Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Women journalists need to realise we don't all spend our lives like celebrities

It's obvious what story is on the mind of journalists this week. Like everyone else, I shuddered as I asked myself what would lead a seemingly intelligent and sane man to consider deleting messages on a missing girl's phone as all in a day's work. How did it go?

Listen to calls from anguished relatives begging Milly to come home, take notes, delete messages, watch TV with a couple of beers, enjoy hard-earned night's kip.

Five days on from the first revelations about the ink-black heart at the pit of British journalism there isn't much I can add to the expressions of horror and dismay colleagues have already voiced. But the News of the World expose does have some relevance to a subject I've wanted to address for a while - the increasing disconnection of the popular women's press from its readers.

This might not have the moral seriousness of the NOTW case but neither is it entirely trivial. What links the two is an attitude of careless arrogance and an unquestioning assumption of one's superior strength and credibility which is now prevalent within the national print media.

I've worked as a journalist in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so I'm well aware that editors in the capital generally regard opinions and ideas which emanate from beyond Zone 2 on the London tube map as parochial, dull and insignificant. It was ever thus but recently the distance between readers and writers has become so vast that most women's mags and female-focused pages are incapable of communicating meaningfully with normal women.

Regular contact with a tiny self-celebrating society circle through a series of lavish VIP-dotted charity bashes and canape-riddled fashion launches has left women's journalists floating in a bubble of privileged indifference. Rather than reflecting, or even at their previous best - genuinely helping us with real issues in our lives, these publications have reduced their average readers to baffled voyeurs, gazing enviously at a world they - not rich, not famous, not size 0, not a Londoner - are excluded from.

So we get pages and pages addressing moral dilemmas none of us face. A 9 to 5 au pair or live-in nanny? Melissa Odabash string bikini or Liz Hurley all-in-one? City banker or bohemian trustafarian? We see endless photographs of Poppy Delevigne quaffing champers with Saffron Aldridge and Florence Brudenell-Bruce (don't worry - no one knows). And in a new, alarming trend, we are subjected to an infantilism in both language and aspiration, with grown women writing like teenagers - knee high socks are like, totes cool, obv!!!

How tiresome is the obsession with competitive fashion, thinness and money, and how depressing the growing disregard for politics, education and the arts. These values might also explain why so many opinion pieces begin from a position of immense selfishness - why I have to be a bitch to be a boss, why I demand me-time from my baby twice a day, why I won't offer my seat to a pregnant woman. Mindsets which flourish in our unforgiving capital but strike the rest of us as plainly ludicrous.

How I'd love to see these journalists shaken from their London glamour-induced slumber. Perhaps then they might offer us more beneficial female role models than the empty, out of touch, self-fixated fillies currently on offer. Yes, we can laugh at their stupid vacuity, but we should remember that the distorted views journalists adopt after too much time inside the bubble can be more dangerous than we once imagined.

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