The Daily Mail and The Sun are both pretty shitty newspapers, I ought to know: I wrote for them both.
Why? Because they were the only newspapers that paid decent money to journalists working out of Spain.
Anyway, stories that were suitably comic, tragic or grotesque enough for The Mail or The Sun only occurred infrequently on my patch – but when they did, I entered an incredibly stressful, real life version of the cartoon, “Wacky Races”, as the first journalist to get there and get the pictures and facts, got the sale. The rest just wasted time and petrol, and I was always in competition with at least 3 or 4 others.
And it was those missed sales that started chipping away at my integrity. Because if you work for shitty newspapers, you very quickly begin to behave in a shitty way.
With me, it began with a bit of cheeky chicanery. Much of rural Spain consists of unmarked dirt tracks, the names of which are known only to locals, so most reporters rely on rural petrol station attendants for guidance, and I often slipped the staff a tenner to misdirect any other strangers asking around.
Pretty tame stuff, but it was the start of the road to Shitsville. And once you’re on it, the question quickly raises itself: How far down the road are you prepared to go?
I found out in 2010, when I covered a story about the collapse of a house which had killed two expats in a tiny hamlet way up in the mountains.
When I got there, I deployed my usual set of tricks. First of all, in order to find the house, I lied and said I was a friend of the dead couple and was there to pay my respects. This got me detailed directions, as well as plenty of pats on the back and commiseration from local Spaniards. I may even have squeezed out some crocodile tears for their benefit.
The property was all locked up and wrapped with police incident tape, so I climbed the fence and started looking for a decent angle from which to take a photograph, clambering, hopping and jumping all over the rubble as I did so. When a neighbour of the dead couple emerged and asked me what the hell I was doing, I ignored his question and asked him the only thing that interested me: ‘Have you seen any other reporters here before me?’
When he said, ‘No’, I climbed back over the fence and started looking for somewhere with Wi-Fi coverage.
I got the sale. But as I was celebrating in a local bar, looking through the photos I had taken, I began to notice that there was dried blood and other types of biological matter all over the collapsed concrete pillars and rubble. Then I noticed some of it had stained the tip of my desert boot as I’d been merrily desecrating a place where two people had died a sudden and likely very painful death.
I lay awake that night, and slowly came to the realisation that I did not have what it took to be a fulltime tabloid journalist. My journey along the road to Shitsville had ended.
And that’s where Danny Sanchez was born. Because Danny does have what it takes and I enjoy exploring the grottier side of journalism through the prism of the character.
Most readers warm to Danny immediately, but others don’t, and I suspect it is the ruthless side of Danny’s character that is the reason for this – he climbs walls, he lies, he goes through bins, he enters people’s homes uninvited and he “borrows” documents – in short, he does whatever he has to in order to get the story.
The trick is to make the people he is investigating so loathsome that the reader sympathises with Danny, despite his shady behaviour.
Anyway, for those of you who dislike the character, I’d ask that you cut the guy some slack – he trawls through the shitty side of journalism so I don’t have to.