I’m a bit pissed right now. In both senses of the word. Everything that I type from now on has to be read in that context. Are you ok with that (judging me-wise)? Then I’ll begin.
There are a few things you need to know as background. Back story if you like.
We live in a small village in East Staffordshire. We have friends here. We are part of village life. I do posters and programmes (in InDesign, not that anyone knows that) and write press releases and feature articles and sort photo shoots and PR and we staff bars and give advice and time and free software and AV kit and expertise and consult and… you get the idea. If you live in a small village, you know how the Linda Snell mission creep happens when you have skillz.
On Thursday, over 63% of our village voted to leave. We went into our, much-frequented, local pub after voting and joked that: “that one vote to stay in tomorrow – it was us”…Tumbleweed, much.
Tonight though, Sunday, we were laughed out of that same pub by people we’d been friends with last week, because we said we voted Remain. Actually not laughed – jeered at and heckled.
You know when you’re at school and you’re the cleverest one in the class and you try to pretend you’re not, just to make friends? I’ve been doing that since I was at primary school.
And then Brexit. And suddenly it’s not just about having voted differently, but about realising that you’re still the clever kid in the class that no-one wants to hear from. Brexit isn’t a poor/rich split (because trust me, the first 30 years of my life were bones-of-my-arse poor in ways most Brexiters couldn’t begin to comprehend), it’s about informed vs uninformed.
We were meant to open our garden this weekend for the village’s Open Gardens event, which we’ve organised for the last five years. But at 4.50am on Friday morning, I was standing in our kitchen crying buckets, and hubby was saying: “I don’t want them in my garden”. It was us and them, not us v them. It was a realisation that we were foreign bodies here.
We talked about it. We knew that if we decided to close our garden at the last minute we were starting something we could never come back from. I said: “Are we OK going back to that time we’d just moved here and didn’t have any friends?” In the meantime our children were WhatsApping their fury and anguish, and social media created a pathway for our shared despair.
We closed our garden, we were nice about it, even helpful, and we took the dogs to the beach for the day. And the next day.
I’ll get back to the journalism, because that’s what this particular blog is about (I have others, did you expect me to be a one blog woman?). On Saturday I was blaming my profession. Fuck you Sun! Fuck you Mail journalists! Fuck you dumbed-down ITV! Our job is to report and inform, not to invent and direct. Just because we know people respond to pictures of people doesn’t mean we have to make every story about a person. A hero guy, an evil woman.
I teach this stuff. I ran newsrooms. News is about putting the person into the story. But at what point did we as journalists decide it was OK to be part of a racist majority press illustrating stories with non-existent people?
To tell voters Farage is the man to lead the country; that immigrants eat the Queen’s swans; that migrants will swamp us; that the Queen is pro-Brexit; that people who have spent their lives studying a particular issue are just making up facts to suit politicians? That those clever people in the class are really out to get you?
Today, Sunday, the Tory and Labour parties are in full blood-bath, completely pointless argue-among-ourselves mode, and in the meantime a lot of people who voted leave and are now a bit worried about it are looking for someone to blame. So, ITV ran a story about 11 members of the shadow cabinet walking out on Corbyn and our local pub cheered – they’d found their scapegoat.
Too many journalists seem to think it’s OK if the fallout from their work is that groups of people are encouraged to hate each other. To believe it isn’t their fault if an immigrant is beaten up; if a student feels unwelcome; if a migrant toddler drowns. Because you’ve forgotten (or don’t know) how to tell a good story with facts, you stick to a comfort zone of personalities: this person we’ve heard of dissing that person we might have heard of.
And in a pub, people who are scared latch onto a scapegoat like a liferaft, and shout down a neighbour. You did this – own it.
Every single reporter working for the national media right now, I want to ask you – are you happy with everything you’ve written this month? Do you truly think you did a great job? And did Thursday’s vote go the way you, personally, wanted it to go?
Because if it didn’t, don’t ever let me hear you say you were ‘just doing your job’. I’ve been there as a journalist – it’s wrong and it won’t ever feel right, it will haunt you.
Journalism is a calling. It isn’t a job, it isn’t a trade, it isn’t just a craft. It’s a responsibility that goes way beyond paying the mortgage. So step up to the fucking plate and grow a pair!!
Sorry, I don’t usually swear. I need another drink.
I can tell you other stories from this weekend. My mum who voted out because, as a life-long Labour voter she didn’t trust Cameron. When I told her that meant she’d voted for Boris she said “but he’s even worse!”. A neighbour who voted out because: “If they’d said all this stuff that’s been on the telly a couple of weeks ago, I’d have know what I was voting for”. Another who said: “I didn’t vote because I didn’t know what the issues were”.
That is Cameron’s fault and Gove’s fault and Corbyn’s fault but it is also our fault. We are supposed to be the explainers, the informers. We’re the Fourth Estate: our purpose is to stand in the middle, not at opposing ends.
Being a journalist is a responsible job, it makes a difference. If you ever needed a lesson in why and how, look at Friday morning, look at what’s happened this weekend. Look at the discussions that are growing, not slowing, on Facebook. The country isn’t just split, it’s screaming in pain.
Please – stop pretending to yourself that this is just a job. If Britain ever needed anything right now, it needs journalists who believe in journalism. Step forward or piss off backwards.