A brief rant before normal service resumes…
The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson today felt the need to publish a self-congratulatory humblebrag remarking on the fact that their latest print edition’s cover page apparently features only the work of female writers, despite no conscious decision having been made to indulge in affirmative action.
Just before The Spectator went to press yesterday, my colleague Emily Hill pointed out that I’d just taken away the only male name away from the cover: all seven of our coverlines were stories written by women. Did I really want that? I hadn’t thought about it until then, and for a while I did consider engaging in tokenism and slapping a man on for the sake of it. But why bother? Spectator readers don’t really care about gender, just good writing.
In fact it hadn’t occurred to any of us, until that point, that we were about to run what Ariane Sherine, who writes our cover story, today hails as the first all-woman cover in The Spectator’s 188-year history. But this wasn’t a patronising attempt at a ‘wimmin’s issue’ or some other awful tokenistic wheeze. Our all-women cover wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way the cards fell. Each week we want to get the best writers on the most original topics: this week, they all happened to be women.
That’s not to say there’s no difference when it comes to getting hold of good writers. As Emily will tell you, women don’t put themselves forward as much as men. To get the full range of talent from all available writers can mean people like Emily going to great lengths to find and encourage new writers – like Ariane Sherine. As so often, Fleet Street follows up. As I write, two national newspapers are vying for the right to republish her cover story.
Full disclosure: I have a bit of a beef with lead article author Ariane Sherine (a one-sided affair; she, I’m sure, has no idea who I am) following her previous effort for The Spectator, an appallingly condescending report about how she performed a comedy gig in the heart of UKIP-supporting coastal Essex and somehow, miraculously, was not ripped to shreds by the rabidly racist, evil Brexiteers who dwell there.
It is interesting, too that Sherine (and apparently other women writers published in The Spectator) had to be sought out, coaxed and persuaded to write for the venerable magazine because “women don’t put themselves forward as much as men”. Funny, that. I, a despicably privileged man, have pitched to The Spectator before – it was actually a terrible piece from a few years back when my writing was very green, not at all worth publishing – but then I never had the pleasure of being sought out and implored to honour The Spectator’s readers with the fruits of my keyboard. That must be quite a nice feeling.
I don’t normally do this, but let’s just muse on the topic of gender equality for a moment, particularly as it relates to journalism. Regular readers will know that I spent pretty much every spare moment of the past year campaigning for Brexit in the EU referendum, initially rather haphazardly but (I hope) increasingly coherently as I read Richard North’s peerless eureferendum.com blog, learned about Flexcit and fell in with The Leave Alliance. I claim zero credit for any of the specific ideas this blog has supported around Brexit and the future of international trade – my tiny bit part in this effort consisted merely of standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly Richard North and Pete North, whose technical mastery and polemical writing I admire enormously.
The point, I suppose, is this. For some time now, a group of independent, citizen bloggers have churned out consistently better analysis and commentary on the EU referendum and Brexit on any given day than the mainstream media has given the British people in an entire year. Even now, dim-witted publications like the Guardian and FT are scrambling to catch up and think through some of the ramifications and issues which the people in my circle have been writing about for months. And what mention or recognition has this work prompted from the Westminster media? How many links to our widely-read and shared articles have appeared in mainstream outlets like The Spectator?
I think you know that the answer is zero.
Now, you don’t have to rate Semi-Partisan Politics at all – though I am personally quite frustrated, this issue is much bigger than little old me. But doesn’t it seem slightly odd that the entire Westminster media managed to somehow overlook the hard work of a small army of pro-Brexit bloggers on the biggest political issue to face Britain, just when fresh analysis was sorely needed, and yet The Spectator has time to scour Britain at great length for underappreciated female talent to promote to the front page?
Fraser Nelson claims that The Spectator’s all-women front page was entirely accidental, and I take him at his word. But isn’t it telling that this feat was achieved at the height of silly season, the summer recess, when the political news which is the Spectator’s bread and butter is almost entirely absent? When MPs come back from recess and things get serious again, let’s see how many months or years it takes for the next unintentional all-women issue to go to print. My guess is that it will be some while; that when PMQs is back and party conference season gets underway we will be seeing a lot more of James Forsyth, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle on the cover. Just a hunch.
So what was the amazing piece which made the cover of The Spectator anyway, you ask? Well, it was a thrilling exposé of a growing trend among millennials whereby single women stop looking for a suitable man and choose to marry themselves instead.
As far as the bride was concerned, the wedding was perfect. Her dress was beautiful, the vows were traditional and she changed her name after the ceremony. The clifftop scenery was breathtaking, the seven bridesmaids were encouraging and supportive: move over Princess Di. There was only one thing missing: the groom. Like a growing number of single women, Sara Starkström had decided to marry herself.
‘I thought about people marrying other people without loving themselves first,’ says Starkström, a writer, explaining what many would call a bizarre overreaction to finding herself single at the age of 29. ‘How could they pledge to do all this stuff for another person when they couldn’t promise themselves the same thing? I decided to marry myself to celebrate my independence and strength. I did it to promise to be my own best friend.’
[..] While many commentators make scathing judgments about sologamy (the feminist blog Jezebel ran a dismissive piece called ‘Single women, please stop marrying yourselves’, chiding, ‘You should be aware that you’re no trailblazer and you’re sure as hell not thumbing your nose at the system. You’re buying into it’), this hasn’t stopped increasing numbers of women from taking the plunge. For Starkström, self-marriage was a liberating act for which she is quite happy to take all the jokes ‘about me carry-ing myself over the threshold and making love to myself’.
And the thrilling conclusion:
Perhaps this is the crux of the sologamy issue: self-marriage is harmless, cheap compared to the £20,500 average cost of a classic wedding, and the union seems to make the bride very happy. If only the same could be said for the majority of traditional marriages which feature a groom. Princess Diana’s fairy tale fell apart when she found that there were three people in her marriage. Now, for an ever-increasing number of determined modern women, one is more than enough.
This isn’t even original. Even I know – don’t ask me how – that Sex and the City featured a similar storyline nearly fifteen years ago, in which protagonist Carrie Bradshaw decides to marry herself as a way of recouping the money spent on friends’ engagements and replacing an expensive pair of shoes which were stolen at a previous party. This kind of story is “and finally…” fodder on the TV news, not lead article material for The Spectator.
This may be silly season, but British politics is hardly dull at present – we have the ramifications of the EU referendum result to pick through, and the slow-motion car crash that is the Labour Party’s self-destruction, while America continues to wrestle with the Donald Trump phenomenon. In these circumstances, I’m sorry to say that Sherine’s story about sologamy has more than a whiff of affirmative action about it.
Before the inevitable feminist lynching begins, another disclaimer: I have long believed that The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman is the outstanding political journalist of her generation and, based on my couple of conversations with her, a genuinely nice person in the SW1 bubble. If The Spectator had ten Isabel Hardmans on staff, I wouldn’t expect a male-written cover story any more than once a year. It shouldn’t be necessary, but I want to put any idea that this rumination is some alt-right, anti-woman rant quickly to bed.
Note too that even when quoting the established feminist blog Jezebel, The Spectator fails to provide a link to the article Sherine cites by name. This is how unwilling the establishment British media are to share readers, clicks and opportunities. It is selfishness beyond measure, and is ultimately counterproductive – the American political blogosphere grew and thrives today not only because bloggers link to one another, but because there is a dialogue between what were traditionally the “legacy” print media outlets and alternative voices.
Readers aren’t forever lost to a publication which dares to link. In fact, readers often respect the original source all the more as a curator of other worthwhile information across the internet, thus increasing their loyalty. Maybe this doesn’t easily show up in the monthly SEO and web traffic reports which now seem to drive all media behaviour – and which have turned the Telegraph from a respectable broadsheet to a sensationalist purveyor of clickbait – but it is a real factor nonetheless. My own personal blogging hero, Andrew Sullivan, built the most influential political blog in history based entirely on this philosophy of curating the web for his readers and also providing fresh commentary which was picked up by the legacy media.
To this day, if there is a worthwhile piece of commentary or analysis on an American political blog, it is not unusual to see it linked to in a piece by an “establishment” journalist on the staff of, say, the New Republic or the National Review. Semi-Partisan Politics has been cited in the National Review a couple of times, a courtesy not once extended by any major British publication, and this despite the fact that 80 per cent of this blog’s output concerns UK rather than American politics.
So how should the British media interact with the blogosphere and promote new talent? Well, call me old fashioned but I believe that a simple commitment to meritocracy can’t go far wrong. Sure, The Spectator will always hire the likes of Pippa Middleton to write vacuous society guff about hunting for truffles in their Christmas issue, and that’s fine. But when it comes to political coverage, one wishes that established British publications would at least pretend to aspire to genuine meritocracy, seeking out the best analysis and commentary regardless of race or gender rather than indulging as they do in flagrant nepotism on the one hand and leftist affirmative action on the other.
I’ll speak plainly, because it’s better than dancing around the issue, from my perspective as someone no longer in the first flush of youth trying to build an audience and reputation as a writer. It is frustrating to pour every spare minute into this blog, providing (I dare to hope) sometimes original and refreshing commentary – particularly I think on the 2015 general election, the ongoing Labour leadership saga, free speech or academic freedom issues and the EU referendum – and see what is objectively weaker commentary from nepotism beneficiaries or the obvious fruits of affirmative action benefit from a prestigious platform, greater recognition, and – oh yes, from monetary reward too. It’s just a little bit hard to take day after day.
I could play the minority card too, if I wanted to talk up my BAME working class background, but I would never compromise my principles by demanding that I be given a platform based on who I am rather than what I have to say. I won’t go there – it would be a violation of everything that this blog stands for. Others sadly seem happy to do so.
I write because I love to write, and because I think I have slowly created something quite small but precious here at Semi-Partisan Politics; because I have a small readership whom I love to serve, write for and debate with; because it is better than ranting into Facebook 24/7 as I used to before I opened a WordPress account. But sometimes it is a bit galling to see an inferior product exalted and given prominence when I and several of my good writer friends toil in obscurity.
Building a reputation and audience as a writer should be hard – it rightly takes time, effort, humility and perseverance. It has taken me over four years to even begin to get a sense of who my audience is / should be, and how best to serve them – and I claim no special skill at what I do, only a great deal of enthusiasm for it. But whether it is Twitter interactions, links to my site or other interactions, the amount of support I have received from American journalists and publications on the other side of the Atlantic vastly exceeds what little help or hand up I have ever received from the British media class – despite the fact that at least 80 per cent of my written output, networking and outreach efforts are focused on British politics and the Westminster media.
And I think British journalists and editors should be made to feel a little bit ashamed of that fact. Not for my sake – I’ll be just fine, and 95 per cent of the time I am happy to keep plugging away without a murmur of complaint. They should feel shame because my situation is far from unique, and because there are writers in my acquaintance whose insight, bravery and raw talent would enrich our country’s entire political discourse if only it had the bully pulpit it deserves.
The Westminster media establishment should be ashamed because the way they seek out and promote writing talent fails the British people, serving them an often substandard and derivative stream of written output and unoriginal thinking from the pens of the well-connected (either by parentage or ability to fill the checkboxes of a Diversity Officer’s form) while effectively pretending that the struggling political blogosphere – the primary outlet for so many talented, aspiring writers – doesn’t even exist, and certainly not as a source worthy of links or interaction.
Okay, rant over. I don’t have the energy to bring this piece to a neat end.
Normal business will now resume. Read it here first, or three months later from someone who gets paid to do this kind of thing.
Top Image: The Spectator / Sky News
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I wonder if a group of such bloggers as yourself got together and created their own collective rag whether it might not do as well as the Spectator in fact. You could start it off as just a website, it wouldn’t cost anything. I engage in a lot of debate on news sites and I have to tell you even on such as the Guardian and Independent it is noticeable that sometimes almost the majority of commenters disagree quite sharply with an awful lot of the opinions expressed. There is a kind of group-think set of attitudes in the established media, and even the Spectator is frequently quite at odds with a lot of its readers, although I think it remains one of the most varied mainstream opinion publications. They do publish quite a bit of pointless dross, it wouldn’t be so difficult to outshine them IMHO. Would just need a catchy name, and it might catch on…
I suppose I probably wouldn’t be invited to join such a collective given my unspeakable views on the subject of Islam, but it would be good to see such a rag emerge regardless :-).
I think this is a potentially good idea. There are in fact a couple of such sights (like Ted Yarborough’s The Daily Globe) to which I contribute and which operate along these lines.But the sheer effort to drive legitimate traffic to a new site and to operate an effective social media presence makes it almost impossible for people already working a day job. I would love to see such a site as you describe really take off and prosper – and certainly would like to see you contribute. While we disagree sometimes with regards to Islam, in many cases I must defer to your greater knowledge.
I am coming to the conclusion that the way forward is as suggested by Mike Cernovich (an enigmatic figure with whose politics I often disagree) in a recent Periscope videocast. Cernovich believes that to break through the establishment’s stranglehold, content is key. Commentary is not enough – those who succeed will go out and get first hand interviews, recorded footage and leaked information, and then combine that with their signature commentary. Certainly whenever I have done this my articles have often received more hits. I’m coming to conclude that “breaking through” merely by offering political analysis and commentary is impossible – one also needs original and exclusive content to begin building an effective personal brand.
That’s something I will be looking to expand into as and when circumstances permit and opportunities arise.
I heard Mike Cernovich interviewed on FreeDomainRadio about a DNC conference. I listen to FDR avidly though disagreeing with many of his ideas. FDR has gone from nothing to hundreds of millions of downloads, much to learn from that site’s progress. FDR proves there is a market out there for thinkers that is far bigger than we might have imagined not so long ago. I really sense that something very significant is happening with sites like FDR emerging (Bill Whittle is another one). It really seems to me that human thought is kind of accelerating. Its taken a while for the ball to start rolling but the internet has begun to revolutionize thought, and I believe we’re just seeing the beginning of this process.
The online publication of the Koran in all languages is a part of this as well. I suspect a huge number of Muslims (and of course non-Muslims) were actually really surprisingly ignorant about the religion until quite recently. There is a “reformation” going on in that religion in fact, but not in the fashion that the mainstream media usually sees it. Its little wonder that Erdogan says “I am increasingly against the internet every day.”. Turbulence may lie ahead in the short term but we may yet see some incredibly positive change in our lifetimes, and we can play our own small part in that change.
I also think the future kind of depends on this “revolution” as well, because there are currently a lot of very potentially negative forces at play. Safe space culture and the general attack on free speech are just symptoms of these forces’ effects, in my opinion. We don’t need martyrs, we need numbers, but we also need the courage to engage in fierce unfettered debate.
Regarding original content that is a great point, and yes I’m sure this is another part of the key to breaking through. I had in my mind already ideas for interviewing people in a David Frost style. Combining blogs could multiply interest more than the sum of the parts as well I think – I think a collective would just impress people more. Where we could have a niche is in providing opinion on a better way forward (that was always my objective in blogging), instead of the sort of Liddle-style doom and gloom moaning that you get a fair bit of at the Spectator. Don’t worry about the day job aspect, I have thought that through, I will put some more thoughts on this together and send you a mail to mull over, take your time..
>”The point, I suppose, is this. For some time now, a group of independent, citizen bloggers have churned out consistently better analysis and commentary on the EU referendum and Brexit on any given day than the mainstream media has given the British people in an entire year. ”
I gnash my teeth when I read that Dr. North has uncovered another useful bit of evidence or information from a political paper from primary source material that was previously not spotted, including by me, despite having read around the subjects…
Yet I’m merely blogging out of interest, not for professional reasons… should I have already spotted these bits/bites of information?
Fortunately the small recompense for such sincere failure is to actually know the value of the likes of the FT, Economist, Guardian, LSE, IEA, Conservative Home and Spectator to name a few……….. and to appreciate other sources of information without big names according to their insights.
I think that you, and other loyal readers of eureferendum.com / The Leave Alliance, have actually done a lot to challenge, enrich and refine Flexcit through your comments, questions and independent research – again something which is almost entirely lacking at the prestige political journals and major newspapers.
But yes, you are quite right – in a way it is good to know exactly how superficial and incestuous the Westminster media can be, it encourages a healthy and essential scepticism for everything they report.
Reblogged this on michaelsnaith.