The kindness of strangers …

Journalists are far kinder than many realise. We’re now loathed the way estate agents once were so it’s easy to forget that we come in all shapes and sizes: writing not just for tabloids but for important local papers, independent websites, trade magazines and political newspapers. Many of us don’t even know how to hack a phone.

I’ve interviewed people on the worst day of their lives. Our thick-skinned, self-defence mechanism might make us refer to it as a “death knock” and, ultimately, we’re writing a story – and probably for a profit-driven publication – but it doesn’t follow that we feel nothing for the people who are often sobbing, sharing their fears, their thoughts, intimate details of their lives.

Journalists are realists

I once sat for hours interviewing a woman whose sister had been murdered on a paradise island. She recalled the day they had parted, at the airport, excitedly planning to meet up in the sun and knowing they would miss each other terribly. I did listen to her mumbled sobs for quotes – that is why I was there – but I also held her hand and, she told me, gave her the first chance to really talk about her loss.

I received weekly phone calls from a woman whose bigamist husband had made her life a misery – and was flattered when she shared news of her romance in an email to me. Her calls to me ended as soon as she moved on from her “story”.

I sat in the home of a mum whose baby had died after a tragic pram accident, another whose boyfriend had murdered her daughter and another whose son had been missing then again later, when he was found murdered. One can’t listen to stories like this and not be moved – just as people are moved when they read what we have written.

Our reasons for being there are to interview, we’re not social workers we’re journalists, but we wouldn’t get any information from anyone were we not compassionate. I laugh when I see journalists in soap operas antagonise and alienate entire villages, streets and squares when attempting to get a story. I laugh harder when they’re from the local Gazette or Courier but throw money around like confetti:  you might be surprised to know we usually don’t have open cheque books to buy people’s stories so they have to want to talk to us.

You might also be shocked to hear that we receive letters afterwards thanking us for being the first to listen to the experience. You might be alarmed to realise that many thank us for what we have written.

It doesn’t surprise me, though, that I’ve been emailed with offers of cash and bottles of wine from generous journalists. I’m not surprised that others have felt the need to check on my mental health, offering an online chat if I need it. Journalism is an industry where, for the most part, we look after each other and where being decent with people, empathising, taking an interest, is our stock in trade.

A cure for depression

So, I’d like to put readers’ minds at rest and say I’m not depressed: I’m fed up, I’m skint, I’m angry, and often cold or hungry but I’m also aware I’m one of many millions.

While I admit to once being accused of “depressing the Chuckle Brothers” during an interview I’m fairly positive most of the time.

Depression is, though, a problem for the long-term unemployed. It is difficult to lose a job you have loved – perhaps worse if you fear you’ll never have the chance to succeed: A Mental Health Foundation stress survey called Be Mindful found the under-25s are the most stressed age group, with anxieties about unemployment.

The International Labour Organisation, after the August riots, said its likely to happen again as young people give up looking for work altogether. It predicts number of unemployed 15-24-year-olds will stand at 74.6 million, or a rate of 12.6% for 2011, stating: “Increased crime rates in some countries, increased drug use, moving back home with the parents, depression – all of these are common consequences for a generation of youth that, at best, has become disheartened about the future, and, at worst, has become angry and violent.”

While a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development finds a key factors in the cause of depression is “being unemployed, in poor health, and having no friends to count on” – while also stating that winning the Lottery won’t help here.

Research across the world reveals that people losing their jobs do suffer from depression but I can assure you I’m more frustrated and angry than I am miserable … and I’m not convinced that winning the Lottery wouldn’t help.

How much money I have: £6.26 to last four days

What I was able to buy: A bottle of Sicilian red for less than four pound (and it’s not a bad drop) and Whiskas cat food on offer for also less than four pound: that’s me and Chaplin satisfied, perhaps temporarily pacified, for less than a tenner

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6 thoughts on “The kindness of strangers …

  1. As a fellow unemployed hack I’m enjoying your blog. Can you please tell us more about how you depressed the Chuckle Brothers. That really made me laugh.

    • It was just pointed out to me after the interview – quite dramatically – that I had “depressed the f***ing Chuckle Brothers”. It’s what you get for trying to intellectualise celebrity interviews. I wanted to ask about their relationship with comedy as representatives of the oppressed working class man, similar to Charlie Chaplin, Norman Wisdom and so on. Oh! I think I get it now.

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