22 May What It’s Really Like Being a Christian Journalist at the Daily Mail
The Medianet’s Tim Plyming once commented that the exciting thing about journalism as a career was the fact that few of its practitioners really know what God has in store for them and what lies around the corner.
Our editor Alastair Tancred – who in the last six months has moved from the foreign pages of the BBC News website to Mailonline to his latest post as a Unicef communications manager with specific responsibility for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – could not agree more.
He reflects here on working for the Mail, a news organisation that seems to be loved and loathed in equal measure. Loved because it consistently has some of the highest reader numbers for a news website in the world I (more than 100 million unique visitors per month) and loathed because nobody ever seems willing to admit they read it.
I was in for a rude awakening when I joined Mailonline as a foreign news reporter in January after 20 years at the BBC .
“You ****ing idiot!” screamed a man almost insane with rage. “How many ****ing times have I told you that I want ****ing factboxes to transfer easily onto all our web pages and still you contrive to **** it up?”
The volume of this admonishment reverberated around the Mailonline office yet such is the culture of fear that the journalists seemed to pretend it was not happening and stared deeper into their computer screens.
What we were hearing was a dressing down from the senior editor to some hapless underling who had not sufficiently familiarised himself with Mailonline’s factbox policy. The nature of the rebuke was shocking to me because during my two decades at the BBC a tongue-lashing such as this – in effect a throwback to the 1970s – would never have happened.
This incident and the nature of some of the stories that Mailonoline journalists are told to write means that in many respects the offices in Kensington High Street are not a particularly pleasant place to work.
But throughout my four months on the website I was never asked to write anything that conflicted with my Christian faith – in fact on one occasion I was even able to write a story that promoted Christianity.
Because I was on the foreign desk I escaped having to write the more salacious stories and for a news outlet notorious for its right wing sympathies, I was never asked to report on anything that was overtly partisan.
But there were plenty of stories that my colleagues were asked to write – sex toy found by dog in undergrowth, etc – that made your toes curl.
The senior journalists at Mailonline have one over-riding objective – to keep the senior editor happy. If he is kept content, the reporters lower down the rungs of the ladder have an easier life. They are answerable to him 24 hours a day (a commitment reflected in their salaries) and must be willing to accept unquestionably the occasional tirade as part of their job description.
But if he is upset because a story has been missed or poorly written, all miners at the pit-front are made to feel the consequences. In many respects working there was like serving a capricious and mercurial God.
One particularly worrying new theme on the website – apart from the daily diet of salacious stories – is the tendency to publish live video of people being killed, be it a mugger being shot by an off-duty policeman or some poor soul coming to grief in a spectacular car crash. To my mind this is even worse than running stories about marriage breakups etc.
But like so many things in today’s world, not everything at Mailonline was altogether bad. The paper has a can-do attitude when it comes to writing some stories, which means that occasionally its output is much more imaginative (I don’t mean to use this word as a euphemism for untruthful) than its rivals.
For example, its reporting of the recent death of football player Cyril Regis in my opinion was insightful and moving. Mailonline’s coverage did not – like that of some news organisations – gloss over Regis’ Christianity, nor did it shy away from reporting that his faith was one of the main motivations for fighting racism on the terraces after he retired as a player.
Another observation I would make – while the management system at the paper is in my mind comparable to the expletive-laden newsroom era of 40 years ago, maybe there is something to be said for the boss blowing his top, having a rant and clearing the air. It may be unpleasant, but at least it’s honest and might be better after all than stabbing an employee in the back – the favoured tactic of some news organisations. It’s only when the castigation takes place on a regular basis that it becomes bullying and most of the time that did not seem to happen.
Finally, can Christianity and Mailonline co-exist? My aunt used to constantly remind me that nothing happens outside God’s love, be it in Wormwood Scrubs or the Street of Shame. His love is in fact even greater than Mailonline’s readership figures – it’s like a circle who’s centre is everywhere but who’s circumference is nowhere. And what’s more, there are plenty of people out there – in contrast to those who read the newspaper’s website – who are prepared to proclaim it.