This week I became a TV producer for the first time. I was embarrassingly and nerdily happy #gingerpower

This week I became a TV producer for the first time. I was embarrassingly and nerdily happy #gingerpower

Playing catch-up?

Playing catch-up?

Here is the Panorama that I was lucky enough to give almost 7 months of my life to as the programme’s researcher.

"Kill at Will? America on trial" looks at the issues of America’s harrowing self-defence laws and the lack of gun control versus the control exerted by financial powers like super-PACs over politics and the passing of laws.

These issues are all examined through the story of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin - who was shot dead on his walk home from buying sweets and iced tea.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nhb1d/Panorama_Kill_at_Will_America_on_Trial/

An open letter to the women ruining our collective lives

I have always been very honest about the fact I’m a feminist – albeit perhaps not in the bra-burning and growing my body hair to extreme lengths to prove a point way.

In the past few weeks I’ve been having an irking thought – which culminated and became as clear as the proverbial crystal today when I read Jan Moir’s vitriolic attack on opera star Katherine Jenkins.

The pay gap that exists between men and women is infuriating. The casual sexism, like an over-friendly relative at a wedding, is still accepted and tolerated a little too much for my liking.

But, what is actually holding us back the most as women trying to progress is quite simply ourselves.

We have created almost farcical stereotypes for different types of women – think of it like a bitchier and more regressive version of the Sex and The City characters which we measure ourselves up against on far too frequent a basis.

There’s the career driven woman, who at a young age is held up for being “motivated” and “independent”, yet twenty years down the line is shooed off as barren, a hag and destined for spinsterhood.

Then we have the yummy mummy who idyllically spends her hours cooing at her children and making cupcakes with perfect buttercream icing. Move her into a different socio-economic bracket and she’s money-grabbing, scrounging and bleeding a husband dry. And using your taxes. How dare she, eh?

God help you if you’re a woman who decides you don’t want children, after all you’ve probably got no heart.

Then there’s the issue of telling ourselves that we are “strong, independent women” who shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what we want – be it a pay rise, a sex life that always appears to be described by magazines as “MIND-BLOWING” or a dramatic, sporadic and out of character career change.

I don’t know about you, but whilst the double standards of sexuality are obvious, I find that they’re being instilled more by our fellow female kind than the men we’re meant to be striving to equal in all aspects.

On countless occasions in numerous toilet queues, and struggling to get to the taps in a busy nightclub bathroom, I have overheard conversations where my equally (and frequently overly) dolled up companions are berating some girl I’ve never heard of for being a slag, a slut and advocate of whorish behaviour.

By no means do I condone a lot of behaviour that I’ve had the joy of hearing fifth-hand in bathrooms across seedy establishments, but I do think that we cannot tell women that they should be allowed to behave a certain way, to get what THEY deserve, to throw off the shackles of previously accepted and prudish values – and then use it as another weapon against them when it doesn’t work for someone else.

Referring back to the original article that inspired this flow of irritated thought, Jan Moir’s main criticism of Katherine Jenkins appears to be that she didn’t sweat during the London Marathon.

My own personal opinion – fair play to anyone who runs more than twenty metres and doesn’t look like an emotional tomato, give the girl a medal.

Moir calls out Jenkins on her “attention-seeking ways” for not one, but two, appearances in public as of late.

The first – Baroness Thatcher’s funeral – where Jenkins is accused of wearing a low-cut, bust-revealing dress.

I invite Moir to spend a night out on the town, and to see what people genuinely think is an acceptable outfit, and to then come up with the same attack on Katherine Jenkins.

The second appearance, which the article predominantly focuses on, is Katherine Jenkins’ participation in the London Marathon and her lime-light stealing antics.

It is worth noting at this point that the opera singer took part in the mammoth challenge in memory of her late father who died last year - something she’s been very clear about on Twitter.

The pointed picture captions that accompany Moir’s outraged writing describe the make-up that Jenkins has “hosed on” and her diva-like decision to wear sunglasses on a sunny day. The whole thing is laughable, but demonstrates my next point very well.

We have become so obsessed with our physical appearance that we are undermining any hope that we have of being taken seriously as a gender.

The number of young people turning to cosmetic surgery to be plumped up, sucked in and turned into this society-styled image of perfection is terrifying. The media berates women for not wearing enough make-up, for wearing too much, for being too fat or too thin – and we have let this happen.

Collective spirit should see us standing together to condemn such behaviour, but instead it has us clamouring to see who can be the most vocal about each other’s appearance and failings.

 

Very little is ever written about men’s physical appearance, I notice. Whilst magazines may joke about the ‘middle-age spread’ as a man matures, or even poke fun at a receding hair line, you can bet that a picture of a female celebrity in a bikini on a beach is as common as the article that mirrors it explaining some other star’s ‘freak diet.’

Jan Moir’s attack on Katherine Jenkins is just a published version of what many of us have been schooled to think of others, or taking it a step further, to talk about unsubtly behind another skirted being’s back.

Emily Davison did not throw herself in front of a horse for one woman to rip holes in another’s career or relationship prospects.

Women didn’t fight for the vote so that we could build a woman up to be a role model and then pull her apart one unfortunate make-up free photo at a time.

Taking the High Road might be a lonely journey, but it’s one that I’ll happily plod along if it means I don’t have to join in destroying any respect that we had already struggled to build for my gender.

It’s been a very long time, but i’m back.
More ranting to follow.

It’s been a very long time, but i’m back.

More ranting to follow.

The Untold Story of Tracy Glass

Four months ago I returned to a project about the ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation that was causing waves over in the states following the shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. It was the only news story of 2012 to be talked about and reported at one stage more than the presidential elections - with the black and white photograph of Trayvon flashing up time and time again. This is not a story that is going to go away, and crucially led to the formation of a movement reminiscent of the civil rights era, demanding George Zimmerman be arrested and tried for his part in the death of Trayvon Martin.

The ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation removes the “duty to retreat” for a person who feels that they are in sufficient danger of grievous bodily harm and the potential threat to their life. It’s a law that was first passed in Florida in 2005 after a series of hurricanes that led to an increase in crime, and was designed to protect people from prosecution who were felt to be doing the right thing, whatever that was. The law then subsequently spread through another 23 states in America. It’s a law that has had a measurable effect - literally. In the duration of this job, I have read every piece of academic research (not that there’s many) on the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, the nature of self-defence cases, and the rise in justifiable homicides. This rise is documented through more people using the ‘Stand Your Ground’ defence - and often in situations where even from the outset it should not apply. We had 29 minutes of programme, so you can imagine how many stories did not make the final cut - stories of thieves being gunned down for stealing tip jars, a man shooting a man in his wardrobe and successfully claiming self-defence, and a man being killed for stealing a six-pack of beers. I am not remotely making any of this up - you can find it in Texas’ FBI reports on justifiable homicides.

Another one of these stories is one that has particularly stayed with me, and that is the story of how 19 year old Tracy Glass was killed in 2007.

Tracy’s story has had a huge impact on me. I don’t know whether it was because he was born only two years before me, or because the circumstances of his death are simply unimaginable in the country from where I am cosily writing this.

Tracy Glass died in August 2007 after being shot nine times in the back. His shooter was subsequently cleared of any offence under the provisions of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation enacted some twenty days after Tracy’s death. The account of what happened that night is, understandbly, muddled - with both sides offering opposing reasons for how the shooting came about, and how it might be explained.

Tracy Glass was visiting relatives in San Antonio on the day that he died, and his parents and lawyers tell the story of a teen who perhaps after one drink (he had an increased alcohol blood level) or whilst searching for phone signal wandered into the wrong cul-de-sac, mistaking it for where he was staying, and who was then targeted by a trigger-happy resident. Police officers who visited the scene recorded in the notes the similarities between the outside of Ray Lemes’ house and that which Tracy Glass had been staying, one cul-de-sac away.

In the early hours of the morning, Ray Lemes reports being woken by the screaming of his wife, and then chasing out the intruder before firing to protect himself, his wife, and his property. Ray says that a neighbour reported seeing Tracy a few hours before, perhaps eyeing up his wife or his property. The Sawyer brothers, who represented Ray, told me that it was no surprise that he was found to have acted justifiably in shooting the teenager, as “if you ask anybody what they would do in that scenario to protect their wife and themselves, then they would do exactly the same.”

Whilst the accounts clash, the facts of the matter are that Tracy Glass was shot nine times in the back and died shortly afterwards on Ray Lemes’ front-lawn. There is no physical evidence that Tracy was ever in Mr Lemes’ house, and no witnesses to the shooting that night.

Ray Lemes was not arrested that night, but a few weeks later. There were two trials - the first trying Mr Lemes for the murder of Tracy Glass, with no consideration of motive or emotions involved. A trial that was subsequently disbanded after allegations of juror misconduct. A trial that Burnell and Carmen Glass told me they had left on the Friday believing was headed for a guilty verdict, to return on Monday to find scrapped and back to square one. The second trial offered Mr Lemes another verdict - with the judge asking the jury to consider whether Ray had acted in fear of his life to protect his wife and his property. Ray Lemes was cleared by a grand jury last year.

Burnell and Carmen Glass have done very little media about their son’s death. As the case went to trial, they did not think that it was the right time - and since the trial ended, it has obviously been imcomprehensible to accept that the person responsible for their son’s death is walking free and living a relatively normal life, when theirs have been changed forever. I was grateful when they were prepared to talk to me, but understandably anxious. How can you say to someone that you understand how they feel, when honestly you will never be able to?

2012 marks five years since Tracy’s death - five years that they would later describe to me as being times when it was hard to even think about carrying on, as they had to suffer the indignity of watching the court try to drag their son’s name through the dirt even in his death. Assertions were made that Tracy was a burglar, someone acting wrongly, and who had died as a result of the choices that he had wrongly made. The release of the evidence showing that Tracy had never been in Ray Lemes’ house was a day of some closure to Carmen and Burnell - a conclusion that all of the unpleasant assertions and attempts to destroy Tracy’s character posthumously were wrong.

This case is not about guns, as I fear many people have wrongly categorised the content of our programme. Tracy had learnt to shoot for hunting, Burnell and Carmen own guns. This case is about the bigger problems associated with the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. Burnell Glass says that Ray Lemes should not have walked free from a crime committed 20 days before the laws were enacted. The Sawyer brothers say that had the shooting happened some 20 days later, then Ray Lemes would not even have had to attend court - let alone go through the laborious and draining process of a trial stretched out over numerous years.

Burnell and Carmen’s lives have had to go on. Burnell still farms every day in Rowena in rural Texas, and Carmen runs a business in a town nearby. They might not be able to understand it, but they believe that what happened to their son happened for a reason - one that they are trying to find. They follow every ‘Stand Your Ground’ case that hits the media, seeing the terrifying and increasing numbers of them as further proof that the laws that justified their son’s death are dangerous and give a “license to kill.” The story of what happened to their son has not made the headlines like that of Trayvon Martin, and Tracy’s death is another statistic filed under the FBI’s Universal Crime Reports.

My understanding of what we do as journalists is that we have a duty to tell people’s stories, make public knowledge the abhorrent things that happen behind closed doors, and above all do right by the people who have trusted us enough to tell us this information. 29 minutes was nowhere near long enough to tell Tracy’s story, but I hope that one day justice will be served in the re-examination of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation, and that Carmen and Burnell Glass will find peace.

[If you’d like to see the programme and find out more about the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws and the effect they are having, here’s the link to ”Kill At Will? American on Trial”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nhb1d ] 

Social Media – just another status symbol, or a professional tool?

It’s been an interesting few days for UK-based broadcasters in social media terms. Good ol’ Auntie, the BBC, freely proclaimed it would survive what has been termed “a revolution that puts the audience in charge… a convulsion that is testing every news organisation” - whilst in the same week questioning whether having a social media profile was actually a hindrance to your potential employers, rather than a symbol of your understanding of this brave new world.

If you’ve been watching the ‘Twitter scene’ and its accompanying culture, Sky’s recent announcement of its revamp of its social media policy should also come as no surprise after events way back in February prompted considerable questioning of its practices, deemed unrealistic in this new caring, sharing social media powered environment.

But it hasn’t just been about the big name organisations either.  

There was the Metro’s revelation that people are now prepared to buy followers on Twitter – presumably because the assumption like most things is, the more you have of something, the better you are. And now, in the wake of a concept so many think is just simply bizarre, there’s been accusations that American politicians have been buttressing support using that exact method.

So, I started thinking about the concept of social media. Has it just become another opportunity for us as human beings to show off and congregate with like-minded individuals without having to actually talk to people?  Or is it really this momentous tool cited as catalysing the Arab Spring, and revolutionising coverage of events like the British riots?

It’s very easy to see how as a medium it walks a thin line between the two. On the most basic of levels, how many of us has glanced at the trending topics and seen:  1. Something we don’t understand at all 2. A reference to Justin Bieber, or 3. Harry Styles’ hair taking over the world. Raising the tone – and this is something I’ll admit to having done before – what about the groups of friends/colleagues/rivals engaging in ‘banter’ publicly over Twitter, usually interjected by the public school-esque use of someone’s surname? Sound familiar?

The power of social media, from the numerous articles I’ve read in the past year or workshops I’ve attended, I’m led to believe is in its ability to conduct a conversation - changing the hierarchical and single-channelled nature of traditional media. This emphasis upon conversation in itself has created more demands for us as individuals and journalists, but ones I think were inevitable in the first place. If you are going to put yourself out into a public forum, then not only should you expect to hear from your viewing/reading public, but be prepared to answer to them directly. I know that there are public figures, including some journalists, who see Twitter almost like an RSS-feed of their social activities and opinions, or a place to throw abuse at each other (the ongoing Lord Sugar/Piers Morgan debacle?). This doesn’t really help anyone, I think.

Whilst social media has given us the opportunity to raise issues more in our interest and a clearer ability to crowd-source opinion, it has also created greater accountability. No one is untouchable anymore – and to an extent that is probably a good thing. The question of numbers – be it Facebook subscribers or Twitter followers – is curious. If you recently saw Britain’s Got Talent, the best example I can give you is that the dog is likely to have thousands of followers, but does anyone actually care? I’m more inclined, along with a lot of others, to believe that the quality of your followers is probably more important, if less impressive sounding, than the numbers – but I also know people that throw it out there in the vein of failed chat-up lines and job interview pleas – and there are thousands of kids (and scarily adults) who have the infamous “I FOLLOW BACK” slogan in their bios.

The crowd-sourcing nature of social media is undeniable, and frankly writing the medium off as kids up to high jinks with their friends is failing to understand its power and importance. I wrote an essay about social media a few months ago and one of the most powerful examples I used to illustrate this point was Paul Lewis, of the Guardian’s Investigations’ lot, reporting about the British riots – more particularly in London. If anyone remembers back to those pretty harrowing few days, the police presence and reaction was scattered and confused, and the media generally struggled to keep on top of what was happening, but social media networks were flooded with information about locations of incidents and what was going on.

I do think that the ugly head of social media may be rearing its head though, demonstrated as recently as this afternoon when one tweet from a 21 year old girl from Sunderland, innocently asking whether Wimbledon had always taken place in London, led to her gaining over 2000 followers within the hour and over 3000 retweets amongst a backlash of what presumably was mocking mentions. She then deleted her account, unsurprisingly, but some will argue that it was a brilliant way to gain followers. And be mocked by the nation. But let’s move on from that.       

So, here’s a summary I’ve attempted to write about the points I’ve been floundering to make:

1.       Social media’s great – it’s a powerful source of news stories and public opinion – but if you’re prepared to put yourself out on it and ask other’s to do so for you, then the public deserves a response to their questions. There’s no hierarchy in this anymore and if you believe that, then you’re probably using social media in the wrong or at least an irritating way.

2.       Social media isn’t as golden as it’s made out to be. It still has the social demons of everything that preceded it – be it as a means of bullying others, or being misused to misrepresent you as a person.

3.       We are all becoming increasingly unsociable and spend too much time in front of our computer screens rather than actually talking to each other in person. Pub?

When did being single become a crime punishable by playing Adele on repeat?

I think that I sat down to write this in response to the roaring aftermath of, god forbid, a ‘sexy’ book designed for and read feverishly by women all over the country being released. It’s also been interesting to see other women splutter in reply, saying that this new book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a simple reinforcement of old-school values of romanticism and women being the submissive sex.

As someone who has grown up with the ‘values of romanticism’ paraded in front of them in the form of any chick-flick, rom-com or other vomit-inducing visual form, it’s clear that although you can wedge Sandra Bullock into a film and claim she’s a careers-woman without a heart, or have the traditional male character you are meant to hate because he’s chauvinistic, narcissistic, or any other adjective ending in –ic shoved in your face – these ‘values’ are here to stay, whether you like it or not.

I’m also expecting the reaction I’ll get from this next revelation – the patronising look of “it’s ok, your one is out there”, the obvious falseness of the phrase “Oh, good for you” and let’s not forget, the person who is now considering buying me ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ because they think it may solve my ‘problem.’ So, here goes: I am extremely content being single, which some people will think is code for, “I know I’m a sad, lonely woman – but let’s try to see the positive side of this, because no one fancies a whinger.” It’s not. I actually enjoy the fact that I can starfish in my sleep without any sense of shame or guilt.  

Far too much time is taken up by us as individuals, and as a society, feeling the pressure to be someone’s better or worse half, or hoping to either be or be with ‘the one’, which cynically, is more likely becoming ‘one’ of three these days. You can argue that if I was in a relationship right now I’d be screaming at my alternate single self writing this article, shouting something along the lines of Giles Coren’s now infamous “barren old hag” remark.

Valentine’s Day is predictably a bit rubbish if you’re single and sat scoffing carbs like there’s no tomorrow, sobbing to Adele’s ‘21’ on repeat - but I think singledom is what you make of it. I truly believe that because of the way society has forced us to think about the dreaded ‘S’ word, we could all be with someone – whether they are the right or wrong person is another question. So, for example, if I was to let slide my general hatred/annoyance of men who:  1. Believe they’re doing a public service by dating a ginger 2. Talk nothing but about themselves, and 3. Only have 2 brain cells to rub together (at best) - then I’d have a damned chance more of chucking the self-help books I’m meant to have amassed, and getting out of the grotty dressing-gown all single women in films skulk around in during their darkest hours.

The next hidden damnation of singles like yours truly is the stereotype of ‘careers women.’ Wanting a career does not mean that I have simultaneously sold my womb off to China (not that it’d help much, they have enough issues with the one child rule, let alone a wayward irate uterus from Northern England), nor have I given up the dream of the ‘BIG DAY.’ I too, one day, will don an obscenely gigantic wedding dress, cry pathetically over personally-written vows, and then smash cake in my significant other’s face. But, what I will do now – you know now that I’m one of those ‘careers women’ people get so snotty about – is find the outlet for my shouty, competitive and painfully focused side, drink far too much coffee/cocktails claiming it’s ‘glamorous’, and tolerate the sympathetic glances as friend after friend get’s a boyfriend, get’s married, and then becomes the size of an elephant during their pregnancy.

If you were remotely interested, when I was one of those chosen few in relationships, I still slept like a starfish and still wanted to do exactly what I continue to want to do now with my career – I just wasn’t wearing sweatpants as much when I thought about it.

Think of this as a choice – a bit like vegetarianism - until the right bacon sandwich comes along to break this currently, very determined, willpower.

Journalists wield power. When they shine their searchlight on a person, institution or event, the world - or at least part of the world - takes note.

Philip Seib

How can we make those having to move back in with their parents feel worse? Over to you..

Calling yourself one of the ‘jilted generation’ is getting a bit old if you’re me or one of my peers.

We know that there has been some serious imbalance in terms of university costs, some awful luck with regards to the housing and job markets and the misfortune of trying to fly the nest mid-recession. In a few weeks I’ll be moving back in with my parental unit – it’s been an accepted fact since I entered the higher education system that this was what would probably happen once I stopped putting real life off and finished education. An undergraduate and Master’s degree later, here I am.

Joining the estimated 3 million of 20-34 year olds living with parents isn’t exactly the most glamorous prospect I can assure you, but for the majority of those also finishing education, also lacking in funds and with few employers queuing up to bestow jobs on us, it is not a strange or uncommon position to be in. It’s probably worth pointing out now that I have no intention of staying there long term - Wensleydale isn’t exactly thriving with opportunities, just cheese.

I was shocked to read Observer columnist Barbara Ellen tearing strips off people in the afore-mentioned age bracket for still living at home – more so because it’s sister, The Guardian, is very traditionally a woolly, liberal newspaper that students will pick over nearly any other publication (unless they’re in Conservative Future, if so, ignore that last comment).

Ellen was keen to clarify that she cared, honestly. She writes,

I know about high rents, low wages, no wages, exploitative landlords, travel costs, dangerous areas, debts, student or otherwise, and the housing ladder. I also understand that, in different cultures, adults live at home before marriage.”

 Well, I’m glad you’re so sympathetic to the plight of young’uns Babs, but why then follow it by saying:

“If you are one of them, my advice is – get out, be broke, endure that crummy flat share. At least you would be living your own life. Above all, accept the terrible truth – it’s time for you to run away from home.”

Nice one – running away from home, what practical and great advice. But it doesn’t stop there. As well as attacking the people already getting the rubbish end of the deal, she took it further, lambasting the only people who can often provide a solution in this situation; the parents. I can concede that for every 20 something year old despairingly moving home, there is probably a slightly creepy 30 something year old out there still living at home, and indulging in some odd habit like playing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on repeat – but for the majority of cases, this isn’t going to be true. Of course your parents will try to help, or so you’d hope, and that isn’t necessarily the ‘molly coddling’ that Babs so venomously spits about.  I think that most parents when faced with either having their child out on the streets or living back in the family home and adding to the weekly food bill would choose the latter.

Babs is keen to sensationalise that 3 million, yes – did you hear that…3 MILLION of us are now living back with our parents – but I wonder whether she’s looked into the research that makes this a perfectly understandable number. Unemployment currently stands at approximately 2.65 million in the UK – that’s pretty near 3 million. Are you seeing a correlation here?

Student-types aside, there’s also the other types of people being criminalised by this article, for example couples, or even individuals, who can’t afford to plunge head first into the property market. What’s the average house price I hear you cry?  Well, it’s £161,588 to be exact. That’s a lot of money. Especially when so many people are being laid off, jobs are so lacking, and the price of everything has risen. I can take her point that people should be renting, but that also comes with issues, and it’s hardly cheap. Hardly surprising then that people are taking the opportunity to stay close to the nest, save up and then try to get somewhere that is remotely nice to live in, not the ‘dumps’ that Babs is keen to remind us she spent much of her proper childhood in. Well done you.

I also find Barbara Ellen’s comments particularly ironic in the wake of The Guardian’s biggest and most recent splash on the unpaid workers marshalling the weekend’s jubilee. Allegations are emerging that these unpaid workers had to spend the night camped under London Bridge – how many of them do you reckon have their own swanky accommodation? I’d bet it’s a pretty small number.

Living at home once you’ve passed the teenage years isn’t what most of us want to do. It’s definitely not what people think of as a long-term option, I’d say, but the bridge towards gaining the independence that having your own place and not sleeping in the single bed you had when you were a child brings. But it’s certainly not something to be scoffed at, and not by someone in full-term employment. Frankly, I’m not concerned with my “hope of attracting a partner” waning as Barbara Ellen puts it, or the fact she thinks living back in the same house as my parents will stunt my emotional growth. How ridiculous. I, like most, am joining the 3 million out of necessity, not choice, and that’s the overarching concern of this matter, not that those out of touch with reality believe me to be the dirge of society and socially awkward.

"If it moves something in you then it will move somebody else, and that’s what you want" - David Helliwell