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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.

So a monkey walks into a train station…

I am going to carry on from where we left off yesterday. It is easy to ignore the great things that people are doing for others, purely because we are bombarded with so much of it that we start to become used to it. Oh, another person on my news feed is doing a trek or running a marathon, and they are asking for money. Scroll. Nevertheless, I want to share with you the story of how hard it is to raise money. The fundraiser’s story.

For the past two years, I have raised over £3,000 with a variety of things, from bake sales to sweepstakes to runs, and am on my way to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro this summer. It has all been for Meningitis Research Foundation and the last thing we did was bucketing on the streets of London this Easter. As much fun as it looks, bucketing has got to be one of the most horrendously difficult things I have ever done in my life.

The day starts at 5AM. You collect a permit, put on a costume (in this case a monkey) and you try to beat the morning rush hour. Yes, that’s right. You get there earlier than the earliest commuters, set up a spot and stand in that position for around 4 hours without a break. For the most part, you exhaust your vocal cords telling people about how important the cause is, how many people are struggling and how any spare change can help, over and over again. People don’t care. They avoid eye contact with you, as you smile through the pain of losing the blood in your hands, as the bucket starts to weigh down on your forearm. Your legs ache and toes blister. The bucket keeps getting heavier. With over 12 hours to last, the thought of sitting down makes you want to weep.

Out of every 100 people, about 5 people will donate. 1 will talk to you. But that is the difference. Every time I felt like I was going to lose hope, a stranger on their way to work saw me, slowed down, smiled, and reached for their purse or wallet. And then I started to hear the stories. “My daughter died from Meningitis….I lost my wife a few years ago…I had it as a kid, but they caught it early” – it felt strange saying it, but the only thing I could muster replying was, “I’m glad you’re still here.”

On the second day at 7AM, a man walked up to me having lost his partner from Meningitis 14 years prior. Initially walking past, he stopped and turned back to face me, his eyes wet with tears. After telling me the story, I put the bucket down and gave him a hug. He started to sob. There were barely 15 people on the streets near Bank Station, yet there we stood, both feeling completely helpless and distraught. He emptied a few coins into the bucket as he went on his way, but he had given me a lot more than his spare change.

Suddenly the pain subsided. The aches and tiredness started to disappear. My voice got louder. The smile was back, but this time more determined.

I can say hand on heart, that I absolutely hate bucketing. It makes me feel small and basically invisible. However, the right people see me. The ones that have been though the hardship appreciate the effort and that is what makes it count. Luckily, I have no experience or history of Meningitis, but the reason I am so passionate about the cause is because when you meet these people you realise how horrible it is to really suffer. To understand what suffering looks and feels like. Remember that being grateful is about giving back in whichever way you can. Even if you look and feel like a complete fool for 48 hours.

To see more about the journey up until this point, click here. And if you are feeling generous, although there is absolutely no obligation to (I can’t stress this enough!) you can donate here.

P.S. I raised over £300 in London, so not a bad couple of days work…

You Won’t Vote

There are better things to do. You have essay deadlines and exams to revise for. This is your future we are talking about. What is the point of listening to tired, predictable suits who are obviously telling the same old lies? The same people that promised you that tuition fees wouldn’t change and then tripled them. Who told you that they would make rents cheaper, and now you are paying astronomical accommodation costs and dealing with untouchable landlords.

You won’t vote because you don’t think it makes a difference. When you did a survey online, the policies that matched your views related to that small party, but they won’t win so what is the point in voting for them? It is always going to be the same way, and Russell Brand would have us not vote at all, but that doesn’t stop everyone from talking about this Election. People keep telling you how lucky you are to even have the power to vote, when other human beings fight for this right across the world.

Yet you feel powerless. It’s nothing to do with you. Cooped up in the library, reflecting on the stress of the next few months, it is easy to lose the wood for the trees. It is easy to start thinking about how difficult these exams are going to be, or what the hell you are going to do once you get out of this place, but it is more difficult to make a decision. A choice about where you want this country to go.

You can’t really see it yet. How it is going to affect you in the long run. We are conditioned to think 10 weeks at a time, to take less of an interest in what is going on outside of our bubble and to forget that the decisions made in that antiquated chamber with the green seats has an impact on you. That is what politicians want you to think, because silencing your ballot is easier than being accountable.

They don’t want you to vote. So you won’t. No one in government advertised for registrations, because they are happy ignoring you completely. They’d rather make empty promises like cutting tuition fees, than actually listen to what you have to say. They will even come to your campus, but won’t invite you to attend, because it’s better to keep you out, than to let you in. They are scared.

And they should be afraid. We are the most successful and aspirational generation for decades, with the opportunity to shake the foundations of Westminster and swing an Election. You only get this chance once every five years, so don’t waste it. Prove them wrong. Vote.

Incredible India

Whilst you are reading this, I am on a plane to the subcontinent where my ancestry began. I have no idea what the time is yet, I am probably squashed like a sardine in an aluminium tin and the musk is going to hit me like a freight train when the plane doors open, but you know what? I am going home for the first time. I am actually going to touch down in India.

Whilst I am writing this, just before going to the airport for the flight, I can feel my hands are starting to get a bit clammier and my head feels heavier. All the excitement of the last few months of planning the trip of a lifetime is starting to set it, and the gravity of the situation is dawning on me. The real headache is not knowing what to expect. Getting varied second-hand reports from all sorts of people has made me confused – it has made it daunting because India seems to be, as a friend put it…interesting.

That is a loaded word. It isn’t particularly positive or negative. It is just curious. A place where over a billion people live and work – a part of me believes that India has got something for everyone. But what do I want to get out of this trip? What part of the real India do I want to see? Will I get to see the real India at all? I hope so. But I am going to have to throw myself into it.

The title of this post comes from an advertising campaign that the Indian Tourist Board ran when I was a kid. Slightly adapted, the ‘!ncredible India’ campaign made me fall in love with the place. The colour from Holi, the beautiful sunscapes of Goa and the bustling hive of Mumbai and Delhi made it seem like a wonderland. Then as I grew up, I realised how this affinity with the place became more and more stretched.

India isn’t by any means perfect. A large majority of the population is poor and lives in slums. It is overpopulated, overcrowded and overheated. It is bubbling hotpot of political corruption. Women are not treated with respect. The healthcare system is a sham. But, there is something that India has that makes it incredible.

It has history. Culture. An air of pomp and grandeur. It is a paradise. And I am going to spend a month exploring it. This will be my last post for a while because I will be busy discovering. A trip to catch up on 19 years.

I will tell you all about when I come back. But I don’t think it will fit on a postcard. Namaste.

I’m Back Baby

This is the season of slumping. The time when most students hibernate into their rooms to stare at the artificial glow of their laptops as the first rays of Spring make concentration impossible. When punch cards for coffee are used vigorously in library cafes and books start to pile on empty desks one by one. This is the time when a year’s worth of learning is condensed into a month’s understanding and a week’s application. And here I lie, books firmly closed, writing another letter to you.

I feel invigorated. As the passion of writing and reading courses through every sinew of my being again, I can proudly announce that I am no exam machine. Although I will have to furiously write four essays in three hours and repeat this process three more times, the biro digging into my middle finger will not bother me. I will look at it as an opportunity to progress, to push myself further than I thought I would have to. I will approach things in a different way, actually believing that failure is a stepping stone to success rather than secretly thinking this is what inadequate people tell themselves to feel better.

I will remember what is important. The things that I have seen and experienced taking the first steps on my own, the mistakes I have made thinking that I knew it all. The people I put faith in who came through, and the ones who promised the world but delivered little more than excuses. And the ones who put their hands on my shoulder when I least expected them to. And the hands that lifted me up that I didn’t even recognise.

I am writing again and it feels fantastic. I don’t feel bottled up or stored away which can happen when you repress an expressive instinct. I do not feel caged or restricted or stopped by anything or anyone other than myself which is the perfect place to be. I feel like my head is clearer than it once was and all the doubts of impression have slowly subsided as each day has painted a bigger smile across my face. I can let the words flow, the metaphors drop and realise that I am at the peak of my being. It doesn’t even have to make sense, and it probably doesn’t, but strong emotions rarely do.

This is just the beginning. I have a cause and a direction. I am not bogged down in details, nor am I lost in the translation of the bigger picture. While everyone is questioning themselves, I am starting to find the answers. I have stopped running in circles and started to walk towards a path that will lead me to gratification. The speed of my fingers cannot keep up with the ideas that are pedalling back and forward in that brain of mine. So I will write them here. And I will make time to make them grow.

And did I mention? I’m back, baby. And it doesn’t look like I’m leavin’ any time soon…

Meet Kathleen

Luckily, I have never come into to contact with meningitis or septicaemia. They are both afflictions that have a dramatic impact on someone’s life and I feel so fortunate that neither I nor a loved one have been affected by it. However, I remember at school being given lessons on how to recognise it, the headaches and loss of vision, paralysis and sense of numbness. Knowing this as well as the fact that you are more susceptible to it when you are young, as I got older I neglected to understand it any further. All I can vividly remember now is that if you got it, you had a very short time to live, and the chances are you couldn’t treat it. It was and still is extremely frightening.

So I started to look into it. I wanted to read the stories of those that had been blighted and it is my mission to share some of these stories with you. Of individuals that have fought it. Some have won these battles, and some have sadly lost them, but all of them are important in their own right. I thought I would start with one that really affected me when I read it because…well you will see why when I tell you.

Kathleen. She was a university student just like me and walked into her first year as a fresher full of enthusiasm as the next stage of her life began. She was a dancer and had performed since she was very young. Having come back from rehearsals and gone to bed early, her life was about to be inextricably changed in just one night. She had somehow contracted meningococcal septicaemia. I will go into detail of what this consists of in a later post. Luckily, she was able to drag herself out of bed and find her flatmates – feeling delirious and disorientated, within an hour she was at hospital. Within hours, her organs started to shut down and she was taken into intensive care. Her parents had got the call that their daughter was hours away from dying. The only thing that was saving her heart was the fact that she was fit due to her dancing.

But unfortunately, Kathleen would never dance again. After surviving those first few hours, and spending over three weeks in hospital including Christmas Day and New Year’s, her legs had severely deteriorated. She said, “Being told I would lose my legs is still the hardest moment I have encountered. The loss of my limbs, the empty space on the bed where my legs once were, is still emotionally painful to me. I would never dance again.” When I read that sentence, I teared up. I can’t imagine giving up my passion, it would be like my hands being chopped off so I couldn’t write. When I read that sentence, I realised how important it is to share Kathleen’s story.

Charity is a faceless cause. It is surrounded by aggressive advertising, cheap benefits and the same logos and branding. It is a business and I would be naïve in suggesting that it isn’t. However, there is a human side behind the money that is vital in highlighting. You need to see the change that you are helping to create, otherwise I can understand the cynicism. But be brave. Donate some money, but more than that give your time to a cause that you believe in. And tell me about it, because I live to hear your stories and write about them. What is life without anecdotes and lessons?

Luckily for Kathleen, the story has a happy ending. Find out more here:

And if you would like to donate to my page then I would be very appreciative: