Deborah Frances-White: Introducing Media Storm from The House of The Guilty Feminist. Hello, hello. Hello. Please welcome your permanent hosts Mathilda Mallinson and Helena Wadia.
Mathilda Mallinson: Thank you, Deborah.
Helena Wadia: Hello.
Deborah Frances-White: Now I am delighted to say that you’re joining The House of The Guilty Feminist…
Mathilda Mallinson: What an honor!
Deborah Frances-White: What is MediaStorm?
Mathilda Mallinson: We’re journalists, and this is an investigative journalism podcast. But we are taking a different approach to old stories that crop up time and again in our news, and that is by looking at them through the lens of the people who live those stories, who are the people whose voices you almost never hear…
Helena Wadia: But who are spoken about over and over and over again.
Mathilda Mallinson: If journalists do speak to people with lived experience, their accounts are often thrown in as case studies. And I remember having this mansplained to me once by a white male reporter at one of the whitest papers in the country. He said, “Mathilda, case studies aren’t hard news.” And I think that’s the problem – he saw these people as case studies. The people we speak to have more to offer than their experience. They have the expertise that comes with experience, they have informed opinions, often more informed and less agenda-driven than the politicians and corporate reps that do get all the airtime. That is the capacity in which we will be speaking to these people on Media Storm.
Deborah Frances-White: So how did you come up with the idea for Media Storm?
Helena Wadia: There’s something called right of reply in journalism, right? It’s the most basic principle that is taught to you pretty much as soon as you enter into any kind of journalism degree…
Mathilda Mallinson: Day one.
Helena Wadia: Day one, it’s giving people the chance to respond to comments or allegations about them. A lot of journalists seem to forget right of reply when it comes to minority groups. Now a lot of people will probably say, “Oh, but the articles I read always have both sides. And the TV that I watch always has both sides.” But this principle of getting a comment from both sides has been distorted. You can, for example, have a “both sides” on the Mayor of London expanding the ULEZ charge. So some people will go – yeah, that’s really important, because we need to clear up London’s toxic air. Other people will go – I don’t know, that puts too high a cost on people who require a car for work or family reasons. That’s something you can have a reasoned debate about. Yet some editors and journalists now use the idea of “both sides” and apply that to fundamental human rights. We’re now seeing debates on TV and in papers about whether Black people really do face discrimination. We’re now seeing debates – this has got to the point that like I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned on the TV, and there was a debate where somebody was saying “Yes, we do breathe oxygen in,” and somebody’s saying, “No, we don’t.”
Mathilda Mallinson: So when Helen and I were working together, we used to grumble whenever we were feeling frustrated by the style of coverage. I think the peak for me was the summer of 2019, when, “channel migrants” started trending again, refugees in boats coming across the channel to Britain. We must have published 30 articles in a fortnight on refugees, not a single one of which featured a single refugee. What that means is our readers are having this extreme form of immigration explained to them by people who’ve never done it. I felt like we weren’t giving our readers very good information, maybe, and we were also failing on the first tenet of journalism.
Deborah Frances-White: Why is it that this fundamental right of reply seems to have gone out of fashion. What’s happened?
Mathilda Mallinson: So look, in a digital age, journalists are immensely time-pressured. And there are logistical barriers. If a news story isn’t practically instantaneous, it’s gone. You lost it, someone else has it. And it’s got to get out on 15 different social media platforms, all with their own optimized keywords, hashtags, captions… But that doesn’t quite answer the question, because if you look at the groups that journalists do find time to question and those that they don’t, the people being missed out are consistently – predictably – marginalized groups and also groups that the media often profits of demonizing.
Helena Wadia: And on Tilda’s this point there, you know, there is such a significant lack of diversity in newsrooms. When media organizations fail to address this lack of diversity and fail to address actually also unconscious bias and inclusion, the standards of reporting from those newsrooms suffer, they really do. I’ve been in newsrooms of big organizations where I can count that people of color – myself included – on one hand. I’ve pitched stories and been told “Hmm… that’s not really relevant.” But really what those mostly male, mostly white, editors are saying is “That’s not really relevant to me.” But if there were more than non-white, female, transgender, gay, working class people at the top of these organizations, those stories are going to be relevant. They are going to be talked about, and they are going to really help people. And if you see journalism as something that helps people by delivering accurate and up to date information to the masses, then you gotta include all the masses, you know.
Deborah Frances-White: So what you’re saying is the news that we read on our phones or watch on videos, that news is curated.
Mathilda Mallinson: Exactly.
Deborah Frances-White: So in exactly the same way that if you tune into network television, the only dramas that you can watch are the ones that have been commissioned, and so if all the people commissioning dramas are only interested in dramas about posh white people, that’s all you get. And then you think, oh, that’s all the drama that’s available. As we have sought as a society to say, hey, we’d be interested in stories told from other people’s points of view, and we’ve struggled with that – I think we understand that with drama. But with the news, we think no, the news is the news. Turns out the news is not the news. The news is curated, just like say BBC drama.
Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah. And the reason you think that is because journalists tell you that they’re objective. I remember we had this debate on my journalism degree. We had a debate about whether objectivity was a real thing journalists could aspire to. And there was a divide. Half the class said, yes, of course. And half the class said objectivity is a myth. I wonder if you could tell me what you think the demographic of each half of the class was?
Deborah Frances-White: Is it possible that the people in the dominant group, who normally get a voice in the media, thought that objectivity was possible?
Mathilda Mallinson: Yes.
Deborah Frances-White: And that the people who were not often represented in the media said, no, we think that objectivity is a myth?
Mathilda Mallinson: It seemed that the dominant group you described believe that everybody except for them superimposes their minority perspective, onto the objective reality of how the world really is
Deborah Frances-White: Interesting. And I’m sure that there’s going to be lots of white male middle class listeners who also want this perspective. Nearly all of the men that I know, and certainly all the ones I’m friends with, they’re hungry for these kinds of stories as well. And they’re also hungry to know what they don’t know. We’ve all got unconscious biases. I have. You know, I’m a I’m a tall white woman who went to Oxford, I’ve definitely got my blind spots. And so the more that I can be introduced to other forms of media that say – Hey, the news isn’t the news. The news is curated. Somebody decides what, what’s the story and somebody decides what’s a non-event. Somebody decides whose voices need to be heard and somebody decides whose voices are too hard to find. Or – are you an expert? Or are you a case study? And even the fact of calling someone who’s a refugee a case study implies, well, they’re not a person with views. They’re somebody so other their life is an academic study to us.
Helena Wadia: Exactly.
Deborah Frances-White: Could you tell us some of the topics you might be covering and some of the people you might be speaking to?
Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah, we are going to be looking at irregular immigration, which is just another way of saying illegal immigration without the factually incorrect and loaded overtones. We will be speaking to – and this one comes with the content warning – rape survivors, people who are homeless people who have suffered discrimination at work due to disabilities.
Helena Wadia: We’ll also be looking into how the pandemic was reported on and how that ignited further anti-Asian abuse and hate crimes. We’ll be looking into how we talk about body image and fatphobia and drugs and the war on drugs.
Mathilda Mallinson: Also joining us in the studio will be people who’ve been in prison and even prison officers exposing a frankly archaic, criminal justice culture.
Helena Wadia: We’ll also be looking into trans rights and sex worker rights.
Deborah Frances-White: So what’s the tone of the show? What should people expect when they tune in?
Mathilda Mallinson: We kick off with an investigation. You, the listener will be with me or Helena or both of us on the road. We’ll take you to the scene of the crime, so to speak, you’ll meet people with a kaleidoscope of experiences, and we will use their insights to answer one big question that we think the media is failing to ask.
Deborah Frances-White: So that sounds like it’s got like a true crime feel to it. When you said “the scene of the crime,” and I’m following you and going with you. I’m really excited to come with you on your journeys to find out what’s happening.
Mathilda Mallinson: Well, thank you. Now given that, when we did raise this issue with an editor the response was, you know, it’s so difficult to get access to these groups, you know, it has become so normalized to not even approach some groups for comments that I genuinely don’t think journalists notice they’re not doing it. So what we wanted was for listeners to feel like they’re on that road with us to kind of see the process, to spot the questions that aren’t being asked and be equipped with some tools as to how to answer them and who to speak to.
Deborah Frances-White: Will it all be in the field?
Helena Wadia: So in the second half of the episode we’ll then be able to kind of shake off some of that heaviness of the investigation, we’re going to be back in the studio with some special guests where we’ll have a really open and honest and frank discussion about the way that the wider mainstream media reports on that topic. It’ll be a bit of a roasting of some of the headlines that have been doing the rounds in the previous weeks.
Deborah Frances-White: So the first part of it, we’re going to get in the investigative journalist van with you and become an investigative journalists alongside of you. And in the second part, it’s going to be more like a great conversation in the pub. But with somebody who really knows and has lived this topic,
Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah
Deborah Frances-White: I’m going to pop my headphones in and pretend I am an investigative journalist. I have some fantasies. I am in a trilby, though…
Helena Wadia: With a magnifying glass!
Mathilda Mallinson: No, that is accurate.
Deborah Frances-White: And a really beautiful trench coat,
Mathilda Mallinson: “I found a clue!”
Deborah Frances-White: Exactly. There’s a Scooby van in my mind, I don’t know. I want to be out there on the trail with you and I’ll be able to do that. But I’m also looking forward to spending that conversation with you, learning from someone we wouldn’t normally get to hear from. I just can’t wait. And I hope all our Guilty Feminist listeners are going to be just as excited as I am by this brand new podcast Media Storm. One last question. Why is it called Media Storm?
Helena Wadia: Well, if you want to battle through the storm with us, and come out to a clearing on the other side, then you’ll have to listen.
Mathilda Mallinson: Or more militantly, if you want to storm the media with us, with battering rams and… what else do you storm with?
Deborah Frances-White: If you want to storm the Bastille of the media with Mathilda and Hannah, tune in every week. What are you most looking forward to?
Helena Wadia: The launch party. No, I’m kidding. The thing I’m most looking forward to is letting people know that what you read in even some of the most well-respected media outlets may not always be the truth and letting people know that it’s okay to be a little bit more critical of that.
Deborah Frances-White: If the news is curated, let’s question the curators. I’m so excited that both of you are coming in to say hey, we also want to be architects of this space. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of Watergate-style news stories you break. I am right there with you. Thank you so much for producing this show with The House of The Guilty Feminist. It’s a great honor.
Mathilda Mallinson: Likewise, thank you.
Helena Wadia: The pleasure is all mine.