IN 2014, having recently taken over as editor at The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, I identified the need for a restructure and decided to cast the net out for a News Editor.
I was strongly encouraged by a senior colleague who had worked with Matt Bates, to give him a shot at interview.
‘Encouragement’ was needed only because, on paper, Matt was not the obvious fit. He had only four years’ experience on a news desk.
When interview day arrived in walked this unassuming slip of a lad with a beaming smile and brimming over with enthusiasm, but just the right amount of nervous energy to demonstrate his desire to land the job. He was clearly hungry for this opportunity and, over the course of the next hour and a half, he proved it to me. I was left in no doubt about this candidate’s desire – and importantly – ability – to do the job. If he just managed the team by example alone, I reasoned, that would be enough to gain their respect.
In 30 years as a journalist – around 10 of those involved in recruitment – Matt stands out as one of that rarest of breeds – a true journo whose instinct and nose for news had no off switch. His appetite for a good story was voracious.
He threw creative ideas down on the table that no one who had been in a profession for just four years had the right to know. An understanding of how to find – and treat – a story was second nature to him. He showed empathy, curiosity or tenacity as the situation demanded and it was a pleasure to see his efforts – and results – play out day after day.
An affable nature also made him both approachable to interviewees and a quick hit with the news team. I was soon at ease with my leap of faith in making this appointment. This was a star waiting to shine its brightest. . . Unfortunately fate had other ideas.
Although at The Herald for just a few weeks, the impression he left is a lasting one. This raw talent was emerging – before being cruelly snatched away from the industry. Matt never gave up showing stoicism in the face of this horrendous disease – recognising the same resilient qualities he’d demonstrated daily in his job. Sadly though, in October 2016, he was taken from us.
Surreal then that some five years on, I find Matt filling my thoughts again. Last week I met his mum Louise for the first time, in my new public relations capacity. – I left newspapers in November last year to launch my new business and it’s brought me back in touch with The Bates family to promote Louise’s new book, Letters To Matthew: Life After Loss. Bitter sweet of course. While it’s lovely to get to know this wonderful lady (who we’d heard so much about in the office), one wished it could have been under happier circumstances.
The heartfelt collection of letters she wrote to Matt during the year after his death was launched on what would have been Matt’s 30th birthday this month, and also includes inspirational quotes and insights into her journey of self-discovery.
Its contents brought a tear to my eye – but it is Louise’s hope that the book will leave a positive impact on those struggling to navigate their way through the pain of grief. It can be purchased here
And times like this leave us reflecting on our own life’s journey. In 2014 a bright young talent walks into my office and makes me excited for his future. Just five years on he is no longer with us, while my own future has also taken a very different turn. I no longer work on newspapers and am enjoying success with www.chalmersnewspr.co.uk – meeting a host of inspirational business people, many of whom are also pursuing their dreams of a new start. None of this could have been predicted.
It’s also poignant occasions such as my recent meeting with Louise that reinforce the brevity of our time – and potential – in this life.
It has been surreal to be referring to Matt in the past tense, let alone writing a press release about a book following his death. But I’m also proud to have been the one selected to do it.
Just like Matt, journalism will always be a part of what defines me. Three decades of my life in an industry I loved and grew up with, brings me no regrets. But, for a variety of reasons, the time was right to make a break. I am proud (and relieved) to report that I have not looked back – not for one solitary second.
Life is too short to put up with stress and/or unfulfillment and I have never felt so much respect for the entrepreneurs – and charity leaders – such as those I now work with.
What would Matt have made of me turning my back on the industry he adored as much as I did? I didn’t know him that well, but I like to think he’d understand.
Read Matt’s story here