A (I think) student hack raised a question today on a journalism forum I hang out on - namely that it must be impossible to get a decent job without the all-important "bulging contacts book". This phrase is such a hackneyed cliché it's been around since before the red tops were invented. It conjures up an image of an ageing Filofax, creaking at its seams, leaking loose business cards and assorted scraps of paper, and all held together by an elastic band because the leather strap broke decades ago.
Ha! Another romantic myth...
There's no such thing as a bulging contacts book. It's merely standard recruitment ad jargon and what it boils down to is not who you know but whether you know how to get hold of people who can supply you with the contacts you need for a story. And those people are often a few PR types and the best mate of your sister's ex-boyfriend's boss.
When I was starting out, those recruitment ads would intimidate so much I never dared to apply for many jobs that I would dearly have loved to have. I didn't know loads of celebrities. And you know what? I still don't. Unless you count a couple of reasonably well-known stand-up comics and a cult novelist, none of whom I've yet managed to persuade to be interviewed, or to write for a mag I commission for.
What I do know is people. I have, like most people, a handful of close friends, plus a wider circle of acquaintances. I network a lot in the business community and keep in touch with PR people. I keep every business card that's thrust at me, stash numbers in my mobile phone, file emails that have contact details in them and keep a Rolodex. If I need to find someone to talk to, all I need to do is flick through that lot and then, if I still draw a blank, I may ask favours from other hacks.
You don't really need to have Posh Spice on direct dial in this business - what you do need is knowing how to get hold of her spokesperson in three moves or fewer. And there's the rub - it's not who you know but whether you know how to find the info you need or not. I'm not the kind of hack that would sell their granny to the Daily Sport for a fiver, neither do I have the kind of family members who are willing to sell their stories to the media. Does it matter? No. Because I have a wide enough circle of contacts that a couple of phone calls or emails should suffice to find the right people I need to talk to.