"ARE Norman and Patrick in yet?"
"Norman's asked to be collected from Montpelier Square, Patrick is coming in a taxi."
"OK send Stanley to pick up Norman."
No, not an anxious mum worrying about her deliquent children but the sub-editor of the Catholic Herald on a Monday morning making sure that our two weekly columns from Norman St John-Stevas and Patrick O'Donovan are in, subedited and sent down to the printer.
The Catholic Herald comes out on a Thursday morning having been "put to bed" on a Wednesday. It is printed at High Wycombe, some 30 miles from Its London office and every Item has to be sent down to the printers by train.
Thursday is a quieter day. Large heaps of paper are sorted into files and bins, letters are written, visits are made and the journalists have someone to take to lunch. Next week's paper has already begun before most readers have got this week's. Throughout the morning comments trickle through from other departments and by lunchtime we will know if there are any serious mistakes. Last week "Archbishop Thomas Holland" slipped through but at least it erred in the right direction. One week we called His Eminence Cardinal Humeri!
Thursday, 3.15. General conference between departments. Editorial have a story from Lower Binsey; can circulation sell some extra there? Advertising want to do an Irish Tourist Feature, can editorial help?
On Friday morning there's the editorial conference. What's coming up? Discuss future features. With luck everyone meets in the pub for lunch, though on Holy Days there's Mass in the office.
Monday morning is letters time, known in the department as "Editor's Playtime". Cardinal Hume said he divided his letters into "Boo's" and "Hurray's". I Imagine much of my Incidental mail looks like his. I call them "Ouch's" and "Yippee's". The famous Herald letters page Is probably the most accurate temperature chart in the British Catholic Church.
Then there is the news, carcases of press hand-outs, handwritten notes, pamphlets, newspapers, world-wide news services in English, French, German. The chief cook is Charlie Burgess, who sorts out the stories from the rest and hands them out to the rest of the team to serve up in the paper.
Alex goes out to a Press conference. She comes back cursing that we haven't got a gossip column.
Here comes a story that is going to hurt someone. "News", an editor once said, "Is something, somewhere, someone is trying to suppress. Everything else is advertising."
Tuesday, nothing but the sound of clattering typewriters and phones ringing. Around lunchtime a quick review of how the news is coming in. Make sure all the best news is on the front page. A radio is flicked off and on to get the news. If the Pope dies today we want to know about it.
Despite the late night everyone is in early on Wednesday, checking the national papers for late news.
Is there a future for religious newspapers? We say there is.
First, it can have a totally independent view of mankind's affairs. The Herald prides itself on reflecting a broader spectrum of political viewpoints than most national dailies, and it Is able to do this because it doesn't have to align itself with any one political viewpoint.
Some people say the Herald is too conservative and some say it is Left-wing. As long as we seek justice and don't identify with any of the power blocks of this world, and as long as we maintain a Christian and therefore radical view of the world then we are doing our job.
Secondly, religious newspapers are also trade magazines. Information about comings and goings in the organisation is important to those people who identify with it. But these are decreasing in number.
Bringing the Gospel to people every week is our third role. The Herald can also bring an independent view of the Church. It once heralded the changes that the Council brought about, and despite the fact that It gets banned more than occasionally, it is free to criticise and praise from a position of complete Independence.
I have two notes in my room. One, pinned over my desk by Sheila, my secretary, says: "Just because you're not paranoid it doesn't mean they are not out to get you."
The other is in the drawer. It says: "When He returns, will the Herald have the story?"