This has been an exciting one. Monday saw me visit Go Ape for a fun day out with a friend, and Wednesday saw me go to London to see a live recording of The Russell Howard Hour (more on that soon). It was also on Wednesday that I received another bit of good news.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’d know that I went to Summer in the City last month – a UK convention dedicated to YouTube and online video. It was there that I met the team from the YouTube magazine TenEighty, and naturally, I asked about writing for them.
A few weeks later and after a fun application process, an email landed in my inbox saying that I can join the team, and I was over the moon.
This Tuesday and Wednesday, I stepped inside Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre for their Student Media Summit run in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS). A jam-packed two-day event, the conference aimed to inspire the next generation of young journalists to campaign for change in their work.
It was something that got me thinking throughout the event. Journalists are supposed to be seen as completely impartial, dedicated to reporting straight-up facts (whether they are actually doing this at the moment is a debate for another day) without bias. How can we campaign in our articles without readers firing accusations of bias at us?
It’s a question I asked Buzzfeed’s Emily Dugan on Tuesday, where her session on Digital Reporting soon descended into a discussion on getting this balance right. It was interesting and gave me food for thought ahead of starting my journalism degree again later this month.
As I write this now, I’m considering the aims we all have when creating content and putting it out there for others to see. On YouTube, it’s about creating a community around my channel and either entertaining or educating them, or both. For this blog, it’s a mixture of the same. But, when it comes to journalism – an industry which holds so much influence thanks to our digital society and its structure – are reporters right to harness this tool to push their own agenda?
I’m not going to answer that in this post, but what all this has reminded me of is a mindset I used to have ahead of my first year of university. Frustrated with the emotion and bias of the right-wing press and having read up on the hypodermic needle theory, I approached my degree with the aim of being a completely impartial journalist once I entered the industry, devoid of all the bias and political viewpoints which the national press currently possesses.
Instead, I remember something one of my lecturers told me during a politics session, which is that whilst newspapers and the media are biased, it’s necessary for a functioning democracy and political debate. Although some people may despise it, the Mail‘s hyperbolic and hateful headlines prompt a discussion about right-wing politics and it’s important that we have those debates in society.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim to be impartial, balanced and unbiased in my reporting (of course not, these things are essential), but media bias is something which most journalists appear to admit just… happens, and I’ve come to accept that too.
Anyway, to revert back to journalism for change, I only need to look at my work on The Limping Chicken for an example of this. A Freedom of Information request in January revealed that 200,000 people have signed up to the 999 text service, which when you compare it to the 11 million people with a hearing loss (as Paul Breckell from Action on Hearing Loss mentions in the linked article), is a small amount. As well as informing people about the service, one can hope that it encouraged a few people to sign up.
As well as new contacts and plenty of tips, the Student Media Summit left me thinking for a while about what journalists hope to achieve in their pieces. After all, in a post-truth world, reporters nowadays do more than just share facts…
How a Conservative government can even begin to dispute the damning report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) this week beats me. After numerous disability organisations complained to the UN about the Tories’ treatment of disabled people, the Chair of the UNCRPD, Theresia Degener described it as a ‘human catastrophe’.
“The austerity measures that they have taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 pounds per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” said Degener, as quoted in an article by the Mirror.
Yet, when one looks at the government’s response to the comments, a spokeswoman said it ‘fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives’, before going on to mention statistics such as them spending ‘over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions’, that they’re a ‘recognised world leader in disability rights and equality’, and that ‘almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years’.
The Tories ignoring yet another damning report on their disability rights record would not only show a disregard for any public scrutiny, but it would only prove the lack of consideration for one of the most marginalised groups in our society.
It’s why, as always, we must support charities in holding the government to account and demanding change. Granted, saying that we need to continue campaigning is a typical call-to-action when it comes to these sort of social issues, but applying pressure on MPs around disability issues has worked wonders before. Aside from the DSA example mentioned above, the British Deaf Association (BDA) has pushed tirelessly for British Sign Language to be given legal status, and after the UN’s latest verdict, it seems as though that is getting closer to becoming a reality.
“We were impressed with the openness of the committee to listen to our evidence and apply their significant legal experience,” said Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chairman of the BDA. “Therefore we are glad to see that the committee has expressly recommended that the UK government finally legislate to protect language rights of deaf people, and that so many of the committee’s remarks related to this. Deaf people have been passed over too long; there can now be no doubt that the government has been taken to task. Without language rights, we have no human rights.”
There are 13.3 million people in the UK. Whether or not the Government will choose to listen to such a large group of people is another matter for debate (this article suggests that for many years, they haven’t), but now more than ever we must support the charities that are giving a voice to a community which is being unfairly targeted – especially when they claim they are being ‘gagged’ by the Lobbying Act 2014.
The incredible young voter turnout in the recent snap election has shown the Conservative government what can happen when they continue to target a specific group of people in our society. Now, they’ve tried desperately to win back students from Corbynism with a right-wing ‘ideas festival’ and most recently, a grassroots movement called Activate which some people have called ‘the Tory Momentum’.
It’s time for disabled people to do the same, and shock the Conservative Party into making long overdue changes to improve our lives for the better.
“We must close the disability employment gap.” It was a simple enough statement made by the Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt on her website last year. A consultation on ‘work, health and disability’ and a commitment to halving said employment gap in 10 years was announced by the government a short while later. From a party that has passed ruthless reforms to disability benefits, it’s likely that it had a few disabled people scratching their heads. Have the Conservatives finally started to care about a group in society which they have cruelly targeted for years?
One only has to look at what was announced on Wednesday this week for the answer. The disability employment gap the Tories planned to work on cutting down has stayed at 31.3%, lingering above the 30% mark for a decade. If they really wanted to tackle the issue, then the changes would be visible – be it in the statistics or in public announcements. James Taylor, Head of Policy at the disability charity Scope, said ‘these figures should be a wake-up call to the Government’ and he is absolutely right. The latest data shows the Conservatives’ current approach is indolent, lazy and slothful.
Granted, it can be argued that ministers have 10 years to get somewhere close to closing the gap, but the fact that there have not been any significant updates since the consultation closed in February is a cause for concern. The Brexit argument is likely to be an excuse given by some for this work taking a back seat during the middle of the year (following the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March), but it’s always worth mentioning that there are other burning issues and injustices that need to be addressed whilst also focussing on those all-important negotiations in Brussels. A crumbling NHS, the housing crisis and many other social issues can’t be brushed under the carpet because of our vote to leave the European Union. Ministers are yet to provide an explanation as to why the disability employment gap remains at the current level, but no excuse is valid.
So what could possibly cause a lack of disabled people in employment? As much as it comes down to the current benefits system, a more ideological issue is the stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability that have been generated from years of Conservative policies. Confusing and complex regulations and assessments have degraded disabled people – presenting them as inconveniences or numbers to meet a particular quota.
Whilst assuming all employers see a disabled candidate or employee as a pain in the backside in terms of paperwork and workplace support is a completely inaccurate and flawed judgement, it’s likely that some employers are unaware of how they can support disabled people in their company. The communication between the government, firms and workers about such things is inefficient if not non-existent. It’s part of the reason why I’ve always been reluctant to tick the ‘are you disabled’ question on an application form. Aside from the fact that I don’t really consider myself disabled (except under ‘the social model’), the possible discussion about workplace support if I did mention it always felt daunting – where would I start?
Although the ‘work, health and disability’ consultation intends to look at how health and work interconnect, more needs to be done to address attitudes and improve communication. The communities of disabled people in society must continue to call for better support when it comes to employment – only then will we have the chance to wake Conservatives up from their slumber when it comes to addressing the needs of the community of disabled people.
Now, one can hope that a stat-obsessed government which always likes to shout about increased employment or a stronger economy will notice one of the more concerning pieces of data that has come from the Office for National Statistics’ latest release. If the state of the disability employment gap led to a planned reform of the Work Capability Assessment, then here’s hoping that the gap remaining static will finally prompt the Department for Work and Pensions to take action. Enough is enough.
“Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?” whined Conservative MP George Freeman to the Financial Times last week. The politician, who represents the Mid Norfolk constituency, made headlines after he unveiled his plan for a right-wing ‘ideas festival’ to build up grassroots support – something which has rightly been dubbed ‘The Tory Glastonbury’.
Labour supporters are already having a ball imagining what the Tory version of the internationally renowned music festival would look like. A giddy Boris Johnson walks onto the main stage as the Saturday headliner, juggling flaming torches to the tune of Shaggy’s 1995 hit, Bombastic to the crowd’s amusement. Arcadia, Worthy Farm’s fire-breathing spider, is replaced by a pissed off pig, and over at the politics tent Jeremy Hunt is giving a talk on how to dismantle the NHS. Attendees would be spoilt for choice until they realise that there isn’t anyone likeable left in the party to play the popular Sunday legends slot.
Then there’s the music that would be on offer. The Tories’ inaccurate perception of young people will probably lead to old 90s disco tracks being blasted around the festival site, in an attempt to ‘get down with the kids’. It’s a move which would be as disastrous as asking your grandma to buy a Kanye West album from HMV.
This whole idea is the latest way in which the Conservatives plan to ride off the success of Labour in June’s general election. As if asking your political opponents for policy ideas wasn’t embarrassing enough, setting up a festival because you’re jealous of the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chants once again shows the desperation and panic that has taken over the Conservative Party. Such an event will do little to combat the wave of Corbynism present in our young people, and the party’s backing in other age groups is faltering. Is the idea of a ‘Tory Glastonbury’ their way of finally acknowledging the power of millennials in general elections?
Perhaps not. If this really is an attempt by the Tories to win back some of the youth vote, then the fact that the one-day festival is rumoured to take place in September shows how nonsensical, fantasist and flawed the whole idea is. Student voters will be back at university and the Tories’ next best bet would be to hold a Freshers Tour – which would be quite fitting given the Etonian background of some of the party’s key figures.
As Labour and the Tories veered off to the far edges of the political spectrum, the Liberal Democrats were the middle ground for the electorate. Led by a young politician with no coalition backstory, simply a vision of an ‘open, tolerant and united’ Britain, those wary of Corbynism but frustrated with austerity backed Tim Farron’s movement. Whilst the growth in the party’s number of MPs was minimal, faith was slowly but surely returning to the Lib Dems. Yet now, the election of Vince Cable as Farron’s replacement could undo the so-called ‘Lib Dem fightback’.
It seems as though the Liberal Democrats could learn a few things from Corbyn when it comes to vanquishing your party’s haunted past. The allotment fanatic was able to drive out Blairism in a Labour that was stuck to the right of the political spectrum. Granted, a public apology was given by Nick Clegg for the mistakes of the coalition, but the fact that the video is remembered more for its catchy parody than the original, shows just how seriously everybody took the message.
So, aside from the fact Cable was elected with no opposition (we can save the debate about how democratic this is for another day), the electorate – and certainly young people – have not forgotten the tuition fee u-turn and countless other controversial decisions made between 2010 and 2015. In the recent election, the Liberal Democrats had the added bonus of ‘the progressive alliance’ on their side. Now, the subsequent assumption that the party will return to flirting with right-wing policies could not come at a worse time, when there is a need for centrist politics.
It would be wrong to assume that all young people were swept under the wave of socialism brought about by Jeremy Corbyn. However, Farron’s Liberal Democrats allowed some of them to back the party when tactical voting allowed that to happen. With promises of a second Brexit referendum on the final deal and the 1p income tax plan for the NHS, the appealing policies meant the party was a back-up plan for young people unable to back Labour. However indirect, the ‘progressive alliance’ or ‘anything but the Tories’ operation led to young adults putting their cross in the box for the Liberal Democrats. A realist would argue that it was a ‘last resort’ option, but an optimist would have you believe that a sense of trust or faith was starting to develop in the minds of young people, despite the calamitous decision to break their promise on student fees.
However much it shouldn’t be, emotion-led politics means personality has a big part to play in today’s votes. As the coalition minister responsible for the privatisation of Royal Mail, the haunted past of the Liberal Democrats has been shoved back into the spotlight following Cable’s election. If the Lib Dems are to continue the laborious process of winning back young people’s trust in the Lib Dems (led by Farron), then a leader who is willing to adapt and tackle the issue head on could be the answer.
It’s been a fun week of journalism this week, as I went to the i for work experience whilst also receiving some exciting news about an application I submitted last month. Both situations reminded me of the two skills mentioned in the title of this blog post – skills that are essential for a career in journalism.
One thing I have always admired about the i is its focus on concise, to-the-point news stories. Page two of their paper sees a ‘matrix’ of short, 50-word articles summarising news from a variety of different areas – be it foreign affairs, politics or something else.
The short pieces, known as nibs or ‘news in briefs’ present a fun challenge to the typical journalist. With the right story, reporters have quotes, statistics (of sorts), backstory and facts to hand, which they then need to squeeze into such a tight word count. It’s a case of prioritisation and they have to ask themselves: what is the most important information which needs to be included?
It was a craft I was able to hone throughout my week at the i. Alongside an exciting visit to the Saatchi Gallery to help out a press photographer, writing some business nibs and writing a short piece for the arts section, most of my week was spent assisting the Foreign Editor with articles. Every day I had the opportunity to write up about five or six stories to go in the aforementioned ‘matrix’. Some could quite easily be summarised in such a limit, but others proved more of a challenge. Nevertheless, it helped build upon my love of the news form and my attention to detail. It was great to get some editorial insight into the style of the i too.
Then there’s persistence – that came during one particular lunch break. After spotting a message from Sky’s Early Careers department in my voicemail, I was quick to return the call when I had a minute spare. It was about my application for a placement at Sky News under their Diversity Scheme, and it was third time lucky. I had been offered a place!
I fell in love with Sky HQ – based in Osterley – last year, when I was offered two weeks’ work experience at the firm’s Product and Brand PR team. A vibrant atmosphere complete with a just as positive work ethic meant I had to get a placement at Sky News, and return to Sky Central once more. Now, that day has come. Well, in November, to be exact.