A modern fairytale; Meghan, the Prince and some dodgy PPE contracts
It’s hard to know what to focus on this week. Press Gazette reported that Rupert Murdoch and News Corp/News UK (which owns the Sun, The Times and Sunday Times) editors and execs met with Boris Johnson’s government 40 times in 14 months. They placed just ahead of the Daily Mail and General Trust/The Mail, who met with the government 16 times. The UK government is now also one of the biggest revenue earners for UK media: in 2020, they spent £300 million on ads and announcements.
This might go some way to explain why several newspapers’ front pages led with the story of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle being stripped of their royal patronages at the weekend, despite the inevitability of it (if they’ve given up being working royals, it wasn’t entirely unexpected that some perks, patronages and privileges might disappear). Sure, it’s news because it’s rare, but in the moment, was it a bigger story than the Health Secretary’s ‘unlawful’ failure to share details of billions of pounds’ worth of PPE contracts? You can call it ‘chumocracy’, but it's an allegation of corruption.
The preoccupation with what people decide to do privately, when it has little or no impact on the populus, is a difficult one to understand. To many, Harry and Meghan are a couple who have chosen to carry on with their lives, encompassing both paid and charity work, outside royal protocol and funding. But, whatever your opinions of them, their decisions or the Royal Family in general, their actions don’t actually affect most people.
But parts of the British press love to sprinkle classism on top of racism. Some remain outraged about a biracial, American woman entering an elite, revered institution—one she wasn’t ‘designed’ to be part of—and subsequently rejecting it. Negative comparisons to the Duchess of Cambridge, a relatively new ‘pillar of perfection’, who also married into ‘The Firm’ from outside the aristocracy and was nicknamed ‘Waity Katie’ by many of the same people, abound.
It also seems Prince Harry is more of a ‘letdown’ to them than, hmmm, let’s see... Prince Andrew. Andrew, the alleged paedophile, reports of whom suggest that his inner circle are trying to gloss over his involvement with Jeffrey Epstein. Should we not be focusing on those who continue to benefit from taxpayers, while embroiled in illegal and immoral issues?
When we write to fit our agenda rather than the key story, journalistic integrity takes a knock. Are we keeping certain demographics and people of influence happy, or are we reporting on what’s important? These aren’t even opinion articles we’re discussing—and there were plenty of those—but instead, the decision to focus on one story when a far bigger one was happening. By giving a news item higher priority than it deserves, when a whopper of a tale—in this case Matt Hancock and the Not-So-Mysterious Case of PPE Contracts to His Chums—is diminished, you have to question how that then translates into public discourse. Last week, Meghan Markle also won her privacy case against the Daily Mail. It was covered far more extensively in the US than in the UK. An empowered Meghan, who can choose to give an interview to Oprah Winfrey but not have private letters published, is an irritation to many, despite the fact it demonstrates the fundamental right to both privacy and choice. The maths ain’t mathin’.
We, like most people in the industry, believe in the power of journalism as a social good alongside reporting the truth and keeping people accountable. And rejigging, re-thinking and re-working is all part of the editing process, we know that, across all media: Which news story are Sky, ITV News and BBC Radio 4 going to lead with and give more airtime to? Which features get the green light as press day approaches? Which story will be killed?
But when it comes to news, if what’s in the public interest is the key signpost, we must ask: Was that Harry and Meghan losing their royal patronages, or increasing our collective knowledge, as a nation, of how our government procured safety equipment for the very people we clapped for every Thursday—and whether those decisions have cost people their lives? As far as conundrums go, this seems pretty straightforward to unscramble.
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Writing Tip of the Day
A good exercise in journalism is writing, or at least researching, against your own biases (which we all have, let's be honest). So be open to a variety of people, sources, and yes, Google search results, to get to the heart of your story.
Think about what you already know—and what you think you know—about the subject, then go out of your way to get super-strong source material. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hard news piece or a feature on a new trend—challenging your own assumptions is a simple way to guarantee a fresh-sounding read.
We often pick the easier option because, for example, we know someone who’ll give us a quick quote, or we’re constrained by time (and the truth is, if you’re not being paid an awful lot, filing fast and often is the default state). But that can translate into jaded copy when instead, you could reveal a lot more by adopting a different tack. And the more you do it, those new methods/contacts/resources become part of your go-to list.
The Sense Check
“Is it offensive to use the term ‘queer’ in copy? I know it’s a historically derogatory term, but now I see it used widely as a positive reference to the gay community."
Experientialist-in-chief of award-winning luxury and experiential travel journal, OutThere. Twitter/Instagram: @outtheremag @uwern
“The general consensus is that it is not offensive if you are using it to describe a subject matter, like a 'queer art'. But it's still best only used in a situation where you are sure that the subject proactively seeks to sidestep gender, sexuality or perspective-based stereotypes.
Some–usually older–readers will still take offence. And it’s important that writers understand that for many people, it is still a painful and socially destructive slur. I would urge caution if you are using it to describe a person or a group of people. It’s best to be 100% sure that the people you’re referencing identify as ‘queer' before doing so.
Don’t ever use it as a catch-all and if in doubt, it’s still better to use LGBTQ+. While many like me won’t be offended if you do, it’s only respectful to ask.”
David Allen Founder of award-winning brand communications agency, The Loupe Agency, proud LGBTQ+ community member, and part-time diamond expert.
"The word 'queer' is liberating for so many people. It describes a sense of self that doesn’t conform to the standard labels of the old LGBT acronym. Personally, I grew up in a time where so much hate and violence were attached to it; it was the last thing I heard before I was knocked unconscious after kissing a boyfriend in public at just 19.
Reclaiming words that were formerly negative and using them as a source of power is fundamental to a society that evolves and can promote positivity when used. However, this particular label for me and many of my generation just reminds us of a time we’d rather forget and can still cause offence.
While I remain so proud of my own classification as a gay man and there is consolation in seeing a predominantly younger generation being so content with being their authentic queer selves, I don't believe the term should ever be used without consent."
Want to ask a question (anonymously)? Send away! Please email us here and we'll try and tackle it in an upcoming newsletter. We also welcome any feedback or comments.
Did You Know?
We’ve talked about the problematic relationship that some Southeast and East African Asians have with the Black community; most recently, the anti-Blackness that runs rife throughout the continent and among the diaspora. But did you know about the Siddi, an 850,000-strong tribe of African descent, that’s part of the fabric of both India and Pakistan?
Isolated and reclusive, Siddis predominantly live in coastal villages in the Indian states of Gujurat, Karnataka, and Andhara Pradesh, while Pakistan’s sizeable Siddi population are known as ‘Sheedi’ and mainly reside in Makran and Karachi. Descendants of the Bantu tribe of southeast Africa, the earliest evidences of their migration date back to the seventh century—when some of their ancestors were said to be transported as Arab slaves—and indicate that Siddis settled on the western coast of India.
By the 13th century, they were regularly being imported by regional Indian kings and princes to serve as slaves and soldiers (Shah et al. 2011) and during the 16th-19th centuries, Siddis were again transported in large numbers to India as slaves by the Portuguese (Bhattacharya 1970; Nevet 1981). When slavery was abolished in the 19th century, the Siddi fled to India’s jungles—where they were least likely to be found, recaptured and tortured.
Having lived in India for centuries—their arrival preceded both the Portuguese and the British—the country’s Siddis are unions of Indian culture and Southeast African heritage. Dance and music are integral to their cultural identity and they're known for their expressive dance form, Siddi Dhamal, which portrays their community life and ancestry.
In the early 1980s, the Sports Authority of India decided to start a Special Area Games Project to train Siddi children to turn their assumed athletic abilities into national achievements. But.... the programme was soon cut and the children were forced to return.
The Siddi are still not recognised as full Indian citizens due to overt prejudice against their skin colour and facial features—meaning they live in almost total obscurity, and face structural hardships and oppression that manifest in a lack of both educational and professional opportunities.
“The more you know about your history, the more liberated you are,” said Maya Angelou. This is the ethos that underpins I AM History, an initiative set up by two friends Chanelle and Deolu, to celebrate Black culture and hidden Black history. The aim is to leave people feeling they can “take the conversation to friends and family” and change the narrative in an accessible, digestible way.
We love the concept of foundation.fm, an inclusive radio platform set up by a group of women, LGTBQI+ persons and talented creatives to highlight the emerging talent in the underground music scene. Based in Peckham and broadcasting live Mon-Fri, 10am-10pm, slots include the 5-7pm Happy Hour, The Catch-up for conversation and debate and The Friday Takeover where they open up their airwaves to global communities, from labels, agencies and collectives to another online radio.