Contributing to the Cherwell has launched the careers of many influential figures in the world of journalism, including Evelyn Waugh, Evan Davis, Hadley Freeman, and even Rupert Murdoch. Among this list of names should have been, in time, Paul McClean. I say ‘should have’, because in September last year Paul was tragically killed in a crocodile attack whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka, aged only twenty-four.
His loss robs us of a rare talent and an all-round good man. Coming from a state comprehensive to read Modern Languages at LMH, he found time to be deputy editor of this paper alongside excelling at his studies, before going on to graduate with a First and establish himself as a promising name at the Financial Times with his in-depth coverage of EU affairs. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I first met him at primary school aged four. I just knew that his wicked sense of humour, infectious smile, and near-superhuman gift of the gab made him someone it was impossible not to be friends with. Being something of a nervous goody-two-shoes myself, I recall that the few occasions I got in trouble usually involved being so lost in conversation with Paul that we failed to notice that the rest of the class had long since fallen silent and the teacher was staring at us balefully; it is a mark of the quality of his company that I never resented these occasions. Reading any of the innumerable personal tributes that have poured in from his friends and colleagues, it is clear that this warmth and charm characterised all his relationships, and in the end it is these personal qualities above all that will make him so sorely missed.
However uniquely tragic his circumstances, Paul isn’t the only gifted and hardworking young journalist to have had their career unfairly cut short. As the London-centric media sector economises by relying ever more heavily on unpaid internships (the National Union of Journalists report that 82% of new entrants to the profession start out as interns, 92% of whom receive no pay), getting a foot on the ladder is increasingly impossible for the thousands of talented people who don’t have the luxury of generous parental funding or a family home in the capital. This not only hurts the life chances of those aspiring reporters, it’s also damaging for the industry and for society as a whole. At a time when the rise of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ has made rigorous journalism which covers all angles more important than ever before, we cannot afford to let the Fourth Estate become the preserve of a narrow pool of people all sharing similar privileged backgrounds.
With that in mind, a group of Paul’s old friends had the idea that the best way to honour his memory would be to raise funds for a permanent Paul McClean Prize in Journalism at his old college, which will award annual grants to budding reporters enabling them to undertake internships and training courses that might otherwise be out of their reach. I am very proud to be joining them this July to take on the National Three Peaks Challenge, which involves cramming 3064 metres of climbing and 462 miles of driving into 24 hours, as we attempt to scale the tallest mountains in Scotland, England, and Wales all within the space of a single day. It’s sure to be a gruelling ordeal, and the initial reactions of my family and friends have been somewhat less than reassuring; the response of the first friend I mentioned it to was to say “you know that isn’t physically possible, right?” The internet assures me that it can in fact be done, but given that my regular exercise routine doesn’t extend beyond the occasional jog along the flat-as-a-pancake Thames towpath on a sunny day, I suspect it’s going to prove a bit of a shock to the system.
Still, it will all be worth it if we can reach our sponsorship target and create the prize fund in Paul’s name. His legacy as a friend and a colleague already speaks for itself, but with your support we can add something more and ensure that some lasting good comes out of his untimely passing.
If you can, please donate today via this link.