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Honesty

DO you ever get the impression from watching Newsnight that it has been a slow news day?

Confirmation that this can sometimes be the case has come from the commendably straight-talking Jeremy Paxman.

Interviewed by the Radio Times, he said he was occasionally seized by an urge to tell viewers that it was hardly worth their while tuning into the programme.

"News," he says, "is not easily predicted and a certain amount of time has to be filled. I'd often like to see the presenter say: 'Not much happened today, so I'd go to bed if I were you.'

"I've often felt like that on Newsnight. I wouldn't do it, because it's disloyal to colleagues who have slaved long and hard to make bricks without straw. That's the nature of journalism."

Such honesty. Refreshing.

Catching, too.

The next time one of the editors here glances impatiently at his watch and asks how long it'll be before I finish that 2000-word article, as the deadline is half-an-hour away, I'll take the Paxman approach of honesty.

Thus, rather than saying, "You'll have it in five minutes, boss - I'm just doing a final spell-check," I'll blurt out the unvarnished truth: "To be honest, man, I've only done the first 75 words. Okay if I take a long lunch before I do the rest?"

The next time my phone company emails to remind me that last quarter's bill is still unpaid, I'll tell them, not that the cheque is in the post (one of my usual stories) but that I'm so catastrophically disorganised that I don't have a snowball's chance of even putting my hands on the cheque book, and would they mind waiting another fortnight or so while I send off for a new one?

The risk is, the company might also take a leaf out of Paxman's book.

"Dear sir," its next email might read. "We have tolerated your repeated late payments for 20 years now and we may have given you the impression that we really don't mind.

"In truth, we object strenuously to your impoverished excuses.

"We've had it up to here with you telling us that the cheque is in the post or that there 'must have been a wildcat postal strike' in your area, and with your lazy assumption, year after year, that we'll take you at your word.

"We have, frankly, had enough. Accordingly, as of 2pm today, we have terminated your phone line. Good luck with getting another phone company to take you on ..."

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