Professional trolls and the death of journalism …

Trolls no longer live under bridges: they sit at keyboards, writing for the likes of the Daily Mail, creating outrage to ensure website clicks and well-paid appearances on daytime telly.

Forget the idiot trolls – predominantly teenage boys and middle-aged loners sitting in their underpants sending abuse to strangers while waiting for their mum to shout “tea’s done” – these new, media trolls are the real problem but, rather than get arrested for their ridiculous statements, they make money.

The media loves to warn us about trolls, to tell us they’re mean-spirited, rude, abusive, ill-informed, deliberately offensive, cruelly sarcastic … but not that they are often also journalists. Troll B Gone

They come in all guises, these trolls; they arrive with their faux anger and false opinions intended only to make being a troll an entrepreneur activity for the 21st century.

Although ultimately still troll-like in appearance with their wizened, bitter features and eyes ablaze from the excitement of upsetting random readers and telly viewers for no reason other than profit and a step up the career ladder.

You’ve seen them. Some are your wannabe-journalist trolls like Samantha Brick and Katie Hopkins; others are your professional trolls like Brendan O’Neill and Julie Burchill. They insult the working class, the vulnerable, the different .. but they’re journalists, so it’s okay, right?

Samantha Brick challengingly thinks all women are jealous of her appearance: “Women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks.”

Katie Hopkins offensively says working class parents are unintelligent: “The Class Book of Baby Names. Also available in Large Print, Easy read.”

Julie Burchill controversially thinks the nation is so apolitical its concern was only ever Thatcher’s gender: “She has done harsh things and had a great deal of faith in herself — and, being a woman, this more than anything is why she remains so unforgiven by certain sections of society.”

Brendan O’Neill contrarily worries himself about poor people getting insulted by oiks in times of “austerity”: “Mocking toffs is fast becoming the bloodsport of choice among Left-leaning politicians and influential commentators.”

It is predictable and tedious. But what is to be done? Don’t feed them is the obvious response.

The more fuel you give to the trolls the more money they make from newspaper columns and TV appearances where they spout the same, intentionally ridiculous shite they first shared in a well-placed Tweet.A troll

These trolls crawl out of their beds each morning, fleetingly glance at what’s going on in the world, then settle in front of their computers, sneering, giggling, to write formulaic, join-the-dots articles stating an intentionally controversial opinion. The opinions aren’t necessarily held by them but will promote a news site, ensure readers to their column, bring a pat on the back from an editor who thinks its writers being ridiculed by readers is an achievement.

A lack of principle and no journalism ethics means they’ll produce right-wing shite for The Sun and less right-wing shite for The Guardian so long as the money goes in the bank.

These trolls,of course, exist alongside the lesser “celebrity” hacks but together they create a predominantly white, middle class, myopic clique of London-based writers who condemn, judge and make a mockery of our lives and our journalism.

It’s a nasty trend that sees columnists paid to share their ill-informed views – sometimes with intent to cause offense –  while investigative journalism falls by the wayside and real journalists struggle to find freelance or staff jobs.

It’s all just another knife in the back of British journalism. Don’t feed the trolls.

You talk a load of drizzle, Jamie Oliver

Excuse me while I take off my pinny. I’ve been making artisan bread and some home-made pesto out of the leftover ice in my freezer.

Posh grub

Not affordable to a Sicilian street cleaner

You see, celebrity chef and once Labour school meals adviser Jamie Oliver has decided that British poverty isn’t as chic and exciting as, say, Sicilian poverty so I’m trying to change the way I approach the lack of food in the cupboard.

I won’t be angry at my job loss. I won’t be irritated by the stagnating economy. I won’t be frustrated at shrinking wages or the rising cost of living. No, I will internalise the problem and blame myself for not realising I can make a week’s food from a slice of stale bread and an egg. I’ll readily accept that all I need is cheaper olive oil to drizzle on an empty plate for a nutritious meal in front of my cinema-size plasma TV.

Jamie said, “You might remember that scene in Ministry Of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive TV. It just didn’t weigh up.”

So Jamie immediately assumes people buy huge TVs instead of food rather than

Sit down and have an olive, love

Sit down and have an olive, love

recognising they might have bought it while in work, it might be a gift, it might be secondhand … and it’s impossible not to buy huge tellies anymore!

Jamie goes on: “I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like.’ I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.”

Ignoring the fact that Jamie Oliver’s own brand spaghetti is £1.75 …

Well, I know what it’s like Jamie. It’s soul-destroying. It’s monotonous. It’s exhausting. And a jar of expensive pesto from your own brand range (£2.59!) isn’t going to change that.

Oh, and if you hug me I’ll punch you.

He goes on (he won’t stop!), “The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow-cooked, or an amazing texture’s been made out of leftover stale bread.”

So us poor no longer need to worry about hormone-injected meat or animal welfare – phew! that trend has passed – and have a constant supply of energy to fuel a slow cooker and a seemingly endless supply of leftover bread. You think we’d eat the bread, at least?!Cheesy Chips

Anyway, I’ve no time to keep ranting. I’m going to imagine French cuisine and see if that doesn’t fill me up before I get some money.

PS I’ve never had cheesy chips … but I really fancy some now.

Getting off benefits – the worst part of unemployment yet again

As the Guardian reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began  … I have again tried to move from unemployment to part-time work – that is, from unemployment to underemployment.

I told my Job Centre Plus adviser before I even secured the contract and he has been helpful and supportive – but unable to stop the inevitable.

All my benefits have been stopped.

This stopping of benefits happens before you have any chance to give details, to fully explain your reasoning or prove your income.

It is profitable for the government to plunge you into poverty first and ask questions later.

I’ve explained to Job Centre Plus and to the council that my income works out at just £30 more than I would get per week from Jobseekers’ Allowance. I’ve shown contracts, visited almost weekly with updates and emailed any relevant information.

Nevertheless, my Housing Benefit has been calculated to now be £1.19 per week, my Council Tax Benefit is nil and today I find my Jobseekers’ Allowance has not been paid.

Of course I immediately switched off my heating, rationed the food in my cupboards and freezer and will stay home unable to afford to go anywhere. I wonder if this is the “war mentality” of which Heseltine spoke today – workers clamouring to survive while the wealthy remain untouched by the failures of the banks and the global economic crisis of their making.

I recognise this Tory-led coalition, supported by lickspittle lackey Lib Dems, will claim that Universal Credit will end this problem but this is clearly not the case. It will simply be worse for us.

The Tory work ethic – the promise that work will pay – is a lie.

This is the second time I’ve experienced this as I try to find work, to remain active and employable. I wonder now if it will be worth doing it again in the future. I might choose to stay on benefits.

Regular readers will know that, after 20 years as a journalist, I found it impossible to secure work in the industry so I retrained as an academic and now find it impossible to secure work in higher education.

Ironically, I found out this week that I passed a post-graduate certificate in education – what a waste of time and hard-work attaining a new qualification has proven to be.

This work is only until March 2013 so all this confusion and stress will start again as soon as it ends…

Tory attacks round-up … updated regularly

As Tories gleefully claim that we’re out of a recession unemployedhack takes a look at the Tory Attacks Chart to see the hottest releases featuring assaults on the most vulnerable in society.

Children, disabled people, unemployed workers, young people, pensioners … everyone except the rich get a kicking from this Coalition government propped up by lickspittle lackey Lid Dems.

Straight in at #1: Ian Duncan Smith arrogantly concludes in a speech that domestic violence, drug addiction and family breakdown are solely working class experiences and uses benefit reforms and cuts for his warped social experiment. The rich, meanwhile, are not penalised for these issues because they have wealth.

Down one place to #2: Victorian window tax-style policy sees Tories with numerous homes punish those in social housing for having a spare room … and it will hurt disabled tenants

Down a spot: Almost five million British workers are paid less than a living wage

Non-mover. Homeless people lose local government support from November 9 when they’ll face eligibility tests to be told they have to tolerate unsuitable private accommodation

Down a spot to #2: Pensioners work till they drop as those surviving on state pensions are told to work or volunteer or not get paid

Non-mover: Children of low-income families won’t be able to leave home when not entitled to housing benefits

Hot release: Benefits are destructive says top Tory – and the number of children benefit claimants can have could be capped leaving them “freed from” the decision of whether they can afford to

Still vying for that #1 spot: Disabled plunged into poverty as benefits are cut for the most vulnerable leaving many suicidal

An unsurprising entry: Universities face a funding black hole as higher education is privatised and Tories/Lib Dems are seen to have fudged the figures

New entry: Cutting funding for Sure Start and children’s services will damage lives of underprivileged children ruining their chances before they’re even out of nappies

Ironic non-mover: Unemployed forced to work unpaid for benefits – taking jobs from the unemployed

Terrifying long stint in the charts: NHS cuts continue despite Tory pledge to defend the service A&E and wards face closures

Offensive non-mover: More cuts to child support for jobless parents added to those for low-income earners

Sickening entry: Foodbank charity Trussell Trust reveals that three foodbanks are opening every week as Tories claim we’re out of a recession

Moralistic non-mover: The country’s 1.9 million single parents are forced onto Jobseekers’ Allowance – as Sure Start centres close and Workfare takes paid jobs

Surprise entry: Thatcher’s Tory government included a paedophile - and Jimmy Savile spent his Christmases at Chequers

Pop summary: Tories – and their Lib Dem sidekicks – are a cruel, wealthy, self-centred axis of Eton attacking the vulnerable and defending the indefensible.

  • Also, Still think the Tories – and Labour – need to make cuts and are not just looking for excuses to reduce the State?

Is compassion just for the “loony left”?

I’ve been told a few times this week that I’m whining about “compassion” or told – with an equal lack of irony – that it isn’t just for “lefties” but for ardent Tories too.

In 2008 the Tories were being hailed as the compassionate conservatives. Three years on, a Coalition in place, and attacks in the most vulnerable in society impossible to ignore and this now sounds like a bitter joke.

But Cameron tried to reaffirm his compasionate Conservative credentials at the Tory conference where he said: “Conservative methods are not just good for the strong and the successful but the best way to help the poor and the weak and the vulnerable.”

Adding: “Because it’s not enough to know our ideas are right. We’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too.”

I don’t know about you but – as more people need benefits at the same time as Universal Credit ensures they’re denied them –  I can see the Tories changing their approach to “compassion”. I think, in much the same way as rants about “political-correctness”, they’ll soon declare it’s “compassion gone mad!” as they silence anyone defending the vulnerable.

I’m so certain of this I will bet my £71 a week which is, of course, such a huge amount of money I’m now entirely unwilling to work and, instead, happy to live in state-funded luxury with the obligatory enormous television.

Recently though I’ve found that rare species we know exists but hardly ever encounter … a compassionate Job Centre Plus adviser. He is friendly thing, doesn’t speak to me like I’m a thief, stupid or both … and he advises. Perhaps this is an indication that those who consider themselves to be in a powerful position – that is, in work – are recognising their own employment vulnerability. That they too could soon be treated with a lack of compassion and accused of whinging if they demand it.

This also to some extent explains why it’s been some time since I’ve blogged. It’s not, sadly, due to my being employed but to my feeling I have, in a way, little left to say.

Firstly, my experience is a repetitive one – I am again moving from unemployment to under-employment and so fighting the draconian measures of my benefits being suspended before I’ve even seen an employment contract. I am as ever stressed out by this but also oddly used to it. I now know how to “play the system” because you have no choice but to learn because – aside from the Lesser Arrogant Job Centre Plus Advisor I’ve just encountered – no one helps you at all.

I’ve again gone without heating – but I imagine you have too. I’ve again gone without food and have no social life – but I imagine that sounds familiar.

My experience is now a very common one: many of us are now losing our jobs; seeing our homes threatened; being treated as parasitic benefit cheats; being ripped off by utilities companies; being blamed for our poverty; watching as banks benefit from it in charges; recognising our qualifications are not worth the money we paid for them; waiting for the axe to fall or signing on then off then on then off then on then …

Update:

Chaplin is well. He is currently enjoying a catnip cigar and, thankfully, prefers Lidl and Aldi catfood to the big name brands

Luxuries I’ve bought to irritate Tories who think my benefits are too high: an electric blanket; a halogen heater and the aforementioned catnip cigar

Poverty plan: To work two part-time jobs in the hope that this means I can sign off until March 2013. Fingers crossed

The media frenzy on so-called “honour killing” …

The parents of Shafilea Ahmed did not kill her for “honour” but because domestic violence “transcends culture, class, race, and religion.”

This as the conclusion of the leading investigating officer – so why are our newspapers full of bold headlines and in-depth discussion about “honour killing”?

As far as I can tell –and I’m happy to be corrected – it is the media that has made the link between Shafilea’s parents’ excuse for murder and “honour” not the police or the judge.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Geraint Jones, who led the inquiry for Cheshire Police, said: “Over the years, many people have asked me – is this a so-called honour killing? For me, it’s a simple case of murder.

“This is a case of domestic abuse by two parents towards their children. Domestic abuse is, sadly, something which the police have to deal with too often. “

The judge, when sentencing her parents for murder, told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child” but didn’t use the term “honour killing” – a term put in speech marks by most domestic violence charities and those newspapers not accepting it wholesale.

Women’s Aid says that with domestic violence: “’Blaming the victim’ is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour, and quite often they manage to convince their victims that the abuse is indeed their fault.

“This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Blaming their behaviour on someone else, or on the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is one way in which many abusers try to avoid personal responsibility for their behaviour.”

The charity defines domestic violence as, “physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour crimes’. Domestic violence may include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are in themselves inherently ‘violent’.”

While “honour-based” violence, according to Domestic Violence London, “can exist in any culture or community where males are in position to establish and enforce women’s conduct.

“Males can also be victims, sometimes as a consequence of a relationship which is deemed to be inappropriate, if they are gay, have a disability or if they have assisted a victim.”

So why, if shame, honour, embarrassment and doing things wrong – or your favourite football team losing – are common excuses for domestic abuse, has the UK media whipped itself into a frenzy about “honour killing” rather than reeling in horror at domestic violence?

Women’s Aid:

  •  1 in 4 will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions
  • 1 incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
  • on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

Meanwhile, in the US a white, middle class Christian couple killed their black adopted daughter. As with police in the UK, “investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said earlier this month that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.”

Another couple were charged with murdering their child who they believed had the devil inside her and God told them to stick a rose down her throat. While their status as “immigrant” is seen as significant here – their religion isn’t further discussed.

There are, of course, more intellectual approaches than that of the Daily Mail – aren’t there always? The New Statesman, for example, states that “the left cannot remain silent over honour killings” and refers them as an “epidemic of abuse and violence” – so “honour” is being accepted as the distinguishing feature in this case – not domestic violence as outlined by the police.

The Guardian though produces a piece on a charity supporting women at risk of forced marriage and “honour” crimes: because many charities including Refuge campaign against domestic violence as a whole when supporting victims of “sexual violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, prostitution, trafficking and stalking”.

It is clear that no one would suggest that Shafilea’s case shouldn’t be discussed in a wider context or that “honour” isn’t used as an excuse for violence against women and men.

One could suggest, though, that this violence be discussed in a more rational manner: perhaps we would benefit from the UK taking a calmer, less emotionally-charged and academic approach to domestic violence rather than a knee-jerk response to “honour” killing.

If you look to the news now the discussion of “honour killing” has become white noise and – if you dare to look at comments on articles – is being used for further attacks on Islam: one could almost think all Muslim condoned violence against women.

Perhaps some journalists still lucky enough to be in paid employment could report more on the experiences and understanding of those dealing with domestic violence across all cultures on a daily basis; it could look to the nuclear family as a constant in domestic violence; investigate the links between mental ill-health, such as stress, and domestic violence; or consider the role of the patriarchy across many cultures when “honour” is used as justification for domestic violence.

Remember other excuses – accepted by UK police in confronting domestic violence – include football teams losing during Euro 2012 and the World Cup.

The video below made by Refuge – a charity providing safe houses – highlights how hidden domestic violence can be in the UK as women hide their bruises, take responsibility and make excuses for the damage done at the hands of their abusers.

We need to discuss domestic violence as an experience across cultures and classes. Isolated incidents – however horrific – are examples of domestic violence within families not of broken cultures.

Because domestic violence is a terrifying and very real problem for many people in our country which “transcends culture, class, race, and religion”.

Jobcentre Plus new Q&A revealed …

Some intense investigative reporting on my part has resulted in my having something to do other than play string with Chaplin – and in unearthing the latest questionnaire used by Jobcentre Plus advisers.

This Q&A will be used at each and every interview unemployed workers attend in the hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face the repetitive, humiliating process over and over again. What happens to them then is of no concern.

A Jobcentre Plus unofficial, completely imaginary, spokesperson said: “When addressing the needs of customers facing deferred success and cashflow challenges, it sometimes makes sense to clarify your process using a flowchart.

“Using a customer service process flow chart can help advisers deal with customers in a way that represents Jobcentre Plus’ overall customer service outlook while, at the same time, avoiding customer intimacy or, heaven forbid, making eye contact with the employment-challenged.

“Going forward we hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face this repetitive, humiliating process over and over again.

“What happens to them then is of no concern to us and any discussion about the validity of this flowchart will result in our effective, and government-backed, use of blamestorming.”

  • If you’re due to sign on remember this is how they think – even if the more wily ones don’t follow the Q&A openly …