Best articles of 2013

Credit: NY Times

Credit: NY Times

As we approach the end of the year, it’s customary for media outlets to do a round-up of their highlights. While this is all well and good (and a little self-congratulatory), I thought I’d do something slightly different and compile my favourite features and opinion pieces of 2013 written by other journalists. These stories range from the sensational to the silly; the horrifying to the hilarious, but all cover their subject deftly, sensitively and powerfully. So here’s to the year in features journalism: it’s been a bloody good one.

Reality bites

Picking a favourite is never easy, but Francesca Borri’s piece on working as a freelancer in Syria is probably my must-read of the year:

The truth is, we are failures. Two years on, our readers barely remember where Damascus is, and the world instinctively describes what’s happening in Syria as “that mayhem,” because nobody understands anything about Syria—only blood, blood, blood.

Woman’s work, Columbia Journalism Review, July ’13.

The best kinds of articles are often the ones you can’t get out of your head, and Ariel Levy’s account of miscarrying at the edge of the earth falls into that category.

Thanksgiving in Mongolia, The New Yorker, November ’13.

Another mark of a great feature is one that perfectly encapsulates a specific industry, and Tim Kreider’s assessment of being asked to work for free does just that:

Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.

Slaves of the internet, unite!, The New York Times, October ’13.

Great investigations

Some of the in-depth reports produced this year have been absolutely astounding, and uncovered unpleasant truths that we would otherwise know nothing about.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky’s investigation into Bolivia’s ghost rapes is one of the most shocking I have ever read.

The ghost rapes of Bolivia, VICE, August ’13.

Another horrifying feature came in the shape of Hanna Rosin’s report on a shocking series of Craigslist murders.

Murder by Craigslist, The Atlantic, August ’13.

Following the factory collapse in Dhaka earlier this year, Raveena Aulakh got hired at a Bangladeshi sweatshop to uncover what the conditions there were really like:

“When I become a sewing operator, I will make very good shirts,” Meem (9) promised. “No one will yell at me.”

I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year-old boss, Toronto Star, October ’13.

Jason Burke’s report on how Delhi’s brutal gang rape highlighted the routine abuse of Indian women made for essential, albeit painful, reading.

Delhi rape: how India’s other half lives, The Guardian, September ’13.

James Oliphant’s interview with ‘death’s accountant’ – the man tasked with compensating victims of tragedy – is a rare insight into what happens once a news story turns into someone’s reality.

“You’ll never make these people whole,” Feinberg says, sitting in his Washington law office as the city below baked in the summer’s heat. Befitting a career lived under klieg lights, one wall is dedicated to press clippings. But here, dread and devastation run through the framed articles, a sorrowful wall of fame.

How much is a life worth?, National Journal, August ’13.

In my opinion

There are so many opinion writers whose columns make for consistently brilliant reading, but here is a small selection of those who made their points with great conviction:

Racial profiling is endemic around the world, but Brian Beutler’s piece on why getting shot by black men wouldn’t change his attitudes to stop and frisk searches is incredibly honest.

What I learned from getting shot, Salon, August ’13.

In the wake of the Boston Bombings, Nina Burleigh asked why male violence is still so deeply entrenched in every society:

From Boston to Baghdad, from Kabul to Korea, from Aurora to Newtown, the world is imperiled by angry men feeling disrespected, their tender sensibilities hurting so bad that their fingers are twitching on gun triggers and bomb timers.

Diss diss bang bang: welcome to the golden age of male rage, New York Observer, April ’13.

John Dickerson wrote an incredibly thoughtful piece on whether we can both live in the moment and capture it on social media.

Note to selfie, Slate, December ’13.

This article by Owen Jones on the hierarchy of death highlights the uncomfortable issue of why we prioritise certain lives over others:

Placing human suffering into hierarchies allows injustices to continue without scrutiny or challenge; and it distorts our understanding of the reality of conflicts. It undermines a universal, shared sense of humanity. It is, ultimately, a manifestation of prejudice.

Our shameful hierarchy – some deaths matter more than others, The Independent, April ’13.

Melanie Reid’s column about how the men in her life helped her cope with becoming tetraplegic is beautiful.

Spinal column: the men in my life, The Times, November ’13.

Following his conviction for accessing child pornography, former journalist David Goldberg asks whether prison is the most effective form of punishment for paedophiles:

The main query that I am convinced will always be without an answer is why I am a pedophile. It is the equivalent of trying to determine why someone is heterosexual or gay. We don’t choose our sexual orientations. If we could, believe me, no one would choose mine.

I, pedophile, The Atlantic, August ’13.

Polly Toynbee’s piece on ageism for women in public facing jobs asks important questions about why they are deemed unfit for viewing:

Young women are treated as ditsy decoration, mothers too distracted to be reliable and finally after 50, they’re past it – so when exactly is their moment?

No women over 50 allowed (unless it’s Helen Mirren), The Guardian, July ’13.

Speaking out

It’s by no means only journalists who write most powerfully, as these op-eds show.

The abysmal pay afforded to fast food workers in the US has been making the headlines in late 2013, and Willietta Dukes’ account perfectly delineates the problem:

I’ve worked in fast-food for 15 years, and I can’t even afford my own rent payments. We just want fairness and to be able to provide for our families. No one who works every day should be forced to be homeless.

Why I’m on strike today, The Guardian, August ’13.

Joan Marans Dim’s look back at coping with 10 years of her husband’s degenerative illness is both sad and hopeful in equal measure.

A decade of goodbye, The New York Times, September ’13.

The debate surrounding wearing a poppy rages each year, but veteran Harry Leslie Smith’s piece contributed some much-needed perspective:

Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector.

This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time, The Guardian, November ’13.

Jim Sollisch wrote a great op-ed on why traditional ways of marking success just don’t work:

Maybe we should have an expression that captures the level of success you’ve achieved when you do exactly what you love every day.

I want to be a millennial when I retire, The New York Times, November ’13.

In this convocation speech to Syracuse University, George Saunders communicates some lovely thoughts about kindness.

George Saunders’s advice to graduates, printed in The New York Times, July ’13.

Fun and games

Given the internet these days is approx 90% cat gifs, here are a few of my favourite articles from the internet’s lighter side in 2013.

Rose Surnow reported back from her first ever sexual fitness class:

I am going to do things to a bouncy ball that would have me arrested in most states (definitely Texas). The point of the class is to use your lower abdominals to awaken sexual energyand strengthen orgasms. It’s Pilates Gone Wild.

Getting Your Vagina on the Ball: Inside My First Sexual Fitness Class, Cosmopolitan, May ’13.

Vinay Menon wrote a great account of meeting Selena Gomez and listening to her new album – on which he could only make ‘mental notes.’

https://twitter.com/gradywsmith/status/354728995394297858

Meeting Selena Gomez rule no. 1: do not mention Justin Bieber, Toronto Star, July ’13.

A plethora of hilarity/awfulness abounds after Jeremy Feist is forced to take on his boyfriend’s cat:

I could learn to love the cat. And in turn, the cat would learn to wage psychological warfare on me.

Cats are evil and I hate them, xoJane, January ’13.

And finally, Michael Deacon bares all in his mini-memoir of working at a lads magazine.

Sex! Girls! Meltdown! Confessions of a baffled lads’ mag editor, The Daily Telegraph, October ’13.

Have I missed something brilliant off this list? Let me know in the comments

I lost my dog (for 10 minutes) and she became a social media star

dog tweetLast week, a friend who’d come to stay delighted in letting me know that he and his fellow Americans think Brits love their dogs too much.

“But I don’t spoil mine,” I protested. “I only hugged her for 10 minutes when I walked in the door! Someone who REALLY loved their dog too much would hug them for at least 15.”

Case closed.

However, after I temporarily misplaced my mutt on Hampstead Heath this weekend, and she turned into a viral celebri-pooch on Twitter, it dawned on me that this cynical observation might actually be rooted in truth. After one or two famous people and several thousand non-famous people somehow got wind of my errant hound’s little sojourn, I spent the rest of the day, and a large part of the next two, fielding the social media frenzy that came my way.

To give the situation a little context, my 13 year old mongrel Koko was having a gay old time on the Heath on Sunday, running ahead in her usual fashion, when I suddenly realised I couldn’t actually see her. After calling her name repeatedly to no avail, I did start to get a little anxious, and feared that getting excessively impassioned over regaling my friend with my top six actors list was probably not a great excuse for losing the cherished family pet. I mean, Marion Cotillard really is a wonder of the silver screen, but that thought alone would not sustain the void induced by my negligence in my parents’ hearts.

After a few minutes went by, I did what all people desperate to share their problems with the world do, and sent a tweet with a photo of my dog appealing for help from any Heath-goers. About a minute after I posted the tweet, my dad called to let me know that Koko had been taken in by some nice ladies who could still make out the rusty home phone number on her collar. My initial reaction was one of surprise that this had happened so quickly, followed by irritation (at the incorrect notion) that my grandparents had been stalking me on Twitter again and relaying my ineptitudes back to my long suffering ma and pa.

Consumed by jubilation, and quite a lot of sweat, we marched to the scene and recovered the small creature, who ignored me entirely upon my arrival. And then, to top off our reunion, she then defecated in front of a large group of people. On some level I feel she knew that I’d used my only plastic bag on her first poop party, and was intentionally seeking to shame me in front of the dog walking community. Or maybe she just really needed to crap twice that day. Hard to be sure.

When the drama had subsided, I checked Twitter again to find that I had an uncharacteristically large influx of tweets enquiring about the fate of my poor little pooch. I couldn’t quite understand how this had happened until I noticed that comedian Sarah Millican was one of the key pioneers in my dog’s rise to social media stardom, and that a fair portion of her 900k+ followers had transferred their love and affection to my plight. I felt a bit rude telling people that my predicament had in fact lasted about 15 minutes, and Koko is an incredibly well behaved dog who was essentially in the spot where we left her, but I certainly wasn’t going to blow what will probably be my only chance in life to have people be unrelentingly nice to me on social media.

It did get a little intense at points, with ‘erotic stars’ reposting pictures of Koko’s innocent little face alongside their, ahem, less than innocent avatars, dog-lovers from different continents wishing us a happy life and others telling me they were ‘praying’ for my ‘baby,’ which was quite heart-warming, if a little unwarranted. Part of me wanted to say, “Thanks for getting in touch, guys, but how about we all pray for the sick and needy instead? They probably need our good wishes more than a mongrel who’s been led astray by a pungent stick!” But people had been so very kind, and hardly anybody used the situation as an excuse to make dubious puns about dogging, so I thought it better to just go with the flow.

dog2What this mini Sunday saga has taught me above all is that we may be unable to reach a mutual agreement on Syria, or the bedroom tax, or middle lane drivers, but we bloody love our pets, and I think that counts for something. In a world of political confusion and social unrest, it’s sort of; well, nice, that Brits all share a mutual sense of compassion for something – even if that something is an animal that spends a significant portion of each day licking its own backside. But then I suppose as a nation that gets frequently accused of being too far up our own arses, it’s no wonder that we’re so wonderfully in sync with our four legged friends.

Adventures of an eternal intern (featuring Des’ree)

Super-InternIn my last blog of this ilk–written almost four months ago–I was debating whether or not to flood the office of a national newspaper editor with peanuts in the hope that he’d think I was quirky and amazing and hire me on the spot. Sure, it all sounds questionable now, but as I said then: it’s really hard to know what is fucking stupid and what is totally genius when it comes to industrial sized quantities of salted nuts.

I ended up shelving the peanut plan and sent him an email asking if he’d meet with me and dole out some advice. He very kindly agreed, and although I spent most of that afternoon quietly bricking it at my desk while trying to soothe myself with cat gifs, I was sort of glad I went with the normal route as opposed to one that, while original, had a far greater chance of resulting in death. No, he didn’t magically promote me to queen of the newspaper, but it’s always helpful to pick the brains of people who do a similar thing to you – just successfully.

After spending six weeks at the paper, I sort of explored my options for a bit before realising that I didn’t really have many/any options. I was still very much against doing a journalism postgraduate course mainly because almost every journalist I know doesn’t have one, and also because I feel as though these courses price people who can’t afford yet another degree out of the industry, which really benefits no one. I applied to a few jobs here and there until one afternoon, in a pre-Beyoncé concert induced high, I ended up spontaneously booking a flight to New York. I’ve been desperate to move back there ever since I left at Christmas, and decided I may as well head back for a holiday as I could crash with friends and perhaps casually find an American guy to marry me for a Green Card. You just never know.

Going back was probably a little misjudged as when I returned, I had an even bigger case of the post-NYC blues than the last time. That, coupled with a failed meet-up with someone I used to see there who I was sure would be on board with the Green Card marriage shebang led me to devise some fairly ridiculous schemes about how I could get a visa, but I eventually opted to put them on hold–for the short term at least–and try and explore some less potentially felonious routes.

I then got through to the final round of a few jobs I didn’t particularly want–after submitting thousands of words of application materials, I might add–and thought maybe I should just try and have of these stable lives people keep talking about. But they went fairly disastrously for a number of reasons, mostly involving me being sent to the wrong part of town by the iPhone map app or going off on tangents because I’d been up until 4am writing articles I actually felt strongly about.

In a pity motivated move I’m sure they now regret, my parents offered to pay me to paint their house while they were away. In spite of the regular Dulux rainfalls my eyes were on the receiving end of (there is little horror quite like roller-ing a ceiling), this actually gave me a bit of time to pause the frenzied job applications and just write a few bits here and there. I also began spending a large portion of my time singing ‘Life’ by Des’ree (lyrics being ‘Life, oh life! Oh life. Oh life. Do do do do’) because it sort of seemed to sum everything up. Des’ree really is a criminally under-appreciated genius.

Anyway, I then spotted an opportunity to get involved with a startup for the summer, thinking I’d intern there for a few months before toddling off to do a journalism postgrad course in September. But in typical life fashion, I got offered an internship at a global news org within my first few hours of starting – which began the following week. As is always the way in journalism/life, there’s always calm before storm. Although in this case, the storm was actually just choosing between two good things. So basically it wasn’t really like a storm in any way. Forget about the storm.

In spite of my horrible reneging-ness, Benji (who’s heading up the super amazing startup which you can read all about here) was incredibly nice and helpful to me during my week there, and while I dare say there’ll be a lot less 90s garage in my new role, I’m sure it’ll be rewarding in different ways. I also get a bit of paid holiday during the three months I’m there which is possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to me in the entire existence of life, and much better than receiving payment in the form of a solitary pizza slice in the newsroom on a Tuesday evening like one of my other internships. I don’t even like pizza.

Overall, things have been pretty unpredictable since I graduated last July, and interning/freelancing can undoubtedly be very confusing. But it has also afforded me a lot of really exciting opportunities over the past twelve months – and for that, it’s been entirely worth it.

I think.

Western tragedies remind us that we could be next

Carlos Arredondo holds up a blood stained flag in Boston. Darren McCollester/Getty

The world watched in horror yesterday as two bombs were detonated close to the Boston Marathon’s finishing line, killing at least two and injuring over a hundred. Twitter sprang into overdrive, graphic photos of the atrocity flooded the internet, and frenzied speculation about who might be responsible soon began.

But amidst the shock and sorrow, a number of people were quick to point out that over 30 people died in bombings in Iraq on the same day. And while the manner in which this fact was relayed might have been somewhat insensitive – proffered as some kind of body count one-upmanship – it does raise questions about how we apportion sympathy to lost innocent lives on account of their geographical location.

It strikes me that the real reason we found ourselves so affected by the attack in Boston is not just sympathy, but rather that it was an incident you or I could have easily been the victims of. The sweltering, burnt out streets of war torn areas in the Middle East might seem like the usual backdrop for terrorist incidents, but a sunny city in the USA? Almost unheard of, and all the more shocking for it.

The quote that was bandied around the most amidst the online chaos yesterday was one from Fred Rogers, who said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And in Boston yesterday, as the rolling photos, videos and reportage showed, that rang true.

But where are the helpers in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan? Where are the helpers in countries that see 10 times this level of terror and destruction every day? A 50 word nib in the back pages of a newspaper reporting mass deaths in the Middle East does not compare to the front page of almost every Western news outlet demanding answers for yesterday’s horror in Boston.  Why don’t we ask for answers unless it happens close to home?

What took place in the USA yesterday is an utterly tragic and shocking state of affairs, worsened by the fact an innocent child was one of the victims. But innocent children and innocent lives are taken every single day around the world by people planting explosives, and to value the death of one over the other simply because they come from somewhere similar to ourselves is just wrong. Every human life is sacred, and we should feel equally moved by the loss of one, no matter from where in the world it is taken.

Events like yesterday’s often seek to make people temporary media heroes, but Carlos Arredondo (pictured above)’s story is a truly astonishing account of the horrors some people are subjected to, and their unwavering resilience in the face of extreme adversity. 

The strongest female voice in politics is gone. Will there ever be another?

Image

As someone who was born after Margaret Thatcher stepped down from office, the Iron Lady has been a remarkably present figure throughout my life. Perhaps it was because she was the local MP for my area before taking up residence at Downing Street, or the fact she was admired by one parent whilst despised by the other. But more than that, more than any policy she ever triumphed or failed with, the inimitable Mrs T did something that had never happened before or since: she proved that politics could be a woman’s game.

Thatcher’s politics might leave me cold, but her conviction does anything but. As I sat in the newsroom at lunchtime today, watching interview after interview with Tory peers, and the ex-PM’s former colleagues, that achievement was yet again hammered home. I watched as a conveyor belt of wrinkled old Etonians were asked to comment on Thatcher, on her policies, and her life, and her input, and couldn’t help but wonder where her female contemporaries might be. Surely it was for them, and not her male counterparts, that a woman at the forefront of British politics truly meant something.

I talk about the lack of women in male dominated areas of life somewhat frequently – in fact, I often think I should write about something else. But then I notice an all-male panel show, or a political conference entirely devoid of female journalists, and can’t help but put pen back to paper. In a government with woefully few female politicians, most of whom are forgettable faces drawn in to keep up the appearance of addressing the gender gap, Thatcher’s rise to the top of her game and ability to stay there for over a decade is all the more meaningful.

While I found many of her policies to be rather deplorable, Thatcher’s belief in politics, and belief in herself, do offer a glimmer of retribution.  A politician who can be respected is something I’m yet to see. I have never heard the current state of politics more accurately summed up than by comedian Zoe Lyons, who two years ago proffered: “We now have the blandest politicians in Europe. Cameron, Clegg, Miliband – if there was a General Election tomorrow, I wouldn’t know which middle class, middle aged, bland suited, wet lipped, big foreheaded Oxford graduate to punch in the face first.”

British politics has become an increasingly sorry state of affairs, where so-called ‘leaders’ are little more than media monkeys spouting watered down policies that have no real meaning. It is bitterly ironic that in their desperation to show themselves as characters, as men of the people, that Camereggiband has become little more than political white noise. Thatcher didn’t need to tweet, or draft in house pets in a desperate bid for attention. She cared about her country, and though the way she showed this was wildly divisive, no one can doubt her genuine desire to make a difference.

When Roger Ebert passed away last week, tributes poured out in memory of the great writer who spent much of his career destroying that of others with an acerbic flick of his pen. But praise and adulation were heaped upon him because, whether what he said was good or bad, he had an innate understanding of his craft. You may have disagreed with a review or two, but nobody could say the man couldn’t write.

And similarly, while Thatcher’s policies directly impacted some in a most terrible fashion, she understood the game she was playing. It is easy to look back retrospectively and insist that there were better ways to bring coal mining to an end, but the reality was that there was a job that needed doing, and she was the only one with the guts to pull the plug. A politician can never make everyone happy – that goes against the very nature of democracy, where there will always be a majority and minority – but one whose legacy remains as prominent as Thatcher’s has and will speaks volumes for what she achieved. The vast majority of politics revolves around papering over the cracks left by the last government, and while she had inherited an economically damaged country in a perpetual state of rule by an overpaid boys club, adversity seemed to propel her forward.

What worries me most about Thatcher’s death is not the Bieber generation tweeting their desperate confusion about why someone’s name they don’t recognise is trending. What is far more concerning than that is how Britain’s only ever female leader being gone will impact the future of women in politics. I struggle to believe that the likes of Baroness Warsi or Nadine Dorries will positively influence young girls contemplating a career in politics – there are simply no role models, no female tour-de-force frontbenchers who show girls that they can be a party minority and win.

I find it almost impossible to get my head around the fact that out of 75 Prime Ministers, in a country where 51 per cent of the population is female, we have been outnumbered by male leaders in 98.7 per cent of British history. And now, in a society that is supposedly gender equal, we cannot produce one female politician prepared to run for the top spot – which makes Thatcher’s victory at a time where women’s place was in the kitchen all the more significant.

The Time I Contemplated a Major PR Stunt

unemployed

So here’s the thing: it turns out getting a job you actually want can be quite hard. Who knew? Well, all of us, I suppose. But there’s something quite different about pondering the world of unemployment from the security of your shared shithole at university, and actually living out the uncertainty in glorious technicolour.

I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen to me after I graduated, so I decided that my best option would be fleeing the country. This ended up as a sort of four-month-double-fleeing-spectacular, starting off with me working on a magazine in Edinburgh for a month and then tootling off to New York for three more to work at a newspaper. Both were totally brilliant in a number of ways, but were finite jobs that had an all too quick expiry date.

So a couple of days before Christmas, I came back to London. Over the festive period, I was still jet-lagged and high enough on mulled wine fumes to temporarily forget the overwhelming and crushing reality that I was sort of unemployed, or a ‘freelancer,’ as us wacky lot in the biz call it. Aren’t journalists a card.

And then some quite good things started happening, like me getting interviews for jobs that I wanted, and getting to the final rounds of grad schemes for major newspapers that I didn’t want, and then I got paid to do actual journalism for an actual company that was actually really good. That job may have only lasted a week, but getting paid for doing almost nothing and reading endless magazines was like a bloody holiday. Stella English, you don’t know what side your bread’s buttered, love.

Right so anyway, then that thing happened where the shit hits the fan and you end up getting a faecal facemask, and life was becoming annoying because I was mostly wearing velour (sometimes in PUBLIC) and just bumbling along not really achieving anything. I coped for about two weeks with the whole desperately-sending-emails-out-to-everyone-in-the-world shebang and then caved, because I am a human who is weak and needs money for overpriced sushi. So I took a job in a car parking appeals office and spent four days hating the world and everyone in it who was employed by people that weren’t thieving bastards making those whose elderly relatives had just died cough up £80 for parking a millimetre outside the allotted bay.

Within my four days of torture at the ticket place, where I know for a fact dreams go to die, I was thankfully offered a sort of mini-job at a newspaper. I think it’s a job because I do get actual money for it (although it’s pretty much pennies), but the gig only lasts for five weeks, which makes me unsure.

Anyway, there is a point to all this, or maybe several points, and they are coming very soon. In my new job type thingy, where I am sort of redoing a lot of work formerly done by other people, I decided to google what my predecessors were doing now. I did this because this is maybe what a journalist would do (I’m not entirely sure if I am one yet, although I’ve been paid enough times to make me think it hasn’t all been a weird banking accident). It is also maybe what a stalker would do, but sometimes I’m really not sure there’s a difference.

So I googled the guy and found a piece written by him on The Guardian’s website. This chappy had taken a load of business cards and doorstepped every national paper and big magazine company around over the space of a couple of weeks, handing them out to anyone who would take them. In the article, he said he had been offered two jobs that could ‘make him.’

This instantly reminded me of the grad who put his big old mug on a billboard and asked people to hire him. And then he got hired. So I started to wonder, were big PR stunts the only way to actually get recognised in the field? I thought writing for publications since the age of 13, being deputy editor of a magazine at 20, moving to New York at 21 and freelancing all the while for national newspapers et al might be worth something, but apparently I was very wrong. Billboards, my friends. They are the mark of a true genius.

In spite of my bitterness, I do sort of understand why employers would see the attraction of someone who job hunts batshit crazy style like the aforementioned two. I’m not exactly risk averse – in the last few months I’ve lived abroad illegally, moved in with random flatmates I found on Craigslist and narrowly avoided a lawsuit – but there’s something about these big LOOK AT ME statements that I’m not sure are quite my style.

I realised the other day that I sit right next to the editor of the paper’s office, and that if I were to do some kind of big weird gesture, he should probably be the recipient (for proximity reasons, mainly). I’m not really sure about this stunt malarkey, though. For some reason, the only thing I could think of was filling his office with peanuts, but that is quite a shit idea (although if he really loved peanuts he might be like ‘OMG peanuts? How did you know?!’, and then gobble them up excitedly. Or, die of an anaphylactic shock. It’s really hard to know what is fucking stupid and what is totally genius in relation to industrial sized quantities of salted nuts).

When I stopped thinking about the peanuts idea (how many bags of KPs would I need to fill the entire place? Etc etc), I did briefly muse upon the fact that both of the stunters, as I shall term them, were male. This may sound a bit trite, but given the news this week that female graduates earn far less than their male contemporaries, it sort of seemed to tie in. The main reason for the pay gap was that women would ask for far lower starting salaries, while men would value themselves higher. In short: they’re bolder, and it’s paying off for them. So maybe it’s time for women to start doing extroverted crap and being cocksure (sans the cock, heheheurgghh), because we deserve equal pay, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.

If only I could come to some kind of decision about the peanuts.

The Free Press is Costing Interns Dearly

PICTURE-1Rarely a day goes by on Twitter without some kind of large scale spat taking place, and amidst dodging the heavily manufactured uproar about Jack Whitehall being an aberration to society, or whatever it is the tabloids are claiming, something of actual importance was brought to light yesterday.

The escalating row about unpaid internships was highlighted by Guido Fawkes, who criticised left wing organisations Political Scrapbook and Left Foot Forward for preaching about fairness and justice – but refusing to pay their own workies. The Commentator also came under fire for the same crime – although they were quick to defend themselves on Twitter by saying they had never let an intern go unpaid – but these blogs just seem to be tiny drops in the ocean of intern exploitation.

Exploitation might seem like a strong word, but that’s what it is. When it comes to the media, or journalism specifically, there seem to be few rules or regulations about what you can be made to do for free. While outsiders might question why young journos fresh out of university sign up for this in the first place, the truth of the matter is that there really is no other option. In this industry, the choices are either forking out for an extra journalism degree (because the £30k you spent on getting an undergraduate one isn’t enough), or start working somewhere for free on the off chance that maybe, one day, they’ll offer you a few pennies for your trouble.

There are two major problems with this culture of working for free, the most pressing of which is, to my mind, the way it makes journalism an elitist industry. The average person comes out of university saddled with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, and can’t afford to keep working for nothing until they finally land a job they actually want. The only people who can afford to this – and these are largely the people who could also afford to go to university – are those who can rely on the bank of mum and dad to bail them out. Journalism is increasingly becoming a luxury career, one only available to the middle and upper classes, and this simply is not right. Privilege alone does not make a good writer, and newspapers and websites alike would do well to remember this. By refusing to pay interns, they are denying would be journalists no less talented than their richer peers the opportunity to succeed in their field. They are denying themselves the opportunity to publish some of the best up and coming writers in the country. And they are denying people the ability to dream big, because they are unabashedly promoting the mantra that money makes the world go round, and that anybody without it may as well not bother.

The second issue with the incessant debate, and then re-debate, about unpaid internships is that they never actually come from the mouths of babes. I cannot begin to express how disappointing I find it that the mainstream press occasionally opts to berate those who do not pay their interns – yet it is never the interns who get the chance to speak up on a national platform. It is the staffers at these publications who get to boost their own profile as apparent do-gooders and do what they’re paid to do, rather than those actually in the thick of the unethical process. If you want a real story, go to the heart of the source – not to unaffected observers. I studied philosophy as part of my degree (bear with me here), and an issue we often discussed was whether knowledge could ever really be complete without first-hand experience. For example, can Prince Charles ever really know how black slaves felt in colonial America? He might have read every history book on the planet, but surely no amount of literature can ever compensate for  what it feels like to be the target of injustice. Similarly, although of course on a far lesser scale, nothing written by full time paid journalists can ever truly encapsulate what it feels like to slog your guts out for free and spend every penny you have pursuing a career dream that may ultimately come to nothing.

Since graduating with a 2:1 in an academic degree from a Redbrick university in summer 2012, I have had a few writing gigs that have cumulatively earned me around £1500. That’s £1500 in around seven months. I spent the last three of those in New York, again interning on a newspaper where I didn’t even have the luxury of reimbursed travel (this has also happened to me at nationals in England), let alone payment for the dozens of articles they happily churned out with my name on them. The way I see it, if I’m decent enough to be published, I should be getting paid for it. And yet, like so many others in my shoes, we continue desperately fighting each other for unpaid positions because, quite frankly, the only other option is giving up. I’m lucky to have parents who recognise how hard I have worked for eight years (yes, I had my first article published aged 13) and thus are just about holding off on forcing me into the job centre, but not everyone has this privilege, and publications hiring interns are intelligent enough to know this. The only way of restoring justice to this system is for newspapers and the like to fix up and start doing the right thing. People shouldn’t be punished for wanting to be journalists, they should be encouraged, and the current climate of unpaid labour is doing the exact opposite.