Now, as I’m sure you’re all very aware by now, I interviewed Jack Buckby (though at the time he requested that I use a pseudonym for him owing to the massive amount of abuse he was getting about his beliefs). I did my absolute best to maintain a neutral, factual stance on the way I wrote that piece up, and Jack was very happy with it. I’m not a columnist, so nobody wants to know my opinion. Therefore, everything you see there is exactly what Jack said, as he said it. I haven’t manipulated it in any way, and I specifically set out to give as unbiased a representation as possible. I spoke to Jack out of genuine curiosity, and because I knew a lot of people would want to read about him. And I was right: the day I published that post is STILL my most-viewed day to date, nearly a year on.
In the past few days, Jack has gained attention from a couple of other sources: Vice and The Telegraph. The Vice piece, as I write, has garnered more than 2,000 likes on Facebook, and when I checked the comments on the Telegraph blog piece, there were more than 1,000. So I was right! People DO want to read about Jack. For those of you who don’t know, Jack set up the National Culturists, who carry the slogan ‘Love culture, hate racism’. He is open about the fact he is a nationalist and a supporter of the BNP, but has always said he is not a racist.
What this got me thinking about is the way both of these publications tackled their articles. I feel like because it’s obviously pretty explosive territory, there can be a tendency to overimpose your own opinion, as a journalist, to make sure that the reader knows that THIS VIEW IS ABHORRENT AND I AM NOT A RACIST AND WATCH ME PROVE THAT. But what does the reader really gain from the journalist forcing their own opinion down their throats from the headline onwards? I think it’s pretty obvious that I, too, am not a racist. To clarify this, I stated it explicitly at the start and the end of my piece to clear up any trace of doubt. To be honest, I shouldn’t have had to. Reporting on something quite clearly doesn’t mean you’re prescribing to that school of thought yourself. Reporting that David Cameron is slashing benefits doesn’t mean you condone it. I really do think that there isn’t a place for this omnipresent style of reporting. These pieces shouldn’t have taken this structure:
- Background information
- I, the journalist, am not a racist
- Sarcastic comment about something Jack said
- Quote from Jack
- Gosh, isn’t it good that we’re not racists, reader?
- Explanation of the National Culturists
- Jack’s haircut is MUCH cooler than Nick Griffins
- Did I mention I’m not a racist?
I think we can safely assume that the vast majority of journalists, especially ones writing for popular publications such as Vice and The Telegraph, are not racist. I am not racist. However, that isn’t relevant to the interview. The interview was with Jack to find out his views and to let him explain. There isn’t a single person who wanted to read my blog on the 26th March last year who thought ‘This interview with a young BNP supporter looks interesting, but more than that: what the HELL does Kayleigh make of it?’
I am actually very interested in a lot of highly controversial topics. I want to interview an anti-abortionist. I’m firmly pro-choice. Do I need to qualify that constantly through the interview with barbed remarks about said interviewee’s dress sense? Of course I don’t. Do I need to intrude on my own piece of writing every paragraph just to remind people that I DISAGREE WITH THIS PERSON? No. I want to talk to a priest. Am I religious? No. Does that mean I couldn’t possibly find the views of someone religious interesting? No.
Some people see it as giving a platform to ‘the wrong sorts of people’. I very much disagree, actually: what state would the media be in if we only heard from ‘role models’? I truly believe that everyone deserves a voice, regardless of what they have to say. It is up to the reader to make their own decisions based on the evidence presented. This is why I don’t consider such biased pieces to be especially good journalism. I also write restaurant reviews, and people don’t necessarily read them for MY opinion, per se: it’s because they want to find out about THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ARTICLE, i.e. THE RESTAURANT. Not the journalist.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve spoken to Jack about his views. I’ve told him I don’t agree with him, and that’s fine. Just as he doesn’t subscribe to my political beliefs, I don’t subscribe to his. And there’s no problem with that. I was happy to do the interview, he was happy to speak to me, we were both happy with the results. I just really don’t see any need for petty put-downs or the tiresome, relentless narcissism of this self-obsessed style of writing. Some of you may disagree and think that it’s a great idea to present the facts in a way that most people will relate to. It’s just not what I want to do, and that’s also fine.
Let me know what you think. Do you think that journalists have a tendency to give themselves too much of a voice, or do you like to know what the writer thinks about a story?
EDIT: Before anyone points it out, I’m aware the Telegraph’s article is a blog post, and as such is far more subject to the author’s opinion than a straight interview. However, I’m maintaining my point that the Telegraph’s post seemed too preachy in places. I want to be informed, not just bombarded with silly insults about someone. I’m all for opinion pieces, but when that opinion takes over at the expense of any sense of the matter at hand, it really starts to grate. While I like to hear others’ opinions (hence, I trained as a journalist), I prefer to make up my own mind rather than being told what to think.