Tag Archives: journalism

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?

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.

How I lost a Twitter follower

I lost a Twitter follower this week. I know, because it hit me hard. I’ve been teetering on the edge of fifty (which I know is nothing) for a while now, and now it feels like I’ll never get there. Still, I made an amateur mistake, and I’m glad I realised before things got any worse.

As I mention in my profile, I go through phases. My cricket phase temporarily sated by England’s test series victory in India, I needed something to get wound up about, and fell back on my old love, football.

I can be mildly ridiculous regarding football. I once stayed up until three o’clock in the morning explaining the entire game to someone who’d never really come across it. They ended up going to a match with me, and loved it. If you’re reading, I fancy going again in March if you’re up for it, though I’m not a member any more.

I have been known to sit rigid in the pub when my team is playing, not really moving, drinking or calming down from my state of elevated panic until I’m quite sure the final whistle has gone. Even if it’s 3-1 at 90 minutes, I tend to assume we will lose.

Football is something I care about. I find it difficult not to. Even my team’s rather convincing four-goal-difference win at the weekend was marred by a) the fact they had to come back from behind, b) the horrendous off-the-field politics and c) the fact my heart was breaking every time I caught the lyrics to a chant because I wished I was there.

It wasn’t my own team’s exploits, however, that cost me my follower.

There is a certain figure, in football, who I cannot stand. I think he is smug, dishonest, racist, plays for the wrong team and is downright evil. So I may have wrote the following:

“See [player] pulled out the [trademark illegal goalscoring technique] today. #cheat”

Okay, I did write it. It was true, he did cheat, but I shouldn’t have said it. Because I’m not a football fan. I’m trying to become a sports journalist, and it’s not appropriate.

The person who dropped me based on that tweet, I probably wouldn’t like them in real life. Anyone who is so petty as to unfollow me on the basis of the fact I don’t like one of their players is not worth my time. There are plenty of people who don’t like certain players from my team, and if I unfollowed all of them I probably wouldn’t have an awful lot of tweets to read.

Still, I shouldn’t care about who this person was- they’re just a number to me. Networking, even on a platform so flimsy as Twitter, is a vital part of a whole selection of careers these days. I can’t afford to voice opinions on something as contentious as football. I’ll just stick to the rightful ownership of Gaza or something- it’s likely to get me in less trouble.

I have decided to keep my love of a certain team secret. Yes, go back a few posts and you’ll find out, but that’s not the point. The point is, from now on, my allegiance will only be made known to those I see in the flesh.

Applying Myself

It’s that time of year. The time of year that most people aren’t aware of. Applications time. Which means I’m more nervous than ever to write anything.

When I say “more nervous than ever”, what I actually mean is “nervous”. I’m nervous. I don’t really get nervous, but here it is.

On my applications, it does mention slightly that I have a blog. I also know for a fact that, being human, I have made mistakes in this. I know where they are; I’m just too embarrassed about them to go back and fix them.

I also don’t want to express any opinions until after any applications have been processed. I also don’t really want to mention what applications I’ve made, in case person A gets annoyed about application B, or vice versa.

So, essentially, I’m too scared to write anything, because I’ve got far too much riding on this.

Actually, I am writing at the moment. Trying to keep my hand in and all that. Just- not in places where I might be forced to express any aspect of my personality, lest I be judged by the one person I really want to say yes to my application.

Sigh. Have a good Christmas. I’ll try to.

Not the Leveson Report

I originally intended to write this blog on the Leveson report. I opened it, flicked through the pages, and after seeing the sheer heft of the mere table of contents, decided that it was probably not worth it.

Instead, I intend to invite you to my own smug little world as I cope with the giddy aftermath of discovering one of my articles in print for the first time. Of course, I’ve been in school and college publications- but they’re not exactly Focus magazine, are they?

Before I had even bought my copy of November’s Focus magazine from WHSmith’s, I had my nose between the pages. I walked to the counter, tossed some coins across, wandered out into the cold, realised it was cold and wandered into MenKind, where eventually I found what I was looking for. I then proceeded to pretend to browse as I attempted to cork my bubbling excitement.

Really,  I had no idea that my article was going to end up in print. I had felt that perhaps the Focus team were just being kind when they told me of the possibility, and that it was an outcome generally reserved for those better than I. In actuality, I desperately wanted a print article to spice up my portfolio for the benefit of any potential employers and/or admissions tutors.

Still, there it was. My initial thought was to be incredibly pleased that they had spruced it up with a whacking great graphic. It looked beautiful and professional.

This is Focus magazine we’re talking about though. Of course it’s beautiful and professional. Now, and with a piece of paper to prove it, I am also beautiful and professional.

I knew I was going to be excited when I finally got an article into print. I just didn’t realise how excited. I also didn’t realise how desperately dull it would be for everyone who knows me.

If I were a trainee surgeon, and I showed people all the operations I’d managed to blag my way into doing with the aim of perfecting my craft, it would be laughable. So why am I surprised that nobody’s asked to borrow my copy of November’s Focus?

I’m sorry that I’m boring, that I love a job I don’t even have yet and that I want to ruin your day with all the awful details. I really am.

Still- I’m in print!

Masterpiece of Understatement

I must admit, immediately, that the title of this piece comes from an article by BBC Sport’s chief football writer, Phil McNulty.

As much as I despise bad writing, there is a part of me that is slightly overwhelmed by just how beautiful good writing can be. Beautiful writing is common in fiction- almost as common as dross. It might even be more appropriate in fiction than in non-fiction. Fiction is supposed to transport you, deviate you from the repetition of your daily cycle. Non-fiction is supposed to be fact.

Facts are dull. They are dry. They are true, so they are boring, prompting certain newspapers to reject fact in favour of rather more entertaining speculation. That’s bad journalism, and it’s not good for us.

I really can’t express how amazing the following sentence made me feel:

“To suggest that Benitez’s arrival to succeed Roberto Di Matteo has not been received with universal acclaim by Chelsea’s supporters is to offer up a masterpiece of understatement.”

Isn’t it glorious? If you said that out loud, you’d have to pop a monocle in and hold a pipe to the corner of your mouth to stabilise yourself.

What’s more, it’s true, and that makes it so much better. Yes, I do despise Benitez- I pitied Liverpool for keeping him as long as they did. He’s the managerial equivalent of swimming with lead weights around your ankles.

This Sunday, Stamford Bridge will be livid. The Matthew Harding stand will most likely be alight with fury. The West Standers, of course, will sip their caviar, spread their champagne on crackers, and wonder what all the fuss is about, but that’s what you get from ten years of being a billionaire’s favourite toy.

The fact is, eight years ago, every single Chelsea fan fell in love with a man. He wore a long grey coat, and he did it so much better than Roberto Mancini. He was handsome, and had a way of speaking that made us all quite giddy. He was controversy embodied, a megalomaniac rumoured to have hidden in a laundry basket just to dictate the flow of a cup final from which he was banned.

He probably didn’t, but in our dreams he did. Four years after his dismissal, following the unfortunate omelette incident, the name of Jose Mourinho is still sung by Chelsea fans. Every time Roman gets sick of the latest manager, every one of use crosses his fingers that he still has Jose’s number.

We miss him terribly.

In contrast, Rafael Benitez is a balding, bespectacled, chubby man. He enjoys zonal marking, which is dull. Where Mourinho had masculine stubble, Benitez sports a beard which can probably be found in a joke shop. Where Mourinho was sharply dressed, Benitez is more practical, which is all very lovely and sensible, but since when do football fans love people for being sensible? Since when does anyone?

The final nail in the coffin for Benitez is the fact that he used to manage Liverpool, and managed them when they were quite successful. On the back of some repugnant cheating by famous ginger Xabi Alonso, Chelsea were kicked out of a Champions’ League which was rightfully theirs, leaving it to Inter Milan to cock up the final and let Liverpool win.

As a result, Benitez and Mourinho don’t get on. To explain what that means, Andre Villas Boas didn’t get on with Mourinho either. He didn’t do very well- probably something to do with the older players’ ability to send text messages to Spain, but probably more to do with receiving replies.

Rafael Benitez could manage Chelsea to the four remaining trophies of the season, and I’d still want him to go at the end of the interim. I’d want him to go because I’d believe it to be a fluke, knowing him, as all Chelsea fans do, as a mediocre manager who has been unemployed for two years.

I hated Phil Scolari with a passion. I can’t even say I care that much about Benitez.

Beautiful journalism is a brilliant idea. Facts aren’t dull. Facts actually mean something. The words “masterpiece of understatement” spoke to me in a way that an epic poem never could. They spoke the truth.