Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pearl-clutching prudery and John Whittingdale

Would you like some pearls to clutch while you carry on about the culture secretary, John Whittingdale's long-finished relationship with a sex worker?

For this story is not about press regulation, or blackmail, or Leveson. It is about prudery and the inability of people to mind their own damn business. It may also be about the Tories and a complicit press merrily throwing one of their own under a bus to stop people talking about piddly little things like tax reform, but most of all, it is about prudery.

There have been some rather unsavoury suggestions that Whittingdale was blackmailing journalists who knew of his past relationship with a sex worker. Something along the lines of: "If you run that story about my personal life, I'll tighten the screws on press regulation!". But nobody has been able to produce any evidence of this being the case.

If this is what happened, we have a problem. It would be a serious compromise to the office of Culture Secretary if Whittingdale was holding journalists over a barrel in such a manner. If any journalist has any evidence of such outrageous behaviour by a member of the cabinet, please speak now or forever hold your peace.

There are loud howls from the peanut gallery as to why journalists who knew about Whittingdale's relationship with a sex worker held off on publishing such a supposedly embarrassing story.

If it was the case that Whittingdale was blackmailing journalists, he should resign, and the blackmailed journalists would surely be calling for his resignation on those grounds.

But what if the story simply failed the "So what?" test. What if the journalists who were fed the information by another sex worker out to make a quick quid decided that a relationship between two single people that has long since ended was not newsworthy? What if it was decided that there was no news value in reporting on a past relationship that happened well before Whittingdale was Culture Secretary and involved a woman who is not and does not seek to be a public figure?

What exactly are people shocked about here? That sex workers exist? That an MP might, quite legally despite other outdated laws, pay for sex? Or that a sex worker would have the temerity to join a dating website and seek to have a personal life?

Is British society so whore-phobic that collectively a dim view is taken of a sex worker seeking a relationship outside of work, something the rest of us in supposedly respectable jobs take for granted?

Whittingdale's relationship did not break any laws. He has not attempted as an MP to pass punitive legislation in relation to sex workers nor has he ever put himself forward as a "family values" spokesman. As such, he is not a hypocrite.

The only way I can see to move forward from this fiasco is for Britain to finally grow up and quit being shocked by sex workers or by the sex lives of consenting adults. We need to get over our appetite for non-news stories about stuff that affects nobody outside of the relationship. This current debacle is pathetic. John Whittingdale's long defunct relationship is not news. Can we please move on and discuss things that are actually important?

Picture by FergalFam007

Sunday, 10 April 2016

An open letter to The Agenda Beirut

Dear members of staff of The Agenda Beirut,

This letter is directed in particular to senior management, for that is where the buck stops when an organisation says or does something stupid or unprofessional, and to one Issam T. Eid, who is responsible for writing, quite frankly, a sexist load of tripe.

I refer to Mr Eid's embarrassing attempt to promote his Automotive Journalism course. Here, Mr Eid rattles off the eight ways he can teach people to become automotive journalists.

Firstly, the writing is sloppy and there is a blatant disregard for paragraph spacing. This is somewhat ironic given that one of his tips is: "Even if you like what you wrote, have someone else read your articles". Did anyone else cast their eye over this tragic sales pitch before it was posted?

Then there is a spot of encouragement for race-to-the-bottom journalism with the advice: "Nowadays if you believe you're a good automotive journalist, you can write articles and post them online". The problem is that plenty of people with an internet connection believe they are good journalists and post reams of bullshit online.

Hell, I can believe I am Wonder Woman, but when I look in the mirror, I see more Helena Bonham Carter than Lynda Carter. Belief does not always translate into reality. It is one thing to motivate your students to believe they can achieve great things. It is quite another to urge anyone who "believes" they are a good journalist, automotive or otherwise, to fill the internet with unedited rubbish.

And then, at the end, perhaps most offensive and ridiculous of all is the advice under point #8. This is, apparently, the "life cycle of an automotive journalist (Pros vs. Cons)".

Mr Eid says "Everyone envies you for your fancy life as you're on the go all year long".

Sure, there are some nice travel perks, but anyone who is serious about the job cares little for the fancy hotel, does not bugger off in the middle of dinner with senior execs from automotive companies because hookers await (I have witnessed this in my time working as an automotive journalist in the Middle East), does not throw a tantrum because a 45-minute flight on a work trip is economy class (I have also witnessed this in my time working as an automotive journalist in the Middle East), does not refuse to go to the airport once they realise the flight is economy class and only calls the PR back three days later with a pathetic excuse (Surprise, surprise, I have witnessed this too...), and often has to file copy from hotel rooms and airports.

But I suspect basic etiquette will be conspicuous by its absence in Mr Eid's course.

And then he concludes his sales pitch for his course in the most startling and unprofessional way imaginable, with this gem:

"It affects your private life. No girlfriend will tolerate you being away most of the time. Wife. That's another bad story too."

Wow. Really? Given you are charging $450 for this course, I assume you are trying to make money, so why the hell would you include in your sales pitch a sexist load of bunkum that excludes half the population? Do you not want to make any money out of women who are interested in becoming automotive journalists? Or did you simply assume that no woman wants to bother her pretty little head with an automotive journalism course?

Do you have any evidence for wives and girlfriends of automotive journalists being unsupportive partners or is it easier to stereotype all women as nagging shrews who don't understand men and their big engines?

Sure, being a journalist, any sort of journalist, can be demanding on personal relationships. We are not necessarily brilliant marriage prospects. We can be grumpy, deadline-driven, obsessive and alcoholic. But there are plenty of jobs that impede on private lives. Doctors, emergency services workers, any job involving anti-social hours...

Is Mr Eid trying to give students a reality check with this advice? Or is it a lame attempt at boys' club comedy? Whatever the hell he was trying to do here, he just comes across as a sexist jerk rather than a professional from whom aspiring automotive journalists can learn great things.

Seriously, it's 2016. Do better.

Your sincerely,

Georgia Lewis, happily married journalist, automotive correspondent for Elite Living Africa and woman.

Picture: Thomas Hawk/Flickr