Journalists get bullied by union-bashing bosses …

Convicted phone hacker Andy Coulson walked free from court yesterday cleared of perjury.

The judge told the jury, “Not every lie amounts to perjury” and that the former News of the World boss’ alleged lies about phone hacking were not material to main case at the Tommy Sheridan trial and so the case was thrown out.

People inevitably took to Twitter commenting on the case – and saying again how little they trust journalists.

It’s four years since the News of the World closed but still people feel aggrieved by what they saw and still they feel little confidence in journalists to tell the truth or to be capable of integrity, loyalty and political principle.Lois Lane

Still few see or accept the reality of the pressures on journalists to do as they’re told. Too many think journalists live in some Daily Planet bubble where they can run into the offices of editors like Andy Coulson and demand to be heard, demand to tell their story, demand not to write something racist or sexist. We rarely can. Like most workers we simply don’t have that power.

When a housing worker in a Tory council evicts a tenant for not being able to afford their rent in times of austerity we can’t blame that individual worker. When a factory worker shoves horse meat into a packet and labels it beef we can’t blame that individual worker.

And – just like other workers – we get bullied if we do stand up for what we believe in.

Michell Stanistreet, the National Union of Journalists general secretary, told the Leveson Inquiry: “”The range of issues the journalists have raised with me 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.”

She added: “They feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a wayLois Lane 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.”

Some have found the courage to be identified and to walk out …

Rich Peppiatt, writer and director of One Rogue Reporter, walked out of the Daily Star offices in protest at what he saw as anti-Muslim propaganda, stating: “I may have been just a lowly hack in your business empire, void of the power to make you change your ways, but there is still one thing that I can do; that I was trained to do; that I love to do: write about it.”

Peter Oborne resigned from the Telegraph over what he considered its fraudulent coverage allowing HSBC to influence content for fear of losing ad revenue, saying: “I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. […] I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan (chief executive) agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.”

But it’s not all about national journalists and indeed certainly not all about tabloid journalists. The industry – trade press, local newspapers, regional titles, magazines – is rife with bullying and workers too scared to stand up for themselves or for their work because they fear they will be sacked. Superman

Phil Turner has worked at the Rotherham Advertiser for 30 years. He is also the chapel’s FoC – that is he is the National Union of Journalists shop steward.

Phil has been singled out by bosses for compulsory redundancy. The NUJ is appealing the decision, seeing the targeting of Phil as a deliberate attack on the journalists’ union and on the wider trade union movement.

Phil’s colleagues are defending him. They intend to strike on June 11th and there is a protest this Saturday in Rotherham’s All Saints Square at 12 noon.

Chris Morley, the NUJ’s Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “The company has made a grave error in selecting Phil for dismissal in such a transparent attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the chapel at the Rotherham Advertiser. Even when required savings were found elsewhere, the new management of the company still insisted that a compulsory redundancy had to be made in editorial and that it just happened to be the FoC.”

It’s time to recognise journalists don’t have some innate power unavailable to other workers.  We’re not all Lois Lanes and Clark Kents (even Clark Kent left the Daily Planet tired of the drivel he had to produce). 

And we depend on union support and solidarity like other workers.

Also … we’re not all phone hackers. We don’t sit gleefully writing racist crap. We don’t shovel shit into the internet and think we’ve got it made. We do recognise the influence of advertising and of corrupt bosses. We get bullied and victimised.

We’re workers, just like you.

The union is urging NUJ members and supporters to contact the Rotherham Advertiser in protest. Please send respectful messages of protest to Rotherham Advertiser chief executive Nick Alexander and copy in the editor Andrew Mosley and HR officer Debbie Commander.   

You can also send messages of support and solidarity to Phil Turner:

Email the chapel and copy in the NUJ campaigns and communications department:  



Lifestyle section: How to burn 17 calories every 15 minutes*

I’ve been reading some articles on various lifestyle subjects from how to eat a cheese sandwich to how chefs are making their plates a little plainer and how to sow a wildflower meadow.

I feel uplifted. It is imagined, of course, that we all aspire (there’s that word again!) to be the demographic that can’t decide whether to rent or sell that irritating additional property or really want to know how to be happy.

I’ve written these things myself over the years so I don’t condemn those doing it now. I remember phases of having to think of time scales for stories – you know the sort of thing, ‘lose fourteen stone in a fortnight’ or ‘one week from meeting to wedding’.

But it seems especially vacant and irrelevant in times of austerity. Chaplin is skint

As queues to food banks double and is worse than other European countries I can’t help but think wordy articles on the best bacon or the poshest crisps is verging on offensive.

As Shelter states that in England, more than 81,000 households were found to be homeless during 2013/14 perhaps articles on how to spruce up your bathroom are, at the very least, insensitive.

And, while Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the average cost of a school uniform and PE kit is £224.69 while the average local authority grant for school uniform is just £51.27 maybe articles on which fashions are bang on trend for toddlers is a but ugly.

It’s aspirational journalism, of course. The profit-driven industry needs it to get advertising. It needs you to want to aspire to buy what is being peddled and to feel better for having engaged with the magazine, paper or website.

I sat at my desk once, listening in despair, as it was decided a local free paper would no longer be delivered to a poorer area because, well, no one there could afford what the advertisers were selling. Stuff informing, forget democracy – these poor people had no disposable income.

As a cub reporter I could be all Daily Planet-dramatic and say a story was more important than an ad and see said ad removed from the page but within a decade and I was being told by advertising sales staff, “you know who pays your wages, right?”

Aspiration and a media dependent on income from advertising means features too often lack relevance to the lives of many. Salford StarIncluding the people who write them …

… at this point I would like to point out that many journalists earn a pittance!

 The Guardian did recently provide a “seven ways to take action” against austerity guide. Credit where it’s due. It was written by Cait Cross is from UK Uncut, though, and not the paper so, in the current shifting “business model” that is journalism, I’m unsure if it was paid for …

This type of attention-grabbing, time-tied, easy to digest journalism is especially effective for magazines because it can be planned ahead, it can be created rather than researched and, significantly, the journalists doesn’t have to move from the office to do it so it’s comparatively cheap.

I feel I could still contribute to this type of journalism given the chance and my current view from the scrapheap gives me a unique perspective.

  • What to wear when the wolf is at the door
  • How an empty fridge can help you diet
  • What tea to drink when opening debt letters
  • How to cope with spending too much time with the cat
  • Keep fit while watching afternoon telly
  • How to avoid job application RSI

But – more seriously – there are some efforts being made to report what is really going on in communities, to genuinely discuss “lifestyles” without the Labour/Tory aspiration rhetoric and the influence of advertisers.

Over at Contributoria Conrad Bower wants to write about the Manchester Homeless Camp campaign – and you can vote to help him do it. Byline hosts any journalistic work, regardless of ideology or subject and is funded by readers. Salford Star repeatedly irritates the council with some hard-hitting journalism while also having a laugh and is currently selling a new batch of publications. And there’s The Conversation, describing itself as a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish and a not for profit educational entity.

You might also want to see my post on the food of the Gods: mushy peas. It’s not hard-hitting journalism but, by heck, you’ll fancy some for your tea later!

*Oh … you burn 17 calories every 15 minutes just by lying on the settee. Unemployedhack – bringing you aspiration and education.

Be upfront, BBC. Just call it Chav Challenge …

It seems the BBC –  to which we pay a licence fee for its unique output and should, apparently, defend without hesitation – is making a new show about “hardworking people”.

That set of workers so beloved by Tories and Labour alike – but as yet undefined – will be, er, celebrated in their own show – Britain’s Hardest Grafter.

The reality television show will see ambitious workers who earn less than £15,500 a year battle it out to win a cash prize.

The cash prize is, apparently, £15,000. Is that enough to satisfy the aspirations of people living on low incomes? Obviously, you and I know it means a lifetime supply of cheesy chips and owning a telly that would look too big in Wembley Stadium.

It is, of course, “aspirational” television and will try its hardest to appear positive while pumping out more poverty porn. The posters read “Britain’s Hardest Worker” but I’d not be surprised if, behind the scenes, it’s called Ex-Worker Factor or That Povo’s Got Talent.

I admit I thought it was a spoof at first. I expected to see it on a satirical news website but, no, the BBC is seeking 25 hardworking people to take part. Twenty five seems a high figure for a nation so overwhelmed by spongers and skivers.

A jobs website contacted the production company. Britain's Hardest Grafter Twenty Twenty told them: ““In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks. At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain. The winner will receive in the region of £15,000 which is a year’s living wage (outside of London).”

This show’s sickening format is revealed at the same time Tories and Labour agree to lower the benefit cap – thus blaming workers for earning low wages and being in need of help.

It’s part of a wider narrative consistently letting low paying bosses off the hook and justifying a cut in social security. It’s another way in which we can be blamed for having too much month at the end of our money.

And it’s being considered as a genuine show by the BBC to whom we’ll pay £145.50 a year to watch young people compete for one year’s worth of a crap income.

Perhaps I can aspire by offering some other reality TV ideas to the BBC …

  • I’m Living On The Street Get Me Out of Here
  • Empty Kitchen
  • So You Think You Can Put The Heating On
  • The Voiceless UK
  • Pop Idle
  • Povs Win Prizes

Oh, they’re doing that last one …

As workers we’re expected to constantly prove our worth. We have to prove we are hard grafters, hard-working families, aspirational, ambitious. We have to prove we are willing to work really, really hard to make a profit for other people while being simultaneously grateful for low pay, short-term contracts, zero hours agreements – and, increasingly, the chance of being humiliated on telly.

Karl Marx said: “… bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness for those of its members who work acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work.” And he was right.

Our desire to want to avoid mundane work is not a sin. Not wanting to demean ourselves for a pittance while our bosses get rich is not peculiar. Wanting fair pay for our work is sane. And defining ourselves as human beings first not workers is real aspiration.

So, I say stuff aspiring to be Britain’s Hardest Grafter and embrace idleness – just don’t watch the BBC’s offensive offering on telly while you’re doing it.

Aspiration without opportunity is a scam …

Well, look what the fat cat dragged back in. Hello all. Since I was last here I have retrained. I have hoop-jumped, aspired and succeeded like a good worker should.

I still have 25 years experience as a journalist. I still have almost a decade’s experience of teaching. I have a teaching qualification and a rather exciting PhD proposal.
But now I don’t have a job. And if I don’t find one soon I’ll be in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit again. Plus ça change.

You see the bosses have shifted the hoops, they’ve ignored my aspiration and they’ve limited my success because – no matter how we buy into the fantasy – we really have very little control over our work or our access to it.

I’ve drunk expensive wine with media types in modern, minimalist apartments. I’ve been stressed and excited in equal measure in busy, noisy newsrooms. I’ve walked with confidence across campus, carrying texts books and fresh coffee.
I’ve recreated all these aspirational images, suitable to magazines and job centre posters intended to inspire young workers to aspire, to achieve … but now I don’t have a job.

Some 181 local newspapers have closed in the UK since 2005. Unpaid internships are commonplace. Writing for nothing to prove your worth is also familiar.
Cuts in academia have seen job losses, courses closing, a reduction in pay – and fewer sessional and full-time teaching staff.
My short-term contracts have all ended. My qualifications and experience remain the same. My willingness to work is unchanged. My ambition, aspiration or whatever the latest buzzword is remains. aspire2
But there are no jobs for which I am qualified and experienced.

Cue the inevitable “there are jobs but you’re being a job snob” or “there are jobs but you’re not looking hard enough” or “there are jobs but you decided to work in the wrong industry/sector”.
You see the rhetoric of aspiration and ambition are currently nothing but words to encourage people to blame the jobless.
We can jump those hoops like the most cheerful clown – but if someone decides to spice things up by setting a hoop on fire then it’s our fault if we get burned.

I can’t get any job. Why? Because:
1. There are too few jobs for everyone who needs one.
2. I am not experienced in many jobs. And I can’t assume employers will let me have a go because, er, they won’t.
3. I have no qualifications for many jobs. And I can’t simply get other qualifications because they cost money I don’t have.
4. The assumption I can work as a cleaner or supermarket shelf stacker ignores a number of things: these jobs are finite, these jobs are being done by unpaid staff, these jobs demand NVQs I don’t have.
5. I am knocking on 46 and have the sort of maturity, qualifications and experience that simply doesn’t fit with any and all jobs.

And finally, most significantly. aspire3
6. I don’t get to choose. The idea that aspiration will get a worker a job disingenuously suggests a worker has control over job options. We don’t. The public and private sector is not altered to meet our needs – we’re expected to adapt to meet the sector.

So I adapted. I retrained. I gained more skills. I gained more qualifications. My contracts still ended.

Now I don’t have a job.

I do have Chaplin with whom I will need to sit down and discuss the move from Sheba to Aldi’s finest cat food.

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…