There is, no doubt, excitement at the thought of The Sun closing down. Once again, I won’t be joining in.
I doubt there will be equally loud calls for the army and police forces to be closed down because, essentially, people are siding with the powerful: journalists are just workers who are dispensable, their unemployment and resulting poverty isn’t a big deal, and they’re to blame for their own actions.
Well, I disagree.
Newspapers are closing down: many of them are free newspapers which not only affects journalists but the chance for those without money for the internet or to buy newspapers without easy access to in-depth news. As the Guardian reported in December, “There have been at least 31 closures of weekly newspapers in England, Wales and Scotland in the course of 2011. All but two were free titles. It is noticeable that the bulk have occurred in the last couple of months.”
Many journalists – perhaps some led by ambition – do things they later regret. I mean regret on a personal level, not following an arrest. They do so because bullying in journalism is rife, commonplace and happens to the best of us, because they are told to get the story at any cost or lose their jobs.
Journalists were so in fear of never working again the, according to NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet, “feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a way which would allow them to be identified by their current or prospective media employers.
“Those who have experienced or witnessed bullying of a vicious and engrained nature have largely been too fearful to speak out in case they lost their job or were forced out. Those who have witnessed first-hand unethical behaviour or been pressured into working in a way that is unethical are frankly terrified about being identified”
Stanistreet continued, “The range of issues the journalists have raised […] include, but are not restricted to – endemic bullying, huge pressure to deliver stories, overwhelming commercial pressures which are allowed to dictate what is published and the overweening power and control of editors over their journalists and of employers over their editors.
“Many newspaper groups simply won’t let the NUJ through the door.”
News of the World former news editor Ian Edmondson talked of a culture of bullying, saying: “It’s a case of you will do as you are told and you live in that environment”.
I’ve been bullied, at some point, by every editor I’ve had. I’m not a shy person, I don’t suffer in silence … but I’ve been reduced to tears, sitting alone in a district office, or my car, or at home wondering why on earth I ever became a journalist.
I’ve been screamed at, threatened, manipulated, insulted, overworked, ridiculed, isolated, undermined …
I was once having a hard time, health-wise, and was taken for a coffee by my editor. I was building myself up as we walked to the café (not the staff canteen) ready to explain what I was going through and to seek support.
“You’re going under and you’re not dragging me down with you. I think you should leave,” I was told before I could even order my frothy coffee. My disability was not an issue, legal ramifications of no concern: I was to go and to do so quietly. The bullying continued in the editor’s office, in private, once we returned.
Another editor used to proof-read our pages with a red pen and get so angry doing so that the paper would be full of rips and tears by the time it was thrown across the office at us.
“This isn’t good enough. This is substandard. I can’t be doing your job and mine,” was a favourite call as the editor kicked the table. There was no recognition that we had no longer had proof-readers to do this expected role in a newsroom.
My first editor took great delight in rejecting front page stories minutes before deadline. These stories were good but still the phone would ring.
“Find me something else. I’m sick of this topic. I’m sick of you. Get another story or get on your merry way.”
The glee in the editor’s voice was never disguised and we were told of how excited he looked making the call afterwards when we met up with colleagues in the pub.
I confronted each one to some extent: the first editor was reported to the union and management and the bullying in isolation responded to in emails; the second I confronted then made a formal complaint when it continued; and my first editor, well, I always had two stories ready and would wait half an hour before sending him the second, better story (I wouldn’t recommend this tiring option).
Recently, at Leveson Inquiry, Kelvin McKenzie said “if the atmosphere towards what you’re doing is different than before, then you need to change with it.”
Journalist Brendan Montague at the-sauce.org secured a world exclusive from a former mole at the News International about The Sun’s front page showing NUM leader Arthur Scargill apparently giving a Nazi salute under the headline “Mine Fuhrer”.
He wrote, “Union members at the printers refused to publish the filthy slur and instead humiliated bullying editor Kelvin McKenzie. They publicly shamed him by running across the splash: “Members of all The Sun production chapels refused to handle the Arthur Scargill picture and major headline on our lead story.”
This is where the strength lies – not in joining in the bullying of journalists enjoyed by money-grubbing newspaper owners or fame-seeking editors.
When my first editor finally lost his job – when he was bullied by new buyers and discarded like yesterday’s newspaper – I danced around his desk: literally. This was a cause for celebration; his bullying resulted in his unemployment and was his own responsibility.
Don’t join the bullies: defend journalism and defend journalists.
Still no news on whether my benefits are still suspended or if I’m being paid by my employer
Chaplin wants his lunch so I’d better get it or he shouts