The discussion around morality in the workplace has been sparked online after grime artist Stormzy responded to a Daily Mail article that drew links between his songs and the promotion of cannabis. He criticised the writer behind the piece for his decision to work for the paper, prompting journalists online to try to justify writing for such a divisive outlet. Many argued that emerging journalists don’t have a lot of options, and so have no alternative than to work for more than questionable organisations. Here’s why that’s bullshit.
No one is ever forced to be a journalist. People on the dole don’t resign themselves to finally taking that job at the Daily Mail. There are other jobs out there – jobs with fewer or no qualification requirements, low paid and underappreciated, but jobs nonetheless. If you’ve got to the level where you’re offered a job at a national newspaper, chances are you have some qualifications and experience – you can get another job. Writing for a problematic paper is not a last resort, it’s a freely made choice. You are making the choice to put your career aspirations and greed ahead of your morals. And if that’s what you’re going to do, own up to it. Don’t play the victim card. “I’m trying to build a career in a highly competitive industry, so I’ve thrown marginalised groups under the bus to fuel that. I had no alternative!”
If you’re thinking about going for a job at the Sun or the Mail, stop. Examine your motivations for getting into journalism, which presumably drove you through years of training and building up experience. Did you get into journalism to make money? In that case write for a paper which lies and makes its money off the back of attacking the most vulnerable in our society. Try working for media companies which spout racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic and transphobic shite on a daily basis. Then try sleeping at night.
But if you got into journalism to uncover the truth, stay well away. Be true to yourself and your beliefs. No matter how you try to justify it to yourself – whether you argue that you don’t really believe what you’re writing, or that the publication doesn’t matter so long as the article is good – you are maintaining a business which produces vile rhetoric.
Instead of going for a job that throws morality out of the window, work your way up the right way. Get a part time job and gain experience at small papers, online outlets and volunteering. With a bit of luck, an opportunity will come by that aligns more or less with your values and you won’t have to deal with a guilty conscience. It may be your only hope of writing articles worth reading.
Of course, there were those that claimed that working for papers like the Mail was no different than working for other problematic employers. The example given was Topshop, which implements exploitative working conditions in third world countries. Yet this comparison just doesn’t work. Employees of Topshop don’t go around telling the public that sweat shops are in fact a good thing. They don’t incite hatred towards people working in rival shops. If they refuse to take the job, some other young person looking for part time work will snatch it up.
What writers at papers such as the Mail are doing is vomiting out the editorial line over and over again nationally. They are directly attacking refugees and people on benefits, transgender people and women in showbiz who possess bodies. If they boycott working, it’s that little bit harder to find good journalists. Sure one refusal won’t bring down the Mail but journalists in solidarity can have the power to enact change on the editorial level.
I’m aware that when people start out in any career, not just journalism, high ideals often soon give way to more practical concerns. Changing the world isn’t easy, and doesn’t always pay the bills. I’d like to think that if I ever find myself in the position where a job opportunity comes my way from a hate-filled outlet I’d reject it without hesitation, but in case I waver I’d like this article to rule it out in advance. If I’m not writing the truth, then what’s the point?
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]