Thursday morning, both my crazy taxi driver and the crazy nurse were complaining of sore throats and ‘maladie‘ – by Friday morning both had fielded replacements from the subs bench. I’m not allowed a replacement, I have to appear in person. If you want to try an exercise in feeling truly sorry for yourself, then I do recommend lying on an unforgiving hard surface, many miles from your crib, locking yourself in a metal tube, nursing a dose of flu, whilst being microwaved. If you can achieve this whilst being simultaneously polite for three bally hours to a substitute taxi driver who wishes to practise his English on you by demanding (in French) explanations of words from his ancient English dictionary as diverse as ‘scrap’, ‘coy’ and ‘scrotum’ as we hurtle past endless road trains in the pouring rain – then you are a better man than I, Gunga Din. Should you take a taxi from Bordeaux airport next summer, do not be alarmed when the driver proudly explains to you that he picks up many English ‘scrotes’ from the airport…I am allowed some small pleasures in this life.
Besides which, I had determined a long time ago, that I didn’t want to turn this blog into a long catalogue of the battle cancer has faced as it learned to live with me – not an easy task, as Mr G could have told it. However, some one who did do just that is Lisa Bonchek Adams. Lisa’s credentials for doing so are impeccable. It is utterly professional and informative, excruciating detail of exactly how she feels about dying and the heroic efforts of the medical staff to prevent her doing so. As ever, with any blog, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to hear what it has to say, nor follow her tweets – but that is not enough for the social media mob. An American journalist, Emma Keller, wrote a critical piece in the Guardian – ‘Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?’ – complaining in effect that the lady tweets too much, and suggesting that she might consider dying more quietly….!
Cue uproar, not least from Lisa herself, who complained that part of the piece was based on private correspondence with the author who had presented herself as a fellow sufferer, not a journalist keen to find something new to write about….the Guardian took the piece down. Then Keller’s husband piled into the row, writing another piece in the New York Times complaining that Lisa’s heroic battle for life somehow diminished people like his Father in law who died quietly and privately from the same disease. Meanwhile fans of the miseri-lit genre were queueing up to complain to the Guardian about censorship and their right to read anything they chose.
Unfortunately, the Guardian were caught between a rock and a hard place – they hadn’t taken the piece down in response to the outcry that it was ‘insensitive’, as some thought, but because it contained inaccuracies. They were prepared to correct those inaccuracies, but had received the tart response (not as tart as mine would have been under the circumstances!) from Lisa, who had not chosen to become journalistic fodder, that she would deal with the matter when she was good and ready and not before. They can’t very well get tough and pushy with someone who is lying terminally ill and undergoing painful treatment, nor can they keep their readers happy by restoring the article.
I have written to Adams to suggest we put up a fresh piece dealing with all her issues when she is able to engage with us, and to offer to publish a response entirely from her point of view. However, it is only right that this should be in her own time and that she should be allowed to get on with her treatment without any pressures. Therefore I do not anticipate that I will have fully resolved all issues for some time, and I think that we should not restore Keller’s original article to our website until I can do so.
Journalists have happily roamed over the blogosphere and Facebook in particular, grazing freely as they will – and both some bloggers and some journalists treat e-mails as though they are publications and can be quoted freely. Unfortunately the general public don’t see it that way and there will be more situations like this until guidelines are drawn up. Last week it was decided by the High Court that section 39 orders made under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 which can grant anonymity to young people don’t apply to social media and restrict only journalists in the established news and broadcast media.
That in turn poses the question of who exactly is a journalist? When James Harding, the new head of BBC news gave the Stead lecture last week, he included the startling fact that in 2013, there was an increase of 8,000 new journalists over the past two years – and I thought they were shedding jobs!
The Office for National Statistics shows an overall rise in the number of journalists. It states that 62,000 people said they worked as journalists, in newspapers or as periodical editors in April/June 2011, and that this had risen to 70,000 in June 2013.
(This doesn’t include the 61 currently under arrest for alleged past misdeeds – something the ‘World Association of Newspapers’ which is currently on a ‘fact finding mission’ to the UK enquiring about ‘press freedom’ seem remarkably reticent about. Would they keep so quiet about 61 Russian journalists dragged from their beds at dawn?)
So back to the question of who is a journalist. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought in order to be an accredited member of the ‘esteemed’ press corps, you had to be a member of the NUJ. That used to involve having three – or was it four? – published pieces under your by-line. The rub was, that no paper would publish anything under your by-line unless you were a member of the NUJ. A vicious circle that was difficult to break. Now it seems that you can be a ‘website manager, content provider, advertising copyrighter, designer, social media officer, blogger, podcaster, press officer, communications officer, photo and video journalist’. I suspect you need to demonstrate a virulent and paranoid dislike of Mr Murdoch though….
Perhaps I should join? Do I want to be a member of a club that will have me? Last week I applied to join an on-line ‘Sarcoma support group’. I thought that being able to read some of their on-line literature would be helpful to me, not always understanding the nitty-gritty of treatment options delivered in French, and being somewhat fed up living in a world of ignorance and passive acceptance – neither of which come naturally to me. Back came a scathing little response from their ‘group manager’ saying that they noted my address the other side of the 20 mile English channel and this would be far ‘too confusing for their members’ so they were declining my application in line with their rules and regulations – a veritable little ‘den of UKIPquity’.