As you may have read from George’s article on Tuesday, Julie Burchill has got into a bit of trouble this week.
Her trans phobic rant, which appeared in the Observer this weekend, and Suzanne Moore’s New Statesman article and Twitter outburst that preceded it, stirred up furore across Twitter and many attacks were levied at the writers, labelling them ‘hateful’ and ‘bigoted’.
Now Ms Burchill has never been one to shy away from controversy and fellow journalist Michael Bywater once even described her ‘insights’ as ‘on the level of a toddler having a tantrum’. She has made a career out of taking a controversial issue, causing further outrage and been remarkably successful at it.
However, she has built up enough of a following she can get away with saying whatever narrow minded thing that pops into her head. For the wannabe hack, with nothing but a blog and head full of ambition, it isn’t so easy.
In the modern era of online journalism and social media it is easy to go too far and practically impossible to go back. Therefore it is easy to live in (the mostly unfounded) fear that one trip or slip up that cuts your career down dead before it’s even begun.
I have always had a problem with keeping my mouth shut. Whilst I’d never say anything as nasty or bigoted as Julie Burchill did, I do sometimes think the filter inside my head that should stop me saying stupid things is faulty.
On the other hand, my outspokenness has served me well in the past six months with a semi-regular comment gig on the Independent and the possibility of some TV pundit work in the future.
So I am often left wondering when I should hold my tongue and when I should speak my mind. I am constantly being told not to say this or that, because it is against the editorial line of a certain paper.
I’ve seen a lot of advice articles and blog posts about not being dismissive of certain media outlets (particularly tabloids) because you may end up working for them but this is always seem to me to be overly cautious. True, it’s stupid to look down your nose at the Mail Online for no other reason than highbrow pretention but it is OK to dislike the ‘Sidebar of Shame’.
All the great journalists are brave. That’s why they uncover scandals and corruption of state institutions or march into war zones or even take positions that are contrary to popular opinion. Whether or not they’re right is another matter.
Making it in the business takes gumption, the ability to stand up for yourself and to know your own mind. You could toe the line, do what you’re told and avoid annoying the grownups but then you risk being overlooked or ignored. You just have to be able to justify yourself and stand your ground.
Of course, you could end up blotting your copybook with a paper you have no long term interest in, but in the long run biting your tongue probably isn’t worth the frustration.
Try not to say anything too offensive (or libelous). It’s OK to go against the public mood but not to get too far removed from what is deemed acceptable (i.e feminism is fine, transphobia is not). It is OK to criticise the editorial stance of a newspaper (for instance the Daily Express’ ‘Get Britain Out of the EU campaign’ or the Murdoch paper’s rejection of the Leveson recommendations) so long as you can justify it.
I’m not saying be controversial for the sake of it or launch nasty diatribes into cyberspace but a considered contrarian opinion will always better than a frightened yes man.
Freedom of thought is just as important as freedom of speech.
People should do and say whatever makes them happy. If you feel like you are constantly compromising yourself you cannot be properly happy in the business and in that case, there isn’t much point pursing journalism at all.
Image courtesy of Creativity Post
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look