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Telling journalists to “follow your bliss” by writing for free is as anti-socialist as you can get

Changing the media requires helping more people get into it, and that requires fair wages.

The British left is divided on many issues, but one issue that has long united it is the idea that people who do work should be fairly compensated for it: this is surely one of the fundamental principles of left-wing politics.

Except, apparently, for writers or journalists – or so says Media Lens, an organisation whose mission is “describing how mainstream newspapers and broadcasters operate as a propaganda system for the elite interests”, which bizarrely came out against journalists working for fair pay in an online row this week.

The site’s Twitter account told would-be writers “don't write for the ‘mainstream’. Don't write for money. Don't write for prestige. Just ‘follow your bliss’ by writing what you absolutely love to write to inspire and enlighten other people. Write what seems interesting, important and true, and give it away for free”. 

The mantra is about as wrong as it is possible for any statement to be. For one, it should be possible to write what seems “interesting, important and true” and get paid for it, especially if thousands or millions of readers find value in that – and that’s what many professional reporters and opinion writers try to do.

Writing for free is a luxury: it’s something only available to people who either don’t need to work, or who already have a comfortable income from another job which allows them to view writing as a hobby. At present, though, journalism provides a living for more than 73,000 people in the UK – and few would suggest other professions should become little more than hobbies, making thousands unemployed.

This is before we start to think about how complex journalism is done: it is easy to look at lots of shoddy, lazy, or opinionated journalism and dismiss “mainstream” or “corporate” media, and only an idiot would deny the press has its flaws.

But virtually all of the best journalism comes out of “corporate” or “mainstream” media: whether it was MPs’ expenses; exposure of offshore leaks; the revelations of the Iraq War Logs; revelation of grooming gangs; Libor rigging; or dozens of other major pieces of accountability stories – all of these came to the public through mainstream media.

Such stories take time and a lot of money, and also a lot of professional expertise: any fool can join a few dots and suggest there “may be something going on here”. Trying to prove it, make the story compelling, and do so without breaching libel laws, takes professionals. “Bliss” only gets you so far: eventually you need cash, too.

Uncomfortably for sites such as Media Lens, there are reasons for idealistic journalists to hold their noses and try out at least parts of the mainstream: if you want your writing to have impact, you need to find an audience. While the mainstream is by no means now the only show in town, newspaper websites have the biggest reach and audience they’ve ever had, and the BBC has a bigger audience still. If you want to reach people and reveal truths, or change minds, it helps to be where they are – even if writing for a few hundred people who already agree with you is more comforting.

Many people who dismiss “corporate” media do so without having ever worked in it: such theories often imagine proprietors dropping in and editing their reporters’ copy, or advertisers angrily demanding changes to stories.

Such things happen – and then get reported in rival outlets, often causing outrage – but are unusual. And many outlets described as corporate have no owners to interfere: you may love or loathe what is in the Guardian, for example, but the choices are made solely by its editors. They have no proprietor to step in and interfere.

Journalism salaries are lower than they should be, and it’s an industry that is difficult to get a start in without connections, and often without some family money to make it possible to work for free. That isn’t how it should be: the media is strongest when it reflects the full spectrum of the society it tries to cover.

To change the media requires helping more people get into it, and that requires fair wages – not treatises that writing for money, or trying to write somewhere with professional standards and mass audiences is “selling out”. The media will only change as the people within it do.

Ironically, the Media Lens outburst came in response to a chance to help make that change – an advert for the Anthony Howard fellowship, which offers under-27s who want to write politics a chance to do so for a year, at the Observer, the Times, and the New Statesman, paid.

It’s things like this – not outbursts from Media Lens – which have the real power to change the media for the better. Why not apply?

James Ball was paid to write this article. Sorry.

James Ball is an award-winning freelance journalist who has previously worked at the Guardian and Buzzfeed. He tweets @jamesrbuk

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.