A good day yesterday, on the activist front: a visit to the Press Complaints Commission – and an incredibly powerful presentation by two members of Trans Media Watch. It felt like itshould be required reading for every editor in the land and i was impressed.
Not just impressed: listening to the unending catalogue of hurtful, hateful biased reporting, i was almost embarrassed to be a journalist. As a trade, us scribbling folk have much to answer for and much to be ashamed of.
But hang on. Other times, other places, i listen in incredulity to criticism hurled in the direction of the press. Some of the coverage of trans issues – and of sex and sexuality in general – is truly awful. Some, however, is nigh on unavoidable: the role of journalism is to report, accurately: to reflect.
Articles that are outed as dripping with transphobia, homophobia, or any other sort of phobia sometimes aren’t: rather, they are constrained by the phobic nature of the reality they are reporting. Dangerous territory, this: if you wish to criticise a phenomenon, you need to understand where the real issue liies…cause if you focus on the wrong target, you end up shooting the messenger.
This issue came out recently on a board dedicated to alternative sexuality. A tirade of criticism directed at journalists: a bunch of generalisations along the line of “all journalists are bastards” and “never trust a journalist”.
That is the analysis of the nursery…and it faded as a number of grown-ups arrived to restore order. A respected activist posted to point out how some journalists were her best friends – and most useful allies. A freelance, who also writes about sexuality, interjected to point out how angry such generalisation made her. Other journalists also made the point that if the community in question wanted decent coverage, it needed to be a tad more sophisticated, speaking to and encouraging positive journalism, as well as attacking poor.
That isn’t an issue with Trans Media Watch – even if, at times, i find myself apparently painted into the slightly more pro-establishment corner. I’ve worked alongside journalists who get things wrong and, in most cases, they didn’t intend to: are mortified to discover they have; and eager to put right and learn to do better in future.
A good day…until, getting home, i have a conversation with a trans political activist. She’s read something i wrote and thinks i outed someone.
I read the piece: nope. It actually says the very opposite of what she presumed it to say. It doesn’t take more than a cursory reading to get that.
Oh, but…SHE understood it to mean…
But it isn’t a subject she understands all that well, so…
Right. I wrote something. Someone else didn’t quite understand it: but they assumed the worst.
I am…mortified. Truly pissed off. First, that they should think such a thing. Second, if they really thought it, that they hadn’t thought to have a quiet word.
But no: i’m a journalist…and therefore, i cannot possibly have any principles…and speaking to me about things i care about passsionately is just not worth doing.
Betwixt and between. Journalists really do have a lot to answer for. At the same time, so do activists. If they can’t sort out HOW to work with the press, they are doomed, in the end, to irrelevance.
But then, often the activist view of what a journalist does is totally at odds with what they actually do. How often do i hear that journalists “make stuff up”. Would that i could. (Oh: they spin, and that is a different issue!).
However, for news reporting, i rarely write a sentence that has not been checked once, twice, sometimes three times against sources.
A few months back i took an angry call from a Police Chief Inspector. I had misreported one of his officers. Happily i pointed him to the statement that HIS press office had supplied, and which i had used verbatim. Retreat and apology from one high-ranking copper.
Yet time and time again, i read pieces by activists that are very obviously unchecked, full of assertion and leading comment and…well…activists do journalism the way they imagine journalists do it: not the way it actually happens.
I’ll get over it: i always do. I am a friend to many casuses, turning down many, many stories that would make me £££’s in order not to fall into the same trap as the mainstream.
There are others who do exactly the same as I: Paris, Sarah, Louise, Alix, Helen C…to name but a few.
A pity that those who wish to influence the world don’t quite get that.