A week in the life of: H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald

  • In an exclusive behind the scenes look at what’s involved in producing Britain’s only weekly equestrian magazine, H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald shares her week working on the 1 July 2010 issue, both in the office and producing live online commentary from the Hickstead Derby.

    Tuesday, 22 June

    You want to know about a week in the life of the showjumping editor? Well I’d better start by dispelling a couple of myths. I don’t go out drinking with John Whitaker every night. And I don’t hang out at shows every day. My job is predominantly office-based and, when I do escape the office, for every glamorous night at Olympia there’s a rain-soaked show in February to report on. But don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this job and it does have some great perks.

    Tuesdays at H&H tend to be a morning-after-the-night-before experience. Monday is press day, often long and ever so slightly stressful, so we’re all feeling the after-effects. But, being a weekly magazine, it’s time to start churning out the next issue.

    For those of you who may not know, H&H Towers is situated on the Southbank in London — about as far away from either horse or hound as you can get. There are around 20 full-time members of staff in the office including section editors, picture desk, art department, news team, website posse, a chief sub and of course the Editor, Lucy Higginson.

    Usual office hours are 10am to 6pm and my first job on Tuesday morning is to catch up with emails. As well as being showjumping editor, I am in charge of all things product-related at H&H. Sometimes, this means assessing exactly what is the acceptable amount of bling you can wear on a horse before turning into a Saturday Night Fever disco ball, but this week I’m writing a round-up of all the latest feed supplements, so that’s the next job on my list.

    I receive about 20-30 press releases every day relating to both products and showjumping and I do read every single one — any that are newsworthy get passed on to the H&H news desk and the rest are filed for future features. This week, I’ve had everything from a foldaway bucket to Pony Club-themed biscuits. I never know quite what’s going to drop into my inbox!

    Wednesday, 23 June

    Back to showjumping today. It’s a relatively quiet week — apart from the small matter of the Hickstead Derby meeting this weekend — so just three reports (five pages) to put to press. I have a core team of freelance showjumping reporters dotted around the country — Kerry Bowness, Margaret Shaw, Suzanne Jones, Kathryn Pearn and Mark McGowan — who are dispatched ringside come rain or shine, night or day, to cover the big classes and sniff out the latest stories.

    This week, Mark sends me copy from Rowallan, Margaret has covered East of England and I reported at the Oxfordshire Area Show. It’s my job to then come up with witty — I use this term loosely — headlines and picture captions, and check facts as much as possible to ensure each page makes a good read and is mistake-free. We’re not infallible though.

    Pictures make all the difference and this week photographer Peter Nixon has captured a lovely shot of Helen Tredwell and Naomi V at Peterborough that we use as the main image.

    Kerry Bowness is off to Hickstead tomorrow to cover the whole of the DFS Derby meeting — a hectic time for her — so we run through ideas, word counts and how to tackle the lead stories. Trevor Meeks is primed and ready to take all the snaps.

    There’s lots of oohing and aahing going on this afternoon as we have the England v Slovenia World Cup game on in the background. As a Scot, my hopes were dashed before the tournament even began, but it’s good to cheer England through to the last 16.

    Meanwhile, the Eds are already thinking ahead to the World Equestrian Games in October and want to know when the British teams will be announced. I put in a call to performance manager Rob Hoekstra to find out about the showjumping team while Sarah Jenkins (dressage) and Pippa Roome (eventing) do the same with their governing bodies. With the British showjumping team doing so well in the Nations Cups this year, it’s a very exciting prospect and I can’t wait.

    Thursday 24 June

    An email arrives from Grandstand Media announcing that next year’s British Open Show Jumping Championships has been cancelled and the future of the event looks uncertain. This is big news so I immediately let the news team know and deputy news editor Charlotte White gets on the case — that’s this week’s lead story sorted and it goes up on the website straight away.

    In preparation for a meeting this afternoon to discuss the layout of our forthcoming Royal International Horse Show report (5 August issue), I review last year’s — reminding myself what worked and what didn’t in the showjumping section. We decide to stick to a similar layout but with more space available for the Nations Cup, should the Brits do well — what a difference a year makes!

    I seem to have supplements coming out of my ears this week — I have another products page on the subject in a future issue, so I put a call out to the relevant companies to let them know what we have planned and it’s time to start sifting through the replies.

    Friday 25 June

    Just one more section to get to press before the weekend — Brits Abroad. This requires a lot of phoning round to the riders to get the full story, as obviously we can’t send reporters to these glamorous locations — as much as we’d all love to go.

    Sourcing pictures from the event itself can be mission impossible — trying to get an Azerbaijani photographer to understand that you want a photo of the winning Brit in the 1.45m speed class is no mean feat — so full marks to picture editor Jayne Toyne, who usually manages to get the message across.

    On Sunday, web editor Carol Phillips and I will be doing an interactive written commentary from the Hickstead Derby live on the H&H website so, in between writing up biographies for each rider, I visit the Hickstead website to follow the action from the Derby trial. With the sun blazing down and all the action happening in Sussex it’s tough being stuck in the office, but there’s plenty to look forward to at the weekend.

    Sunday 26 June

    I arrive at Hickstead first thing in the morning, intending to do a quick scout round the tradestands — yes, one of the perks of my job is that I get paid to go shopping. Shows like this are a great opportunity to see what is selling well and to look out for interesting new bits and pieces. However, the heat sends me wilting into the semi-air-conditioned press office. Distance to the nearest ice cream van is duly noted for later.

    We’re not going live until 2.15pm with our H&H commentary service, but Carol and I need to bag the best press seats in the grandstand and make sure all internet connections are working — it would be a disaster if H&H readers logging on to follow the coverage found nothing but a blank screen.

    The DFS Derby begins at 2.30pm and we’re “live” for an adrenaline-pumping three hours. Carol and I work together to type in the commentary, load up biographies and answer reader queries as they come in. It’s high speed, stressful, but enormous fun — especially when you’ve got a competition as exciting as this. Tina Fletcher versus Guy Williams in a jump-off — you couldn’t ask for better. The only downside is that somebody has to lose. We get some great comments in from readers and everyone seems to agree that it’s the next-best thing for those without access to the Sky Sports coverage.

    After the press conference, catching up with a few people, collecting the discs full of photographs from Trevor Meeks and doing a debrief with our reporter Kerry — who has to write it all up before 9am tomorrow — it’s time to head home.

    Monday, 27 June

    Arrive in the office at 8.30am armed with a pint of coffee ready to face Hickstead press day. Kerry has been up with the early birds and the worms and her finished copy arrives soon afterwards. She’s managed to get some great quotes from the riders and some interesting stories have come out of the big classes. It’s a mammoth task working my way through it all, but it’s done in sections to make life easier.

    Bex Pattenden on the picture desk does a great job sifting through all the photos and we choose which ones we’d like to use to illustrate the six pages. Trevor has taken a great sequence of Jenny Cassan coming down the Bank on No Wise Cracks — something we haven’t done for a couple of years. It works well, so that goes in. There are also some great “thrills and spills” shots to include — Estrella De V’s dramatic leap down the Bank with Nicky Boulter and Olive Clarke’s dunking in the water ditches tell the story of the class as well as any number of words.

    Guy Williams has earned the much-coveted honour of gracing the front cover on Skip Two Ramiro. He’s a popular winner.

    Twelve hours after I arrived, several word documents and a disc full of photographs have been transformed into a six-page Hickstead special report. Job done! And it all starts again tomorrow…

    H&H’s Hickstead Derby report is in the issue out today — Thursday, 1 July

    You may like...