Going after journalists and media in the wake of Caroline’s death in my eyes is counter-productive. All of the ‘be kind’ posts have been eye opening but have also had a profound effect on my own mental health.
On Saturday when I found out that Caroline Flack had committed suicide I felt instantly saddened and in some respects guilty. She was a topic in a few of my WhatsApp groups and I had just said to a friend that I had been so enthralled in the winter episodes, I’d forgotten what Love Island was like with her. I felt shame about my career and Caroline then turned into every person I had interviewed and every quote I had used.
Working in and with media is not a job for the faint hearted. For starters brutal hours for little pay and recognition. As a print journalist, unless you are working directly for a national newspaper, you can be sure no one will really know you from Adam. It’s a constant fight for the biggest, most scandalous stories and clawing your way through the ranks working god awful hours in cities miles away from where you live.
I started off as a local reporter and as much as they get a bad rep in their respective areas, local journalism is the most wholesome part of the industry in my opinion, especially the independent papers.
After moving my way through the ranks I decided I wanted to get my teeth stuck into big national stories, and not be tied to the boundaries of sleepy village areas. It was daunting but exciting and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I worked for a news agency who collect stories and sell them to the national papers. I got my first national by-line on my 26th birthday last year in the Daily Star. It was a fluffy story about a sausage dog who helps student’s mental health at university and I was thrilled. After my first week however the pressure came piling on.
Every Monday we had a brainstorming meeting where we were expected to have a long list of stories (news lists) we were chasing and a rough time table of when they would be ready for publishing. If my news list was anything less than ten stories you could be sure that you would be sent some ideas and things to chase up.
The big thing was the story had to be quirky, out of the ordinary or shocking, and if it wasn’t you could guarantee that the news editor would find an angle they wanted you to push or a quote we had to get out of the sources mouth.
Journalists are trained at university on how to get people to go down the angle they are working to, and if they haven’t picked that up then the news editor will push and push until they get what they want out of the story. If you don’t get the required angle, the story will be dropped and you wouldn’t have had anything published and therefore vulnerable in your job.
As well as finding these stories, we would keep our eye on national tragedies and get every cough and spit out of those that we could. In my third week I was asked to knock on the door of a woman who lost her 16-year-old son in a knife attack. It had been less than 12 hours since he died.
I remember ringing my mum and asking her what she would do in that situation and she said “I don’t think I could be held responsible for my actions if a journalist showed up on my door 12 hours after I lost my child.” It was heart-breaking but I had been hired by the national papers, and I was not able to refuse to do my job.
1) Because at university we are taught death knocks are part and parcel of the job.
2) I wanted to excel in my career.
3) Like everyone else, I needed the job and the money to survive.
I knocked on the door and there was no answer so I felt quite relieved. I rang my editor and told them what had happened and I was sent a number for the mother and I was to ring her instead. I rang and there was no answer so I left a message and within the hour Greater Manchester Police rang me and asked me to leave her alone because she felt like I was harassing her. It knocked me for six and I felt sick to my stomach that I had caused a grieving mum to feel even more pain than losing her only son.
I have written many stories that have been positive and fun but for every one of those I have done two death knocks and a court case or an inquest and probably aided in adding more stress to the situation.
I am not blameless. I chose that career. But I was also not given the opportunity to say no to these stories as I would have lost my job, a career I fought tooth and nail to have. It took me a while to realise that if more journalists say no to the requests of the nationals to intrude in people’s grief, then together we could change the landscape of this industry.
But honestly people want those stories. They get the most clicks, they cause the most sales, and we as the readers need to stop digesting them if we want to see a change. Even when you click on the article to write a negative comment about it you are still making the papers money, its supply and demand, like every industry.
I didn’t write any stories on Caroline Flack, but for anyone whose personal life I may have invaded while working as a journalist I am truly sorry.