The End

It is with great sadness that I officially close this blog.

I have been on a hiatus of sorts for a very long time, and while I originally felt that one day I might return, I have now decided that this is not going to happen.

This does not mean I am no longer a writer.

Writing is something I must do every day. It is a compulsion. It is the easiest way to relax and makes me happier than anything else on Earth. I am happy, knowing I have a gift which others admire and envy, and want to do my utmost to ensure that one day, it becomes my livelihood.

Journalism, however, does not seem to be the answer any more. I simply do not have the funds to put myself through an NCTJ-accredited masters degree, and am instead going into teaching. This, I hope, will offer me a stable income- money and a room of my own.

When I was 10 years old, I first announced that I would become a writer. I knew then that it would be difficult, but in twleve years, my feelings have not changed.

I feel happier now, knowing the terrain. I have seen how difficult it is to make my way, to stay on course. I have failed myself more times than I can say.

Rest assured, I will never give up.

The closing of this blog is a new start for me. It is the shedding of an old skin which will allow me to grow, and I wish I had had the courage to do it sooner. If I could change one thing about myself, I would be braver, because thatis the only thing, besides luck, holding me back.

So here is my pledge:

I am a writer, but a coward also. In order to be happy, I must fight against my instincts and be brave. It may anger or upset other people, but I owe it to myself to put my head above the parapet. So I will.

I will maintain the two remaining blogs I have on here, and post weekly. I will write every day, and read every week. I will open another blog under a pen-name, and actively promote myself under that pen-name. In time, I will become brave enough to use my real name, though not just yet.

I will bring focus to my work, clear aims, clear goals. I have been wandering about in circles for far too long. I will never give up,but will simply change my course.

One last word, for you: Thank you for being my reader.

My Turn

We all know how cruel the press can be. In this age of social media, more information is available than ever before. The turnover of stories is high, and for a busy journalist, there is more temptation than ever before to cut corners.

Corners can be cut in all sorts of places. The research can be paid for with back-handers, rather than waiting for an official announcement. The facts can even be guessed at, if pressed for both time and money. Vague statements can be made, then posted to the internet with the tag: “Details to follow.”

You can cut corners by not checking your facts, by not checking your spelling, by not checking if it ever happened at all.

Stories are needed to fuel the media machine. Preferably, ones that can be summed up in 140 characters or fewer. Quality must be sacrificed in order to provide quantity.

Advertising revenue has its stranglehold on the media, too. If you’re not selling papers, you need to make money another way. So, making mistakes, or missing information the first time a story is published is actually beneficial. The reader must return to see the corrections.

All the time, Twitter dangles the key pieces of information just out of reach.

Your friendly local paper isn’t so friendly any more. It’s a monster, crushing all who stand in its path.

This week, that was me.

This week, a tragedy hit my family. I’m not ready to tell the internet what that was, because frankly it’s personal. However, not so personal that my local paper didn’t think it was absolutely delicious, and jump on the “story”.

My life, and my family’s lives are not stories. Our misfortune is not in the public interest. Still, it didn’t stop me finding out this particular piece of tragedy, not from the police, not from my family, but from Twitter.

A family tragedy. My family’s tragedy. 140 characters or fewer.

I was devastated. A quick glance confirmed that my mother, too, had been informed in the same way.

I can’t put words to that, yet. All kinds of metaphors spring to mind, from being sideswiped by a lorry to falling into a bottomless pit. There was no way I could have seen it coming.

After the shock subsided, what was left was fear. That there are people in this world so callous as to do that to me. This isn’t just someone else’s injustice any more. It’s mine.

So I wrote an email. I wrote to them to tell them exactly what they have done wrong, exactly how cruel they have been. I do not know what good it will be.

I am a mouse standing up to a lion, and I am terrified.

Anyone so cruel as to do that to my family once will have no qualms about doing worse to me. How dare I call them on their behaviour? I’m not a qualified journalist! I’m a tiny, pathetic mouse, and nobody will listen to me.

Please, friends, subscribers, strangers, whoever you may be: I didn’t wake up on Friday morning and think “Today I’ll have an unpleasant confrontation with the press.” It just happened. It could happen to any of us, without warning.

If we don’t stand up to this sort of lazy, callous news-gathering, we put ourselves at risk. If we argue in favour of free speech at the complete abandonment of the freedom to live in peace, we run the risk of finding ourselves a victim of the press.

Our lives are not stories.

Details to follow.

Press Regulation: Dream or Reality?

Since I started this blog, I’ve seen some horrendous examples of bad journalism, ranging from the badly researched to the downright dangerous. I’ve read stories about people being hounded to suicide by irresponsible reporting. I’ve seen headline news later turn out to be pure fiction. I’ve read vitriolic rants that would make the BNP baulk.

So, despite wanting to go into journalism, press regulation does not seem like a bad idea to me.

I know that I am not alone in my thinking, but also know that there are many that would oppose me, and for various reasons.

The Leveson report stated that the press should regulate themselves. This is a different concept to simply doing as they please- media groups should agree in advance where the line stands, and what happens when they cross it.

While this seems like a soft option, it may be the only one available.

The Daily Mail and the Mirror have categorically stated that they will not accept any form of press regulation. They claim that it violates the Freedom of the Press.

I could draw any number of preposterous comparisons here, but the one thing I need to convey is that these media groups have stated their intention to break the law if one is made. This would make any sort of press regulation utterly unenforceable.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, having exchanged text messages with rich baddie Rebekah Brooks, needs to make it look like we’re still all in this together. So he needs to press for regulation.

This is something that the red and yellow teams also want, but, as they aren’t actually in a position of genuine power, are free to say anything they want about it. So they want hanging for anyone caught with a dictaphone, full censorship and Piers Morgan’s head on a spike (for the lols).

The Ed Miller Band, who seemed like a serious politician until he started automatically gainsaying whatever Cameron said, apparently wanted the press regulation to be enshrined in law. While lovely for the Dowlers of this world, this would also unfortunately play into the hands of any corrupt politicians who wanted to keep things nice and quiet.

So, the Royal Charter solution is a token, a sticker on the chest of David Cameron saying that he did his best. It won’t make morally fragile investigative journalism any more fluffy, and, if the chilling responses from the nation’s press are anything to go by, it won’t make the tiniest bit of difference at all, ever, and it’s just been a massive waste of everyone’s time, money and attention span.

It was denounced, it must be said, by the usual suspects. The Mirror issued a monosyllabic response: “The cobbled together blanket law will blow up in Britain’s face. Next time a prime minister denounces the censorship of a Mugabe they’ll have a ready retort…Despots will take heart from Britain beating the press.”

I think my IQ just dropped by 70 points just reading that.

The Independent, Telegraph and (doubt it not) Sun were more level-headed, but the very worst strops came from the bloggers. Fleet Street Fox claimed that the government were trying to revoke freedom of speech- something I can’t even bring myself to argue with this time. If you want my take, go through my back catalogue. The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne threw his NUJ (National Union of Journalists) membership card in the bin in a paddy, for their sympathies toward press regulation.

If there’s something that highlights, it’s that baddie journalism is the preserve of the few, and not the many. So, perhaps once all those who like writing about minorities as if they’re freak shows, and stalking innocent people because it’s “in the public interest” have stomped off to the Mail, we might actually see a brighter future for journalism.

Fingers crossed, eh?

Just. Stop that.

Forgive me if I’m a little angry, but I just read the biggest pile of sexist journalism I’ve seen in a while.

Titled “10 Compliments Men Hate“, at first glance it is a perfectly harmless procrasto-magnet designed to help you ignore your awful job and crumbling love life.

“So why are you reading it?” I hear you ask.

“Stop asking questions,” I say. “That’s not the point.”

At second glance, however, it seems to suggest that the battle of the sexes is well and truly lost- and on both sides. Women come across as nagging domestic behemoths with all the tact of a shotgun, whereas men are portrayed as simple-minded pets who need to be told how butch they are at the slightest hint of oestrogen.

“You may have certain chores down to a science” it lilts. Oh, really? Does that second X chromosome really kit me out to be Supermaid? I enjoy warming my hands in the water with the dishes, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at cleaning them. I even like to whip round with the broom once in a while.

However, I am not, in any way, more efficient than my partner. Crumbs on the floor? Hoover. Dusty telly? Hoover. Chopping board needs wiping down? Hoover. You name it, he’s hoovered it. Do not mock him- it works. Even, and I hate to say it, on the chopping board.

It goes on: “Men never want their wives to question their ultra-masculine abilities.” What on earth is an ultra-masculine ability? It must be something like lifting a family car while kicking a rhino in the nuts, surely? No: It’s fixing a leaky tap.

I did the electrics for my flat. I’m really proud of that. Not because it’s a “masculine” ability, but because it’s an ability. I also laid the laminate flooring and painted the tricky bits on the ceiling. Are those ultra-masculine activities? Am I now on a waiting list for gender reassignment surgery? I’d have tried to fix the tap, but it isn’t broken. Do I lose my man card for that? Should I have broken it just for the testosterone boost that fixing it would bring?

The article eases off after that, but still suggests a few idiotic things women might say, if said women were under hypnosis and given a script. “I love your tummy flab!” for example, is the male-directed equivalent of going “I really like the way that dress makes your bum look gigantic.” You’d have to be mental, or at the very least not-so-subtly angling for a breakup.

Am I overestimating humanity here, to suggest we’re beyond all this? The idea that women do housework because that is their biological aptitude? And that men are simpletons who think powertools are an extension of their manhood?

I am a human being. I do things that humans do. I lift weights. I knit. I play video games. I cook. You are also a human being. You do things that other human beings do.

What we don’t need to do is have every one of our facets deemed either pink or blue, and especially not when we’re just looking for some mindless nonsense to read on the internet. It perpetuates the ridiculous notion that we’re entirely seperate creatures who are just waiting to develop cloning so we can build the wall and have done with the other lot.

Male, female or anything in between- I don’t care, and nor should you. Have a lovely day, regardless.

On the Go

First off, apologies for my really long absence. I’ve been ill for a few weeks, and before that, I was just lazy. So, sorry.

The final year of my degree has not exactly been leisurely. If I thought revising for University Challenge was bad, I clearly hadn’t encountered synchrotrons.

For those of you who don’t know what a synchrotron is, it’s a type of particle accelerator used to produce light. That is all you will ever need to know for the entirety of your life.

I, however, know a little more about them. I’m waiting for the day I’m idly wandering the streets when a policeman shouts “Oh, sweet Lord! Can anyone here use Matlab to produce a model of a FODO lattice for use in third generation light sources? Lives depend on it.”

I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

I love synchrotrons, and their radiation, utterly disproportionately. You won’t believe all the clever things they’re used for. Still, there’s this nagging feeling that maybe I’ve taken this physics thing a bit far.

To start with, it was a brilliant idea. Do some research. Get a specialism. Know what I’m talking about. Now, it’s getting silly.

But you know what? I don’t care. The more I think about it, the more fun it is. This is what uni should have been from the off- researching something I knew nothing about. I’ve learnt so much.

“All knowledge is precious, whether or not it serves the slightest human use.”

That’s why I want to be a journalist. To know, and to tell everyone what I know.

Let me.

Dangerous Opinions Part 2

Well, having thought I’d done away with the topic of newsgroups needing to distance themselves from the disturbing opinions of their columnists, I was then astonished to find that Julie Burchill had reared her ugly head, and allowed me to re-enter the discussion.

I won’t quote her, link to her or say anything of her article except that it was riddled with privilege and hate speech. If she had been talking about women, she would have brought out the b- and q- words, and if she had been talking about black people, she would have laced her lobster-and-champagne fuelled tirade with the n-word, and probably a picture of a golliwog.

Except, because she was talking about transsexuals, a group not yet defended by the Observer/Guardian’s usually liberal house style, nobody is allowed to be offended by it. In fact, it is one of those ‘freedom of speech’ issues.

Freedom of speech is a troublesome beast. It is not absolute, for a start. It is limited by libel laws, so that you can’t just go around making things up about people. It is limited by obscenity laws, so that we don’t have to endure endless smut. It is also limited by the sort of laws which keep Abu Hamza et al quiet.

Admittedly, Julie Burchill hasn’t gone so far as to suggest cis people (as she so hates to be called), bomb trans people. Still, her defenders, and the supposed defenders of free speech, have overlooked something quite significant.

This arbitrary right to freedom of speech, which I hold dear, is not the bottom line. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not as a single entity, but as one of a pair. If anyone decides they are to exercise their right to freedom of expression, they must also be prepared to do so with responsibility.

Julie Burchill did not act with responsibility. She, clearly bored of being out of the headlines, scrawled a barely coherent column before possibly deliberately strewing it with top-level hate terms. Voila, the piece was withdrawn, the Guardian’s offices were descended upon by angry transgender people and their allies, and some more columnists decided to cash in by defending Burchill’s freedom of speech.

Simon Kelner’s defence of Burchill was indefensible in itself. He claimed in i that the genuine and unsurprising offence taken by the transgender community ‘has serious implications for free speech in 21st-century Britain’ and goes on to lament ‘What kind of country is this?’

I think that Kelner’s piece says more for the state of 21st-century journalism than it does for the state of 21st-century Britain. Free speech is a lovely little freebie when you make your money writing whatever you want week after week. If nobody is allowed to be upset when you call them (and I said I wouldn’t quote Burchill, but the hideousness of her backwards language is staggering) a ‘shim’ or ‘bedwetters in bad wigs’, then quite frankly I don’t want to live here any more.

Freedom of speech is all very well and good, but Julie Burchill’s quite considerable wealth means that this little trifle isn’t going to trouble her a jot. The real freedom at stake here is the freedom for transwomen, and transmen (yes, Julie, those exist) to walk in the street without being abused.

Until that day, freedom of speech comes with responsibilities.

Dangerous Opinions

With the internet, blogging and microblogging allowing more and more people to have their say on a global scale, journalism has never been so broad. Citizen journalism has brought down entire regimes, as it allowed ordinary people to bypass state media, and report on the situation they saw in front of them.

As good news as this is for oppressed citizens, what does this actually mean for those of us living in a state where the media is, almost controversially, not controlled by the government?

When I blog, I try to keep my opinions out of it. This isn’t always possible because I’m human, and tend to write about something I noticed in the past week. I certainly didn’t notice because I was indifferent to it.

However, when I voice an opinion, it’s fine, because you, my reader, are happy in the knowledge that this blog has come from a flat in rural Lancashire, and not a prestigious newsgroup.

Now, I am very aware that I am having a job application considered (or otherwise) by the particular media group that has irked me in the past few weeks. Not because of their news, which as ever, is insightful, up-to-the-minute and I’ll stop because I’m grovelling. The concern here is whether or not large, well-respected media groups should be employing bloggers.

Opinion columns are not a new idea. However, they tend to be written in a lighthearted fashion which puts the reader in no doubt that they can be free to agree or disagree as they wish, for the author knows no more on the subject than they do. Better still, it could be an anecdote about the writer’s pet chickens, and absolutely nothing that might influence the world at large.

However, there is one particular newsgroup, called the Telegraph Media Group (you may have heard of it), which has a rather large cohort of bloggers. These bloggers write on such lofty topics as politics, education and world news. Set in the ordinary Telegraph website, there is very little to indicate that this is, in fact, pure speculation on the part of the author, and absolutely not something the reader should invest too heavily in.

The word “blog” hides in the corner of the page where a reader might miss it. Rather like the word “advertisement” on those irritating mock articles.

For a reputable newsreader to be giving a platform to anyone’s opinion, then dressing it up as they do their rather more factual pieces, is reckless. It is not the action expected of an industry which, in the wake of Leveson, is attempting to make itself seem responsible.

Regardless of what these pieces say, the fact that they are not properly distinguished as opinion means that the “idiot in a hurry” might actually take some of these idle scratchings as genuine journalism.

I understand why it is done. Writing about your own opinions is incredibly easy, which means you can pay any old figure, journalist or not, to write them. There’s no need for boring fact-checking or worrying someone might sue. Also, the more absurd the opinion held by the writer the better, because the readers will be compelled to argue about it in the comments.

Which is where the practise stops becoming reckless and starts being dangerous.

In a random smattering of Telegraph blogs, I uncovered the following thoughts. One labelled Polly Toynbee ‘unreadable’, and ‘the dreary tunnel-visioned propagandist’, claiming the woman had ‘filthy tribal hands’. Another, predictably Oxbridge educated, wrote a scathing piece on Oxbridge rejects, portraying them as ‘self-flagellating’, ‘bitter’ and ‘overcompensating’. A third claimed Chelsea FC should end up ‘in the dock’ after Mark Clattenburg was found innocent, a curiously absurd statement. By that logic, Anton Ferdinand should too- John Terry was found innocent by the justice system. Stephen Lawrence’s mum might also have faced trial once it was “proved” that her son’s evil killers weren’t racist at all.

The only beacon of hope was Brendan O’Neill’s shaming of his fellow opinion-mongers, though even that was titled contentiously and deliberately: ‘The ritualistic humiliation of Lance Armstrong is far more repulsive than anything Armstrong himself did’

The worst thing, however, is the effect this has on the readers. They wind them up with this stuff endlessly, and eventually they snap. They end up being dragged into discussions where the only argument is ‘my opinion is better than your opinion’- which of course, was the main body of the original article too.

The article that broke the camel’s back for me was one that claimed that genuine academics were being gagged for fear of being called ‘transphobic’- that is to say, they were publishing theories which went against transgender experiences, and calling foul when transgender people got upset.

The academic in question had written a book a few years ago (how topical) which consistently referred to male-to-female transsexuals as men. The author of the blog lamented the “political orthodoxy” which claimed that, for some reason, these women shouldn’t be referred to as men.

The commenters went into overdrive. One shrieked about how the NHS were ‘indulging people’s fantasies of changing sex’ and labelled ‘transphobia’ and the already-established ‘homophobia’ as pseudo-psychology. Another referred to transsexuals as eunuchs.

If ‘reputable’ news sources such as the Telegraph wish to keep their reputations, they need to look carefully at the platform they provide, and to whom. The Independent and the Guardian are also guilty of the same thing, except I haven’t applied for a job with them, so it’s not really making such a bold statement.

The final piece I discovered allowed for the dehumanisation of an entire section of society, turning what could have been an insightful piece on the ethics of providing children with hormone treatment into a witch-hunt. I just hope the Telegraph stop before a hate crime is committed, or somebody commits suicide.

There are real lives behind these pieces. I’m sure Polly Toynbee is old enough to take care of herself, and she does polarise opinion- but does she deserve to be so personally targeted? And do transgender people, or transgender children in particular, need to be offered as a target for the loud minority of commenters to pour their vitriol over?

Think it through, Telegraph. Distance yourself.