LET’S start this week’s column with a small confession: I didn’t set out to be a newspaper editor.

Well, not at first, anyway. It was, obviously, an ambition that grew with time because, when I stepped down from that role at the Telegraph & Argus last year, I had edited newspapers of one sort or another for close to 35 years.

No, when I started out to become a journalist it was because I enjoyed meeting new people and I loved hearing their stories – and also because I thrived on making judgements based on competing and, often, contradictory facts. The latter almost pushed me into studying law but I was put off by the tedium offered by law courses in those days.

I guess I was also influenced by my headmaster and sixth-form history teacher who used to say my ability to interpret facts and balance the arguments in 2,000-word essays about the causes of the French Revolution or the pros and cons of the Tudor Constitution made me a candidate for “editing The Times one day.” (He got that wrong!)

To some extent, I was already hooked on news after spending time, aged 14-15, as a copy boy on the Yorkshire Post (somewhat more grandly known there – and typically of the YP – as a “subs’ messenger.”)

What it meant was me single-handedly manning a bank of five or six wire machines (national and international newswire teleprinters) into the early hours of the morning, collating breaking stories as they came through line by line and presenting them to the sub editors who would prepare them for print. The excitement of being first to read the latest news from around the world stuck with me and helped turn me into a news junkie at an early age.

Despite being brought up in Yorkshire, my first job as a trainee journalist was at the Coventry Evening Telegraph and, without wishing to be unkind, I’d recommend anyone who enjoys talking down Bradford to spend a little time there. Coventry suffered terribly in the Blitz and after the Second World War it was rebuilt in concrete and imprisoned by an inner-city ring-road on stilts, with built-in death traps at every junction, which between them sucked the soul out of the place. Yet its indigenous population remained some of the kindest, most welcoming and generous people I ever met. There is something about struggling with adversity that makes the cream rise to the top in some people’s personalities and it made Coventry an immensely rewarding place to learn my trade.

In my first few weeks as a trainee reporter, I recall being invited into the gutted home of a local councillor, with the body of his bed-bound, disabled wife still smouldering in the next room, so he could pay tribute to her and profusely thank the firefighters who had bravely, but unsuccessfully, battled to save her. Shock can do terrible things to people; despite my protestations, he insisted on showing me his wife’s body – and a month later wrote and apologised while thanking me for my sympathetic reporting.

I was 19 and, in those days, you learned quickly as a cub reporter or you failed forever. My very first day in the job, just a few weeks earlier, had seen me sent to cover another fire death, of a woman who had died in the upstairs bedroom of a house after throwing her children from the window to neighbours and going back to try to save the dog who had woken her.

Why had I been entrusted with such a dramatic story – solo – on my first day? Because our senior reporters were out covering a horrific murder, a rape and a multiple death crash. To say it was baptism by fire would be an understatement (and a terrible pun typical of the black humour which those who encounter the dark side of life too often in their jobs tend to slip into as a self-defence mechanism).

But it set the tone for a job where the ups and downs of life are laid out before you on a daily basis and where the vast majority of journalists develop a protective skin while secretly empathising deeply with the people whose stories it is their job to tell.

Sadly, today, their lives are made no easier by the harsh commercial pressures of modern publishing and the rise of social media as a tool for mass communication.

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of the Bradford Daily Telegraph, which later became the T&A. My one regret in stepping down last year is that I knew I would not be in the driving seat when that momentous moment came around.

I’m sure that Oliffe Briant “OB” Stokes (1936-62) who, like me, held the reins for a sixth of that time, would join me in paying just a small tribute to the thousands of young reporters who, whether thrown in at the deep end or given a gentler introduction, managed to make their way in a role that has helped illuminate and enlighten Bradford in a responsible, balanced and caring way that social media will never emulate.