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Why I Am Saying No to Mainstream Journalism

A lot of people have asked me if I am going to go into journalism when I finish university. It seems like a natural progression, considering I have been involved heavily in student media over the past three years. However, the answer is no. I am choosing to step away from the mainstream titles that tend to attract some of the best student journalists in the country.

The reason is encapsulated in a tweet written by James Bloodworth, a well-known journalist for a number of publications including the New Statesman. The explosion of the digital journalism space and the expansion of titles such as the Independent, Guardian and Huffington Post online has created a culture where content is effectively free. Akin to unpaid internships, online journalism and especially student content has been made almost a requirement to get into the industry. However, unlike other content, it is very rarely compensated. Put bluntly, a lot of young journalists are getting mugged off.

It is no secret that you need a portfolio to get a job these days. You need to show you can write (at a minimum!) as well as effectively sell yourself as a competent reporter. Fortunately, there are many outlets at many universities that provide you with the experience to hone your skills. Again, these are often unpaid, but considering student media is not-for-profit, any revenue is reinvested back into the vision and opportunities of other students. It is a self-fulfilling cycle. However, national titles have now started to dabble in “Student Brand Ambassadors” and student contributors who run student sections of their websites. It provides a very exclusive club for recruiters to cherry-pick some of the best talent. And most of them are either unpaid, or paid an absolute pittance.

There is an argument to suggest that the importance of using the title’s exposure to push through a story, or the potential of a job, far outweighs any sort of pay-per-article system. It sounds logical, but they are making money. Every piece you write generates more social traction through you inevitably sharing it, with more people at your institution engaging as a result and an expansion of their brand. The multiplier effects are countless; and taking a note from the banks, if brands manage to nab students early then you can often keep them for life. However, the originators and curators very rarely get anything at all.

That is why the paywall with The Times and The Sun has inevitably failed to entice young people. We have effectively been priced out of a market we are not even a part of yet, endorsed to produce free content in order to get a “leg up” into the industry. It actually makes me feel sick, because it undermines the fantastic work that student media and journalists do. We should not sacrifice our principles, or the value of our work for titles that will inevitably die if we stop buying into them. We are worth more than that and we can stand up to it.

I will not perpetuate a culture that continues to take advantage of the very people we cherish as part of our student newspaper. It is often difficult to get students to care about anything and it isn’t fair to take advantage of those that are often only trying to make the world a better place in their own way. Journalists (the good ones anyway) often take risks, put their necks on the line, face criticism and stand up to be counted in their writing. The reason I love student journalism is that there is no compulsive agenda, no fat cat boss to pay dividends to and no loss of integrity or quality. But more and more, I have watched friends and peers get laid off, forced to do work for free, whilst the biggest titles in the world profit from their hard work.

“Freelance” is the biggest farce in the industry. It means that you don’t get a full time contract. No stability, and incredibly damaging to the confidence of a fantastic calibre of future changemakers. So no. I will not pander to the Huffington Post, The Guardian or The Independent, unless they start to put their money where their mouth is. Start paying your online journalists – make sure that you reward them for their time and effort. The death of the paper industry just opens up every writer to exploitation and it isn’t fair.

I won’t stop writing, and there are plenty of platforms to do it. If you are a budding journalist, be a part of the citizen journalist movement. Educate your tribe first and build a value to your work. Don’t be afraid to charge and don’t let people take advantage. You have worth. Recognise it. And don’t sell yourself short. I believe in you…and if you need any more inspiration, then have a look at this from Rick Edwards.

20 Messages

I am very bad at keeping in touch with people. This sentence alone probably has many of you nodding your heads thinking, “yes, I just remembered you didn’t reply to that message that I sent you x days ago. What a twat.” Well, I apologise for not responding and if I didn’t, it wasn’t meant to be intentionally malicious. I’ll be honest and say that I just don’t prioritise as much time as I should to catch up with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. Or sometimes even with those I speak to often.

Going back to the beginning, I find the advancement of technology difficult to adjust to. Before owning a proper mobile phone (really only in the last few years) I found it easier to keep in touch with people because I could see them. Graciously on their part, knowing that I would be rubbish to get a hold of, they would either call or meet me in person. I could hear their voice, watch their nose crinkle as they laughed and look into their eyes when I spoke to them. I could resonate with their humanity.

The ones who did not meet me after my invitations or seemed to become more distant, was painful at the time but slowly I have understood that they had priorities and I wasn’t one of them. That is not to say that if I ignored you above that I don’t value you, if anything it means the opposite. Because I only speak to those that I value – those are the ones that I make time for. The frequency of communication does not heed the development of a relationship. My best friend, who is incidentally getting married this week, is someone I only see every 6 weeks or so but I couldn’t be closer to them. Absence, like appearing offline, makes the heart grow fonder.

Now, it becomes easier and easier to string people along. To give them the impression that you care without ever really valuing them. I read an article recently on the phenomena of “ghosting” where an individual deals with the idea of ending a relationship by just ignoring them. Rather than facing up to the reality of saying goodbye, they choose to revoke that courtesy from both people. It was confusing and frankly quite scary. I can understand why this can lead to people becoming so mistrusting.

With this in mind, I have decided to experiment with something. Considering my distaste for technology, it has taken quite a lot of self-convincing. I am going to send 20 messages out over the next week. Knowing that I am bad at sending that first message to people, it is going to be interesting to see their reactions. I am going to send it out to people that I am close to, those that I have moved away from, those that have inspired me and those I want to learn from. In some cases it will be a “thank you” and a hug, in others an “I’m sorry” and in all of them a “Hey! You know what, I really value you and your time – let’s have a conversation.”

I am not going to tell them about this, but it would be nice if they made the connection themselves. And it doesn’t mean that I am just messaging 20 people and cutting the rest out. It means that I am taking myself out of the comfort zone and building a bridge. If we can’t do that, then we might as well be ghosts.

How Far Would You Go?

Charlie Brooker is a provocative genius. His new series, Black Mirror, has received wide acclaim for his subversive, dystopian analysis of the frightening progression of technology in our modern age. And I am absolutely hooked on it. The first episode of the second series entitled ‘Be Right Back’ looks at a woman dealing with the recent death of her husband…she is dealing with the silence. Be warned, there are going to be spoilers, but I will try not to give too much away. Before he died, he was obsessed with his phone, posting regularly on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, giving him a huge online footprint. In the episode, there is a new piece of technology which allows her to “download” his personality into a doppelganger who acts based on his “online” personality. He walks; he talks…like nothing has changed.

So this got me thinking about the human psyche and our obsession with our comfort zone. When the extremes of death take hold of us, we strive to cling on to any bit of normality that we can get our hands on. Whether that is getting on with work or getting up at the same time every day, we all need a constant. But if we had the chance to go back to how it was before, so you didn’t have to feel the hurt, or hear the silence, would you do it? If there was a chance that you could rewind your life back to the last known good configuration? My question is how far would you go to escape from the reality that slaps you in the face?

My question is not whether you would or not. If you had the chance for a redo, I believe that you would take it – human beings have an innate perfectionism and greed that would be quenched if they got the chance to correct their mistakes or go back to when they were happy. My question is how far would you go? If you could give an arm or leg to be with that person again, a small fee or a big sacrifice, what would entice you? A lot of you may be sitting and thinking that these are the words of a desperate man incapable of getting past a stumbling block, but I assure you I am thinking rationally. Brooker makes an astute point: can we actually deal with the fact that things will never be the same again, or do we choose to accept it knowing that there is not an alternative?

Many of my friends who watched the episode were horrified by it. It disturbed and scared them. They struggled to comprehend the motives of bringing someone back from the other side. Personally, I do not blame her. Would you begrudge a grieving widow the opportunity to be with her soul mate again? Or could you see the consequences of it? That that figure is but a shadow of the person that once was – a thumbprint that cannot evolve, or grow or move forward. Very much like the social media accounts that we associate, contribute and dismiss on a daily basis. They act as impersonal “personal” accounts that seem to stand the test of time.

Can anyone then really die? When we can so easily look back over what they said, what they looked like and what they stood for? Can we actually let go of anyone knowing that a part of them is only a click of a mouse away? Needless to say, I do not have any answers to these questions. All I know is that if this technology was possible in the future, at the click of button, could we resist the temptation of seeing or hearing their voices…just one…more…time? Truly ask yourself. How far would you go?