From 2017-2019 I had a tenure at The Sun newspaper.
Young, hungry and desperate to make strides into journalism, I had been previously unsuccessful.
In 2017 I was a fashion editor at two fashion brands and oversaw all of their content, which included paid advertising, advertorials, interview and product descriptions. It was a laborious role, which often meant juggling high expectations and delicate egos.
I did not like fashion, or at least the realm I occupied. But I was fresh out of university and needed a job. Bills, transport, food and even clothing did not come cheaply in London and despite my meagre salary I needed the job to survive the day to day.
It was amidst this professional turmoil that I received an email from the Fabulous Online editor who requested I come in and do a trial shift on their weekend desk. I was jubilant.
The shift went well, despite no one actually telling me what to do, where to sit or even how to get into the building. On my first day the editor had not informed anyone that I was expected. The security guards, rightly so, did not let me into the building until someone got hold of the editor to validate my presence in the newsroom. It took over an hour.
I wasn’t totally green; I had worked in a newsroom before. I had even been in this building’s newsroom, albeit on a different floor.
What I learnt at The Sun was this: truth and fact were irrelevant; the headline was the story. The content had to be juicy, salacious, eye-catching and dripping in exclamation marks and overpacked zealous adjectives. It was a newsroom seething with churnalism and overpaid male editors with ill-fitting suits, bad breath and anxious strides.
In the wake of the tragic death of television presenter Caroline Flack, tabloid (especially online) journalism has been rightly criticised. Brian Cathcart’s insightful piece for Byline Investigates noted that Flack was subjected to more ‘than 40 individual stories by the Sun in the eight weeks leading to her death’. Headlines included: ‘Flack on the market. Telly host’s heartache’ and ’15k rehab for Flack’.
Stories on women are good internet and click-bate fodder. Stories on successful and famous women are even better. In February 2018, I wrote a piece on Jamil Jamal titled: ‘TV presenter and model Jameela Jamil starts body positive trends thanks to a picture of the Kardashians’.
My other headlines: ‘Who is Amelia Windsor?’, with the opening line: ‘Meghan Markle may currently be known as the House of Windsor’s most glamorous lady – but she’s got stiff competition’ and, ‘Frock horror: the most awfully memorable Oscar gowns of all time’ make me cringe. I compared and dissected women’s style and appearance. Comparatively, I was never once commissioned to write a piece on a man’s body weight, physical appearance or style.
I was with The Sun for over a year. I couldn’t hack the gruelling hours nor my by-line under headlines invented by stressed-out editors who needed the punters to click. My originality and ingenuity was misplaced in the Sun newsroom; I pitched heavily and was rebuked. I wanted to write stories on real people and international events. The expectation, however, was for a staccato lexicon infused with crude and mocking language.
However, some of the work I produced at The Sun was good and fun. Other headlines make me crawl. Tabloid journalism is not a new concept, but its power and exposure has reached new levels. Tabloid journalism gives a platform to the nameless social media trolls. Worst still, it validates their vitriol.
I am infused with sadness at Caroline Flack’s death and seething that tabloid journalism had the power to control and dictate someone’s emotions. Caroline Flack: beautiful, successful, rich and seemingly happy. But, her success and troubled personal life was just too good for the hacks at The Sun to resist. She was excellent click bate.
We need to be kind. In Caroline’s words: ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind’. But, journalism and media isn’t kind, and kind doesn’t sell newspapers; inside scoops and paparazzi shots of distressed and famous women do.
The hacks won’t lay off, but our approach to the media we consume needs to change. We need to reject the media outlets which promote bullying and hateful repertoire under the guise of ‘free speech’ and a journalist’s right to report. Only then will there be a shift in content. Moreover, we need to change the way we speak to each other online. We’re all guilty of being keyboard warriors, but if Caroline Flack’s death teaches us anything it is that the words we use online do have the power of a person’s demise. Choose them carefully next time.