catherine is all-too-familiar, having just completed a 100,000 word book, entitled ‘Defenders of the Faith.’ It was, she concluded, an “ambitious six-month deadline” even for someone for whom words do come easily.
Kilgraston was greatly appreciative of her sharing some words with the school.