Thoughts on a column-writing masterclass with Owen Jones

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I write regular opinion pieces on Friday called The Friday Article. What started off as a way to talk about myself in the third person became a platform for me to comment on politics, current affairs, deafness and other social issues which interested me. It’s finally become something of which I’m proud, and fits perfectly into this blog’s theme of it being ‘online journalism portfolio’.

Owen Jones is a writer and columnist at The Guardian. Photo: Marc Lozano on Flickr.

However, ideas at the moment have been running low, and as a student journalist, pitching comment and opinion pieces to editors to be published and commissioned is something I haven’t yet considered in depth. A recent talk by columnist Mary Dejevsky at university first got me interested, and so this brings me on the column-writing masterclass with Owen Jones at The Guardian.

With a stuffed rucksack on my back and folder paper ticket in my hand, I approached the newspaper’s headquarters with excitement. I had entered the building on two previous occasions and so the cosy interior – complete with eccentric armchairs – felt all too familiar.

It wasn’t long before we were signed in and offered refreshments ahead of the main event. After the first session, I had the opportunity to meet Owen himself. After introducing myself, he was happy to sign my copies of his books, chat further about his tips for pitching columns, and wish me a belated happy birthday. Thanks, Owen!

After the final two sessions, both my notepad and brain were filled with ideas for comment pieces and pitches. As I write this two days on, I’m working on one particular article to submit to editors in the near future. I went to the event looking for inspiration, thoughts and a greater understanding of this particular writing form, and that’s certainly what I got from the masterclass as I left the building three hours later. Thank you both to The Guardian and Owen for a great event.

It’s also worth mentioning that after an amazing evening at The Guardian, I hopped on the tube to meet-up with my blogger friend Emily, from Emily Underworld. Within Five Guys, we chatted away – albeit briefly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I had to dash to make the long train home. It was wonderful to meet Emily, and I hope to meet her again soon for a proper chat.

In terms of future comment pieces, though, I left the event with some re-energised enthusiasm. As always, whenever I surround myself with fellow writers, the creativity and imagination spreads around. I left York Way with a smile on my face, determined to publish more Friday Articles on this blog, and pitch some ideas to national newspapers, too.

Exciting times lie ahead, I’m sure.

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#Traingate: Corbyn may finally have a winning media strategy | The Friday Article

Jeremy Corbyn was on a train talking about how ‘ram-packed’ it was. What happened next is up for debate, but ‘#traingate’ was soon a trending topic on social media. However, in amongst the fact-checking were talks about the re-nationalisation of our railways. Even if this one train Corbyn was on isn’t the best example of overcrowded carriages, then we all have our own experiences of it. The controversy worked, as talks about the public ownership of rail services manifest themselves in society.

After the controversy with Virgin Trains and #traingate, Labour may have a new media strategy. Photo: JamesZ_Flickr on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.
After the controversy with Virgin Trains and #traingate, Labour may have a new media strategy. Photo: JamesZ_Flickr on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

After all, Brexit, the fall of BHS and the crisis with Southern Rail have all exposed the elite and challenged the case for privatisation. The topic of conversation has turned to anti-establishment sentiment and the desire for public ownership. We have Jeremy Corbyn – the politician who represents these views on a political level – being challenged by Virgin Trains over ‘traingate’ and being attacked by the right-wing media at every opportunity. It’s understandable that some people believe Branson’s rail company argued against Corbyn’s statements because they have an interest in private ownership of rail services. Meanwhile, the right-wing press create this narrative of an unelectable left-wing Labour leader because his election would mean their voices being silenced. Corbyn poses an existential threat to both the right-wing media and Virgin Trains, so of course they will argue back when they can.

The left-wing Guardian columnist Owen Jones writes in a post on Medium about the ‘questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’, with one of the main questions revolving around a “clear media strategy”. As a new Labour supporter, I’ve always steered clear from writing a response to this. However, whilst the true events of ‘traingate’ remain unknown, underneath the controversy lies the truth that we’ve all been on an overcrowded train. That’s the winning strategy for Labour.

As the Corbyn vs. Virgin Trains debate dies down, Jeremy’s team have said that ‘traingate’ has helped the Labour leadership candidate with his calls for public ownership of the railway network. It’s because there was a relatable truth about rail services at the heart of the video Corbyn made on that train. After that, Virgin Trains and the media quickly jumped at the opportunity to dispute his tale of events. In the end, it was unnecessary and pointless. Even if Virgin Trains’ account is correct, it does nothing to justify the many train journeys other people have had to take where not enough seats are available. The panicked response to Corbyn’s call for public ownership only publicised Jeremy’s policies further. It’s a risky tactic, but could these pedantic scandals and controversies be the way for Corbyn to thrust his politics into the media spotlight?

Jones also talks about Sadiq Khan conquering the media after his election as London mayor, and how “he was remorselessly portrayed as the puppet of extremists by his opponent and his ally — the capital’s only mass newspaper, as well as several national newspapers. He managed to counteract it, and won.” Yet, the original media attacks on Sadiq Khan and the current media attention surrounding Corbyn aren’t completely identical – of course – and so it would be hard to use this as a case study or template for Jeremy’s new media strategy.

That being said, Londoners were sick of the personal attacks made at Sadiq Khan, so could this hatred of ad hominem remarks also benefit Jeremy Corbyn? If anything, his media strategy should be continuing to promote relatable policies, and then watching the right-wing media squirm. It will be repetitive, but the retaliation from right-wing bodies will only prove that what Corbyn is saying is true, and that will be their big mistake.

Liam

Review: ‘Chavs: The demonization of the working class’ by Owen Jones

Politics is one giant, complex beast which is hard to pin down and comprehend – let alone write a book about. An article focussing on one aspect of UK politics could soon become outdated within days. However, Owen Jones’ books always manage to paint a complete and honest picture of key political issues which are still relevant five years after the book was originally published in 2011.

At the heart of Jones’ publications is a political commentary which doesn’t surprise us. Most of the points that the Guardian columnist makes are things we hear all the time and the evidence is already out there. But, what is impressive is how all of these points connect to form a cohesive summary of the state our politics is in.

In Chavs, Owen Jones explores the otherness and demonisation which is placed on Britain’s working class, and their struggle over the years. Throughout the book, topics such as the housing crisis, Thatcherism and the media portrayals are discussed in a way which is so seamless and connected that it forms a very persuasive argument and a fitting call for action.

Admittedly, I didn’t find this book as engaging as The Establishment, but that is not to say that I do not care about the issues mentioned in the book. Much like Jones’ second book, there are moments of enlightenment, shock and anger as government policies are explained by Owen in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.

However, once again, I must talk about how relevant the book is in our current political climate. In particular, the final chapters rung true with the dilemma that the Labour Party faces at the moment. As the party is accused of being out of touch with the working class, we’re once again seeing a rise in far-right politics (in the book, it was the BNP and now it’s UKIP). Finally, in the conclusion, I noticed similar points made in The Establishment which encapsulates the present argument of the left. Both Chavs and The Establishment are different in the issues they cover, but they are united in their calls for left-wing changes.

On the whole, Chavs is a book which explores an otherness which is yet to be properly exposed and is still going unnoticed. As Labour continues to undergo an identity crisis, now may just be the time that we see a new type of class politics that Owen Jones calls for.

Have you read Chavs? Or have you read The Establishment? What are your thoughts on the demonisation of the working class? Comment below!

Liam

Review: ‘The Establishment’ by Owen Jones

Our vote to leave the European Union was just the latest political event to stir up anti-establishment rhetoric in the UK. There is no doubt that some of the 52 per cent wanted to leave the EU to break free from a union which was becoming increasingly dictated by big businesses. Now, as this monumental vote shakes up UK politics and this country’s Establishment, it’s time we found out more about the mysterious 1% at the top of our society – and Owen Jones’ The Establishment is the perfect book which unmasks the elite.


With each chapter, Jones cleverly dissects each aspect of the Establishment which makes the bigger picture of our country’s elite. From the role of outriders, to the police, to the media, no stone is left unturned as the Guardian columnist uses in-depth analysis and recent current affairs to make his point.

Whilst I struggled to understand points made about economics and accountants, it was the chapters about the press and police which really interested me. It was clear that Owen’s experience in journalism influenced his piece on the media, and once again, recent news stories really did make the section on the police’s role in the Establishment an interesting read.

Although the book does not say who is a part of the elite, The Establishment does highlight the Conservative Party’s close ties to the views of the 1% and presents a clear socialist argument. As someone who’s leaned towards the left over the past few months, this is the book which finally won me over.

Aside from the book being insightful, persuasive and eye-opening, Owen Jones’ novel is phenomenal in the sense that it comes full circle at the end. At the start, it’s about how, at times where the Establishment is exposed, we don’t take action. Yet, Owen ends the novel with clear instructions as to how we can pay attention to these exact moments.

One month after Brexit, a small minority who want to be shielded from public scrutiny have been shoved into the spotlight. Now is the time to read this book, and to act.

What do you think of Owen Jones? Do you watch his videos on YouTube? Have you read The Establishment? Comment below!

Liam