The root cause of a sexist press

The media strives hard to keep up with a changing world. So why is it so behind the pace when it comes to diversity?

Journalism remains a white, predominantly male profession – a revelation that will come as no great shock to anyone who either reads a paper or who has spent any time in a newsroom. A 2016 survey found 94 per cent of the industry to be white, 86 per cent university-educated and 55 per cent male. This is something we have heard before, but these statistics should continue to shock us. The lack of equality in an industry of such influence is frankly unacceptable. It is also dangerous. The very body responsible for identifying what stories have a right to be told is suffering from a chronic lack of diversity. If editors do not believe that has a real world effect, then they are mistaken.

It is an issue that has been hashed and rehashed for decades. Although there have been some changes in newsrooms to make them more inclusive and to encourage diversity, women are still not making it to the upper ranks of senior management – despite making up the majority of journalism students. In 2016, even the British Press Awards were in on the act, shortlisting 94 men and just 20 women. Sadly this also reflects wider gender equality trends – with just one in ten of the most senior roles filled by women, according to one 2017 study.

One poll revealed female journalists end up occupying the lower end of the salary scale and find themselves stuck in junior management positions. Men however, are more likely to be propelled into senior roles. This kind of representation can be deceptive. Journalists might look around the newsroom and be pleasantly surprised to see a relatively even distribution of men and women – but how many of those women have roles of influence?

One explanation is senior editors and management tend to hire in their own image – the old boys’ club. While efforts have been made to bring greater transparency to hiring practices, the industry has historically thrived on nepotism, and undoubtedly continues to do so, albeit in a less contrived way.

Another theory is that women have been less able or willing to put in the long and inflexible working hours required to make it to the top ranks. Journalism is notorious for its anti-social hours and research has found women are much more likely than men to experience significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs.

But don’t these explanations feel distinctly tired to you? Journalism is not the same industry it was in years past. The birth of digital media should have revolutionised newsrooms. It drastically changed the way the public digests news, and caused a shift in industry working patterns as more publications invested in their online arms. It should have been the trigger for a complete overhaul in media work practices. So why are so many newsrooms still being run in the same way they were years ago?

News has never been a 9-to-5 business, so flexible working patterns would undoubtedly benefit the industry, while offering greater freedom to those who need it. Job shares are happening more and more, so why shouldn’t this be commonplace in journalism too? It could help usher more women into senior management, while offering up options for both men and women who want to prioritise projects, family or their lives outside of work.

Home working has become routine in digital workplaces. And journalism as a profession lends itself perfectly to this modern approach. Why, when so many newsrooms are run using digital resources, do employers insist on having a physical presence in the office? Journalism can be extremely solitary. It is rare that you collaborate with wider teams while working on a story in the early stages, so what difference does it make if you are working remotely? This would offer an opportunity for people who are unable to come to the office Monday to Friday – caregivers, those with health conditions, parents, the list goes on – to make valued contributions.

Perhaps, you might argue, change doesn’t occur overnight, especially for those publications that have been in print for decades. But even The New European – a brand spanking new paper – is guilty. On its website, it lists just six female contributors in its writers list, compared to 18 male. Of the total 23 contributors listed, just four are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (Bame). I was wrangled enough by this to ask Editor Matt Kelly what possible justifications he had for this disparity. Did the paper’s readership – the 48 per cent – not vote in equal parts, male and female, to remain? The paper is brand new, it has no insidious sexist working culture, or if it does – it has been hired in and not borne from decades of gender inequality in senior management. Kelly tells me the situation is not as bad as the website would have you believe, but it is something they are unhappy with and actively working to address.

But the issue is perplexing. What possible barriers could there be for getting more female writers on staff? Why in certain organisations are white, male voices prioritised over female or ethnically diverse opinions?

The National Union of Journalists wants to see media organisations forced to collect and publish employment data, including gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality and disability in terms of access to jobs, pay rates and employment status.

The arguments for this are strong. Not only would it make the issue impossible to ignore but it could also expose the reasons why we see so little diversity in the upper echelons of media organisations. Perhaps it would also incentivise more effective schemes to ensure equality and diversity are prioritised in the hiring process.

There is public appetite for greater transparency in both politics and press, so perhaps this is the way to enforce it. It would offer the industry an opportunity to regain its credibility and for the public to feel represented. It would undoubtedly set the tone for a wider debate on equality and diversity in the workplace.

However, we must accept the issue runs deeper than hiring practices alone. Financial barriers to entry in journalism remain incredibly high. NCTJ courses or Masters degrees are the preserve of the privilege and the unpaid internships that follow are only open to graduates who have the financial support to go unpaid for months at a time. Making sure these internships are paid would, at the very least, open the doors to candidates from more varied backgrounds.

Equality is an urgent issue, and I don’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know, is the media needs to wake up to the value of diversity. It needs to be taken very seriously and recognised as an asset. Just as workplace sexism is no longer accepted as normal, neither should an insular outlook. And we must continue to call it out. Gender equality is not about benefiting women. It is about fairness for both sexes. It is about challenging outdated ideas and workplace practices, going back to the drawing board and understanding where our weaknesses are. It is about producing quality work of integrity.

The enduring prevalence of white, male writers gravely limits the kind of journalism the industry is able to produce. How many important stories go untold because we are blind to them? The media industry has always been trend setting, but now it feels distinctly like many newsrooms are playing catch up. Diversity and equality should have been prioritised – and championed – years ago. No more excuses. Now, more than ever, it is time to rebel loudly against a homogeneous media.

Originally printed in The New European

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I tasted the world’s most expensive kebab

It’s a miserable evening as I make my way through Canary Wharf’s docks in London, but the weather ain’t dampening this spirit – no sir.

As like Rocky before his final fight, I know this is going to be a defining moment and I’ve been salivating all afternoon in preparation…just like Rocky.
I’m heading down to Hazev’s a neighbourhood Turkish restaurant where I’m about to taste The Royal, the world’s most expensive kebab.

I’m greeted by Onder Sahan, owner, head chef and inspired kebab genius who has spent a total of £3,000 sourcing and assembling tonight’s feast for me, which priced at £925 he actually makes a loss on.

I’m also introduced to Hazev’s food scientist, Kalender Guvenc, (that is his legitimate title FYI) who tells me: “This is not the thing that you are eating after getting drunk and in the middle of the night filling your stomach with meaty stuff.

“We wanted to give the kebab the name it deserves by using the finest ingredients.”

Onder’s the kind of guy that wants to push the boundaries of tastiness as far as possible.

A friend introduced him to Japanese cuisine and he loved it, so he decided to use grade-9 listed Japanese Wagyu beef to make The Royal.

Italian food is his favourite so he thought it would be a cool idea to use some 25-year-old Modena balsamic vinegar in there, at £1.85-a-drop.

He’s a fan of mushrooms too, so he sources hand-picked French Morels to cook me up tonight’s meaty feast.

The dish is clearly pure extravagance but he knows that, and he wants people to understand that the kebab is something to be celebrated.

I watch him at work in the kitchen and there’s no denying the passion, craftsmanship, meat and dedication that goes into The Royal (read: mainly so much meat).

First he makes the most delicious parcel you’ve ever seen out of greaseproof paper, which he fills with lamb and goat, morel mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes and smoked garlic, and tosses on the open charcoal grill.

Then, he shapes the minced Wagyu beef, mixed with herbs and spices, around three long kebab swords and places them on the grill to sizzle.

I have to make a mental note not to impale myself on the swords because I do not trust myself in this scenario.

Luckily for me, Onder slides the kebabs off them as he plates up.
And you know what? It’s delicious.

As I sit in a profound food coma, Kalender tells me: “Of course we don’t think that people will come and buy this £925 kebab but people should know that this is a luxury food, instead of a five quid ‘refuel’.”

And I can kind of see the point the Hazev team are trying to make.

That night, my dreams were meat-filled.

I had the kind of disturbed sleep usually reserved for Christmas night, after consuming a dangerous amount of animal fat.

But what did I learn?

Well, that my taste for kebabs has suddenly got super fancy.

I also know that I probably haven’t eaten my last doner, but next time I do, I know I’ll be thinking of The Royal.

Countless human rights violations show why we should boycott Dubai

The Great British Summer is upon us and escaping the wash out is looking more and more appealing.

With London’s sky-rocketing house prices, stagnating wages and never-ending university debt, it’s no wonder generation-rent are looking for more than just a holiday.

The prospect of booming economies and faraway adventure have seen countless of my friends up sticks and head to sunnier climes.

Australia’s budding tech scene is quietly seducing Europe’s digital talent, with big budgets and a developing e-commerce market that has room for growth.

What’s more, if you are to believe the media hype, a deluge of Britain’s junior doctors are flocking to its shores to regain that work-life balance lacking under the NHS.

To the East, Singapore and Hong Kong have long tempted bright city talent as global financial hubs offering big payouts in more exotic climes.

And then there’s Dubai.

A jewel in the crown of the Arabian Gulf perhaps, but that’s not hard when you’re competing with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Don’t be fooled by its outwardly cosmopolitan image, the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf it ain’t.

Pre-2008 recession, there were 120,000 Brits living in the UAE.

By 2012, there were 240,000, the largest western community in the country cashing in on the oil-rich economy and favourable exchange rates.

With less and less red-tape, businesses are increasingly capitalising on its connectivity and infrastructure, with job opportunities for expats on the rise.

But Dubai’s appalling human rights track record is notorious, and visitors who fall short of its hardline laws pay the price.

Dubai’s tourism industry has worked hard to position itself as the playground of the middle-east, but in reality it is no such thing.

Some of the most extreme forms of self-censorship are practised in the region, with reporters practising ‘polite’ journalism under the government’s restriction of press freedoms.

International press was up in arms over Saudi blogger Raif Badawi‘s flogging and subsequent imprisonment for ‘insulting Islam’ last year, but the same thing is happening as we speak in UAE.

According to Human Rights Watch, Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith and UAE-based Jordanian journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, are currently being detained without charge for comments made on social media criticising Egypt.

Women’s basic human rights are repeatedly criminalised as seen in the case of Marte Deborah Dalelv, the Norwegian woman imprisoned for 16 months after reporting a rape incident to police.

Homosexuality is not only taboo in Dubai – it’s still outlawed.

But legal jeopardy facing rape victims and LGBT citizens is a drop in the vast ocean that is Dubai’s dubious human rights record.

UAE’s new plans to position itself as a global manufacturing hub will do little to force them into improving conditions for their migrant workers who underpin Dubai’s ‘luxury’ economy.

So when will we start boycotting Dubai?

Activists have been calling for change for years yet human rights violations continue and visitors continue to arrive.

Holiday-makers and expats alike have a social responsibility to use their economic leverage to force change in the region.

It might offer tempting opportunities for work or play with sun, sea and sand but those in search of international adventure should look elsewhere.

Next time that job opportunity in Dubai pops up on Linkedin, think again.

Until Dubai cleans up its act, we should all think carefully about whether its tax-free shopping and glitzy skyscrapers are worth the trip.

 

20 things you’ll know if you survived the NCTJ

1. You quickly realised that good writing was going to be the least of your worries…
2.…And that everything you thought you knew about journalism was just wrong.
3. You’ll never use handwriting again thanks to an indoctrination in the teeline method.
4. …And if you want to read a book in your downtime, it’s an impossible task now that all you see are outlines.
5. You know what a slow news day looks like…
6. And you know how to FOI the shit out of public services…
7. …Which one in 100 times, scores a sweet lead.
8. You find ‘tight writing’ more gratifying than you should.
9. And hold pure disdain for introductions over 25 words.
10.You have a newfound respect for sub-editors because headlines are really hard.
11. But The Fear instilled in reporting lessons makes you check name spellings one thousand times.
12. You are shit hot at media law but still quite scared about defaming someone…
13. …Or being found in contempt of court in your first job.
14. But you know you’ll be revisiting those PA and EML textbooks before long…
15. …Because those NQJ exams will be just around the corner!
16. You know the rush of breaking news…
17. …And the glory of your first bylines.
18. You know that voxpops are your friends.
19. And even though it’s hard, it’s worth it…
20. …Because being a journalist’s the best gig in town.

See the accompanying gifs in all their glory here.

My experience of the menopause at 25

The menopause: the time of your life, said no-one ever.

I hadn’t planned on giving the menopause any thought until my 50s. But last month I was forced to, as into it I plunged, head-first, aged 25.

For a long time, I’ve suffered with endometriosis. It’s not life-threatening, for which I am grateful, but it’s no walk in the park either – Endometriosis is recognised as a major cause of infertility worldwide.

I was diagnosed in January 2015 after years of painful symptoms. Surgery swiftly followed to remove cysts and adhesions and I was told I had stage 4, the most advanced.

I was so grateful that it wasn’t all in my head that the diagnosis almost came as a relief. After more visits than I could count to the GP, finally someone recognised that the pain I was feeling was not normal.

I’ve come to understand this is a typical scenario for endometriosis sufferers. Women can expect to wait seven years on average before receiving a diagnosis.

The mild existential crises that followed the surgery I saw as somewhat inevitable. My fertility was being called into question – at 25 – when I really didn’t want to be thinking about babies. If that’s not worth an existential crisis, then I truly don’t know what is.

Within months, I was in for a second surgery and this time, more extreme treatment intervention was recommended. To keep the endometriosis at bay for as long as possible, my doctor induced the menopause.

I had the first of my monthly injections the day of the surgery. Within a week I was suffering from insomnia, for the most part caused by the hot flushes that feel like you’re being incinerated from the inside out.

The treatment coincided with me going back to university, so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my classmates probably think of me as the girl with permanent upper lip sweat. Eurgh…

The mood swings feel like I’m losing my marbles. Disproportionate rage about stupid things will wash over me for a while, then leave as quickly as it’s come. Anxiety creeps up on you and tells you every ailment you have is cancer, and on top of that, vacillating between depressive and hyper-active is draining.

The experience has really opened my eyes to the realities of going through the menopause. So few people know what it’s truly like, apart from the women who have faced it.

Unlike me, those women will largely do so under the radar. You probably won’t notice a thing, but it’s given me a heightened appreciation for my mum, my aunties, my grandma and for all the women in my life.

It’s a massive change and it comes at an age where many women will be at the heights of their career with children still at home. To those women, you have my eternal admiration.

I think we all need to find a little compassion for those who are winging it. Those that aren’t necessarily talking about it but are going through what is a really weird time, navigating through a major reboot of their bodies and minds while still keeping their shit together.

Soon, this surreal experience will be over for me, but I won’t be quick to forget the menopause. More importantly, I’ll never forget the resilience women need to transverse The Change.

Rhubarb and Apple Compote

Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits (it’s actually a vegetable) and lends its tartness extremely well to sweet, creamy accompaniments. This Rhubarb and Apple Compote is delicious with vanilla yoghurt and granola for breakfast, dolloped on porridge with a drizzle of honey, or gently heated and served with rich custard and a shortbread biscuit. This is a quick and simple recipe that lets the quality of the ingredients shine. It also uses honey instead of refined sugar. The key to preserving the bejewelled colour of the rhubarb is not to overcook it. This recipe can be adapted really easily. Throw in a vanilla pod for a more aromatic taste, or star anise and cinnamon for a more warming, wintery flavour. Orange and lemon zest also work well.

The below recipe fills a 750ml kilner jar and should keep well in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Ingredients:

2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into large chunks

1/2 lemon squeezed over the apples once cut to preserve their colour

4 stems of rhubarb, washed and cut into 4cm chunks

250ml apple juice

3 tablespoons of honey (I used set honey but you can also use other varieties, just taste for sweetness)

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Simply combine all ingredients in a saucepan on a low/medium heat. Cover with a lid and simmer until the apples are soft and have started to break down, around 15 minutes. Be careful not to cook so long so that the rhubarb breaks down completely, you want to be able to identify the apple pieces from the silky ribbons of pink rhubarb. Allow to cool and then pour into an air-tight receptacle of your choosing. I find Kilner jars really practical for this use but make sure to sterilise them with boiling water or in the oven beforehand.

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Willkommenskultur after Cologne

On 31st December, gangs of men gathered in Cologne with the premeditated intention of sexually assaulting and stealing from women.

The news was hard to swallow. As many as 1,000 men were said to be involved, with upwards of 90 complaints deposed by female victims, and eye-witness accounts claiming the majority were of Arab or North-African origin.

The horror of the scene is hard to imagine. Especially for Germans who have been praised and criticised in equal measure for their Willkommenskultur.

This summer, Europe suffered its biggest migrant crisis in history, and Germany responded by opening its doors, with more than 1.1 million claiming asylum in the country in 2015 alone.

The German response was heavily praised by the European left as an example of progressive, humanitarian politics and as one of few to offer a compassionate solution to the crisis.

In the UK, there was appetite to increase the number of Syrians given refuge, with Amnesty International leading a high-profile #OpentoSyria campaign that gained much public traction but did little to change opinion in Whitehall.

Following the attacks, German mood shifted and the far right were quick to stoke the flames. On Monday, a rally held by the Xenophobic Pegida movement turned violent. Protesters hit back at Merkel for her ‘open-door’ policy, holding signs proclaiming ‘Rapefugees not welcome’ and shouting ‘Merkel out’. Cars were burned, buildings were vandalised and 211 arrests were made. And tensions are only escalating.

In response to the growing anti-migrant sentiment, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor has announced tougher punishments for those seeking asylum convicted of serious crimes, including deportation. And it’s not just Merkel’s own party the CDU who are pushing for tougher measures in response to the assaults.

Linke, the traditionally leftist party are also behind the measures which will require parliamentary approval before they are passed.

Politicians must now strike a finite balance between appeasing the growing anti-migrant and increasingly anti-Islam sentiment, whilst finding tangible solutions to ensure that an episode of this scale will never happen again.

Merkel is right to firm up internal policy but she must be careful not to victimise or discriminate against the 99.9% of refugees who had no part in the events.

The crisis meant that millions arrived in Germany before appropriate home affairs measures were put in place, so now is the time to review.

As Sahra Wagenknecht, the Linke co-leader, said this week, “Those who abuse the right of hospitality, lose the right to hospitality.”. Whilst the message is uncharacteristically conservative, she’s right. Germany should not rush to abandon their Willkommenskultur, instead they should ensure that correct legislation is there to protect them in the case of a small percentage of opportunists slipping through the cracks.

A group of Pakistani and Syrian refugees wrote to the Chancellor this week. They said, “We strive to uphold the dignity and honour of women…we respect the laws of our host country without question. We are happy to have been given protection in Germany”. Their views doubtless echo hundreds of thousands of other asylum seekers who have escaped unthinkable oppression and violence in their countries of origin.

The last notable influx of refugees to Germany was in the 90s, and they were, as a whole, left to their own devices. German immigration policy must evolve as a result of previous failings.

Germans will have to adapt to this New Society and Merkel’s tougher stance will be imperative for them to do so.