When tragedy strikes on campus: some thoughts on student journalism

When bad news breaks on university campuses, student journalists and their tutors face particular pressures when reporting.

For students, it balancing being an observer with also being part of the community you’re reporting on. For tutors, it’s about protecting students’ right to report at all, whilst also educating them to work ethically.

Last week at my university, news spread swiftly via social media that a student lay seriously injured after apparently falling from a hall of residence building in full view of dozens of passers-by. Images were circulated from phone to phone of paramedics administering CPR, presumably thinking this wasn’t a fatal incident. But, sadly, he didn’t and was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after.

The reaction from our student journalists was interesting, with some condemning any coverage of the incident whatsoever. Some argued that real-time coverage of such a tragedy is prurient, while others suggested that campuses are such tight-knit communities that the ethics of mainstream media are deficient.

For two days, late into evenings, I was mediating between various university personnel, students and fellow journalism staff who all had particular views and approaches – all valid but in many cases conflicting.

The first question asked by many was whether student journalists should be reporting such an incident at all. This was the view of many in the university community – and indeed some journalism students – who believed it to be a very private matter. But the fact that many witnessed the event, were sharing via social media and were also looking for sources of support, students and staff needed clear factual information. The university posted a paragraph online later in the day confirming there’d been an incident, but by this time social media and indeed the local press were reporting on it. So the case for sensitive, responsible factual reporting was made.

But in providing ongoing web updates, it was vital not to speculate on the cause of the death. Students needed urgent guidance on vocabulary so as not to pre-empt any coroner’s decision. The fact that some local media were using particular technical terminology did not mean our students should follow suit or see real-world media as setting the standard. Real-world media get it wrong and aren’t always the exemplar students should aspire to.

Students also had to be very mindful of identifying the deceased before his next-of-kin was informed. One image in wide online circulation depicted an open window above the spot where he lay. There was no evidence at that stage to suggest he had fallen from that window, but more important was the fact that it narrowed down the ID to one of six occupants of that flat before family had been informed. A significant number of families find out about their loved ones’ deaths from the media, and I didn’t want that to happen because of our student journalists.

Then there’s the issue of being a student and a reporter. The lines can be blurred when caught up in the moment and it was evident that our students found the situation complex, fast moving and harrowing. As part of the university community, there were subjected to abuse for deigning to report on the incident as if it amounted to betrayal. Then again, members of the community – like the home-grown beat reporters on local papers – are ideally best-placed to reflect the feelings of their own locale and report with due sensitivity.

A student reporter covering an event on campus has to ensure they are mindful of how they are perceived. You cannot slip in and out of reporter-mode. If you are reporter then that’s how you will be perceived by all – you cannot take a 10-min break and be a campus citizen then become a reporter again. Everyone will assume you are taking notes for your story even when having an innocent chat with a bystander.

One of the big questions our students faced was whether you have to act with greater sensitivity when reporting on your campus community than you might covering a story off campus. This was made particularly evident when the aforementioned image went viral. It wasn’t generated by journalism students but was re-tweeted. There was no consensus amongst staff and students as to the journalistic ethics involved in distributing the image. Some felt it was a factual depiction, taken from far away, which did not identify the student and was within the realms of taste and decency. If the event was off-campus or in a war zone, we would not hold back from depicting the aftermath, they said, so what’s the difference? Others felt it was an invasion of the man’s privacy and had the capacity to harm those who knew him by forever being online.

For my own experience covering some particularly shocking and harrowing stories such as the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy, the local press do strike a different tone to the nationals. The question I always ask is: does the image add anything? Is it in the public interest to see it? You always have to consider the specificities of your audience, not apply a one-size-fits-all approach. What might work in the Mirror won’t necessarily work in a local. This was borne out by the fact that a national and regional newspaper covered the event on campus in gratuitous detail, yet to date that coverage has not been openly criticised like that careful reporting by students has. People have different expectations of student journalism, perhaps.

Post-Leveson, it’s clear just how anti-journalist even informed academic communities have become. One of the many calls I received from across the campus was a senior manager imploring me to stop student journalists harassing residents of the hall in question. When CCTV images of the miscreants were scanned and sent to me, it was apparent they weren’t our students but staff from those very national and regional newspapers who had used misrepresentation to get in and gain access to the deceased’s flatmates. But the gut reaction of university staff was that this was how student journalists would also behave. Maybe some would, but minimising harm is always the mantra in our teaching. It shows that student journalists are viewed in the same light as national tabloids and perhaps have to work doubly hard to build bridges.

So how should student journalists cover tragedies close to home? In community reporting you need to reflect the campus mood, the support available and create a greater awareness of the pressures of student life. You should report the facts in a non-sensationalist way to put paid to rumour and speculation, but also ensure that people are aware of support and resources on campus in the immediate aftermath. You need to allow people a shared space to express the emotional impact of the event. Where there may have been a suicide – and we don’t know that in this case – it is responsible journalism to speak with charities and support groups for guidance both on reporting styles, facts and advice for the community. Providing helpline numbers is essential. And ask the question ‘what happens now?’. How is the university supporting its students, staff, the deceased family? How is it preventing further tragedy, if indeed it can? What can the wider staff/student community do?

The idea that journalists are just reactive fact-disseminators in community reporting is rather misguided, I feel, and ignores the potential role reporters have to bring different parts of a community into useful dialogue.  Journalists are under pressure to rebuild trust and local journalism’s been particularly affected by the mistrust wrought in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. While student journalists should not hold back from reporting the truth, however unpalatable or distressing that might be to some, you have do so mindful of your context. Keep reminding yourself why you are reporting this – what is your purpose? – and you’ll hit the right note. In this particular case, students have a unique insight into the specificities of the campus community and I am really looking forward to learning what positives may emerge or what public interest might be served out of this unfortunate tragedy.

For more resources see:

http://www.dart centre.org



One step beyond

Circadian rhythms, seasonal affective disorder – call it what you will. But after more than 20 years teaching in higher education, September always feels like the real new year for me. And this New Year is starting like no other. On Saturday (September 14) I run my first ultra-marathon.

London Marathon 2013 and my brush with Clodhopper Kate – the name I have semi-affectionately given to my mis-directional foe (see previous post) – was merely the warm-up to achieving my long-held ambition. So the start of the new academic year’s going to herald fresh in-built confidence in me that I can overcome any obstacles and turn any glitch into an opportunity.

And this seems a good message to instil in new and returning journalism students in two weeks’ time. To find success, you have to work on two levels – your inner and outer worlds.

I have learnt a lot from the sports people I encounter as a runner and Crossfitter and amongst colleagues and especially students at Brunel University.  One of my graduating MA Journalism students is a middle-distance runner in his spare time, and has also cycled hundreds of miles back and forth in his quest for a career in sports reporting. His focus is incredible. He didn’t have a humanities degree so the shift to major skills and knowledge development was an immense shift. But he stayed resolutely calm and determined with his eye on his goal, spending hours honing his shorthand, news and feature writing and video skills while gaining expert knowledge in law, theory, ethics and public affairs. Sure enough, by May he had sports bylines across a raft of local and regional newspapers. He also excelled at sport alongside.

As well as unswerving focus – I’d say at least 50% of your success is dependent on a positive mental attitude – it also takes energy. If you really want to make it in journalism then you have to put the hours in and go beyond the basic day to day requirements of the degree or MA. Networking, blogging, finding your own stories and pitching. It’s all about going beyond

I take a lot of inspiration from interviews with runners – including the world’s fastest sprinter Usain Bolt who trains and inspires at Brunel frequently. What makes a true champion is keeping going when every fibre of your body and brain is telling you to stop. When it gets hard – KEEP GOING – as it is in those moments, however short or slow, that major gains are made.

if you’ve ever run 26.2 miles, you’ll know that from 19, 20 onwards you go into battle with your body and brain to get to the end. Sensibly, your brain is telling you your body is under too much stress and needs to stop. So you learn techniques for over-riding that, in my case thinking about how I will celebrate at the end, and the sense of achievement I will feel at running a whopping  32 miles and raising loads for the NSPCC.

If you are a journalism student struggling with the rigours of daily Teeline practice, learning law by rote, mastering nifty 20-word news breaks, then just imagine your future self doing your dream job. How to you feel? Do you want to cast that dream aside for the sake of a few more minutes in bed?

I am going to start the new academic year by helping students work on that inner resolve, their self-confidence and their daily training plans for success. Because writing this just four days before I run that ultra marathon I have no doubt whatsoever in my ability to reach my target because I have trained my brain and body meticulously. And now I want my students to feel the same way about their goals.


I am NOT a London Marathon finisher

The first omen was the crow on the window ledge peering in at me two weeks ago, its beady eye an inky portent of the piercing pain I would feel when some woman somehow managed to stomp her clodhopper right on my Vibrammed foot at mile 21. And if that physical pain – which resulted in me retiring from the Virgin London Marathon at 35.5 kms – yes just under 7kms left – having smashed that distance in just 3 hrs 20 on nothing but a millimetre of rubber, ground up chia seeds and sea salted water – the mental poke in the craw was to follow at Covent Garden.
You remember the feeling you had on Jubilee Day or Kate and Wills’ wedding when you thought just you and Morrissey were the only republicans left? Well I felt it again when I saw reality star Amy Childs, caked in make-up, strolling through with her posse, not a hair out of place or an eyelash extension uncaked. She’d made it to the end whereas I had ‘retired’.
I am not marathon noob. My first was Paris two years ago, which was a cinch. The route takes you through the most beautiful parts of the city lined with passionate supporters but with woods at either end to provide calm and quiet from the fray. I still reminisce fondly about all the runners stepping backwards off Eurostar the next day, their thighs pulped from their battering along cobbled boulevards.
I am especially proud of my performance at Brighton last year. It entails running to Shoreham power station, around it then back to a pier that seems to move further and further away the closer you get to it. People who run that race are never the same again. That’s why I call it Shore’Nam.
So with marathons aplenty across the UK and Europe almost every weekend, I’d always been a bit dismissive of the clamour to run London. It’s very hard to get in for a start. And a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in 2010 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/tracing-the-marathons-millions-producer-feature questioned whether charities benefit as much as thought by the runners, many first timers dealing with personal tragedies. On the other hand, fellow running club members told me it was the ‘best, magical, special’ so I duly entered the ballot expecting to get a rejection just so I could lay that one to rest. But by sheer fluke I got a place. That was weird. I am never that lucky. That was the second omen, or should have been if I hadn’t been swept along by the glee, which escalated to a sense of duty after the horrible loss of life and injury in Boston.
I saw it as such a once in a lifetime opportunity that I felt compelled to make it as memorable as possible. So I trained hard in my barefoot shoes which I’d spent the best part of the previous year transitioning into. I researched and refined my marathon nutrition. I obliterated stomach problems and improved my endurance with a home-made concoction road tested many times over. I lifted heavy weights to increase muscle mass and speed trained like a demon. My final long run was three weeks before – a comfortable 37kms to wrap up a 60-70km barefoot running week with no aches and pains the next day. So I convinced myself that powering through London was a formality, just ‘doing the admin’.
But there is a world of difference between London and most other marathons and that was something I hadn’t researched or prepared for. Firstly, although it’s in the city I live, getting to the start takes ages and you are crammed into buses and trains with other runner and supporters from 6.30am. I was caged next to an especially dreary club runner who bored the carriage senseless with his monotonous ‘advice’ to all in earshot. So much so I stuck a finger in my ear. In Paris I just walked up the road to the Arc de Triomphe arriving a nice 15 mins before it kicked off. Brighton was also easy – despite the early start you can nap on the train and eat your breakfast. Today, I ate my porridge on a packed Victoria Line train to Green Park to stick to my usual timing.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how crowded the route is with slowish, inexperienced runners; the weaving, the emergency stops for exhausted walkers, it all takes it out of you mentally. I ran the first half as a series of intervals rather than at a constant pace, grabbing bare bits of grass verge or pavement to overtake. I was foolish aiming for a PB – it’s great for one-off charity experiences but I didn’t find it a satisfying running race as it was so much hard work politely creating spaces to overtake. All this drains your mental energy and makes you more prone to ‘the wall’ if you aren’t robust.
People had told me that the support is incredible and there’s no doubting it is. Barely a foot of that route isn’t lined three deep with families, colleagues, running comrades and tourists proffering encouragement, jelly sweets and even the odd slurp of cider. But it is unrelentingly noisy which is hard to prep for and there’s no respite from it like there was in Paris, a space to collect your thoughts, exorcise any niggling doubts and blast to the end with renewed vigour. Hell, even Shore’Nam’s a bit meditative. Vibram running is a bit hippy – you connect with the ground and your surroundings which sensually drive you forward. I go into a trancelike state. The London route snakes back and forth round the Isle of Dogs which isn’t as evocative or as visual as a London circuit might be. But I can’t fault the organisation and I am sure the planners have good reason for all this.
So all the more frustrating that I fell not far from the more visceral finale stretch from Tower Hill to the Embankment then Westminster and the Mall. I was looking forward to upping my pace and powering the final 6.7kms, the glorious riverside vista just reward after the miles trudged round corporate London. I was about to enact the grand finale I have rehearsed on many a chilly Sunday mornings. I turned a slight bend and felt another’s foot bear down on mine, which had little more than thin fabric on top. As I fell I twisted to my left to see a slightly older pink clad, fair haired female runner, sporting sunglasses Deidre Barlow would wear to soften a hangover on a sunny day in Weatherfield. “Sorry” she muttered without emotion, probably in pain herself, and plodded on seemingly nonchalantly. I think she’d spotted the water station ahead and made a pre-emptive move. By that stage your legs are less deft and can pull you hither and thither. I got up sharpish so as not to trip anyone else and managed to plod on adrenalin for 500 meters but the pain grew.
I glanced down at my foot which was a bad move, and you should avoid the next couple of lines if you are eating…. my first reaction was that I must have stepped on a watermelon. But that was my actual flesh, not just blood, oozing out of the mesh of my left Vibram.
St John Ambulance at 22 miles isn’t a happy place despite the cheerfulness of the skilled volunteers. I felt very guilty asking for their help when they were stabilising a chap who was unconscious. I cleaned my shoe with a babywipe and thought through the options, watched over by a small crowd (maybe Holby City fans?) who seemed bizarrely to have assembled simply to watch the first aiders, not the race. I realised that if I took off my Vibram I would never get it back on again, and certainly could not fit a dressing inside. I thought about going completely barefoot for the last few miles but why injure myself further now there were bottle caps and other detritus to manoeuvre? So I made the tough decision to retire, and literally hopped back to Shadwell, not daring to see the full damage till I had collected my bag from The Mall.
There I was ushered firmly with a hand on my shoulder to the Desk of Shame. ‘This lady chose to retire’ announced the man as they took my timing chip and number. And that was it. No check I was OK, just silence. I didn’t take a medal but I sure as hell nabbed a Finisher’s T shirt – as a daily reminder that I am NOT a finisher.
Quite the opposite. Reviewing my timings on my pedometer I could see that with a brisk nan jog (as I like to call my 6mins per km auto- trot) I’d have easily achieved a sub-4 hr. But at the pace I was doing, I’d probably have snooked in a good-for-age 3.50 or close to. Embankment’s downhill, scenic and atmospheric and I can usually muster a sprint at the end. So I did a killer time over the miles I ran, and I will complete the job with another 26.2 miles ASAP as soon as my wound heals. I am not sure whether it will be an organised marathon somewhere or a re-run taking in as much of the London route as I can with cars streaming past. Or I might just do the 50k ultra I have been hankering after. Apart from the gashed toe joint and a sore hip where I landed, my body feels totally unscathed by the distance and I have much to be grateful for, not least the holistic expertise of my Synergy running trainer Sarra Dally who got me into minimalist running in the first place, and CrossFit North London coach Ged Andrews whose gruelling weightlifting sessions have built strong muscles and mental endurance. I have improved so much in the past year that I was about to shave nearly 40 mins off my personal best.
Either way, the London Marathon, despite the challenges and the abrupt ending, was a success. It has confirmed for me that I love distance running in Vibrams (though admittedly wearing them in a race as packed as London is risky). My lack of concern at bailing out has taught me how resilient I am. Many would have been in emotional shreds whereas I can only see the positives. Next weekend, I begin my first round of training towards becoming an accredited psychotherapist and I am aiming to specialise in sports motivational coaching. I firmly believe, through first hand experience as well as talking with others, that distance running is a powerful form of emotional healing. But to realise the full benefits you have to be willing to go though the highs and lows to build resilience and self-confidence. It is hard self-work but healthily addictive because it is so transformative, and the results are almost immediate. Whatever fears my future clients present, I’ll have been there and come back fitter and stronger both physically and mentally.


‘Glam Slam’: musician Prince’s 30 year reign as a pop fashion icon

He makes regency ruffles rock and gets down-and-dirty in diamante, but there’s a whole lot more to Prince’s style than glitz and glamour.

Since he strutted on stage more than 30 years ago in his G-string and flasher mac, Prince has made his mark as master of his visual appeal as much as his incredible sound. While there have been acres of newsprint devoted to Madonna’s conical bras and gender-play, very little attention has ever been paid to Prince’s unforgettable and enduring image.

But all that is set to change this weekend (Dec 14/15) when London’s Institute of the Contemporary Arts pays homage to the icon by tagging PrinceFest. I will be taking to the stage on the Saturday afternoon to analyse some of Prince’s most powerful fashion and style statements, showing how subversive as well as seductive he can be.

Right from the outset in the late 1970s, Prince sought to defy the generic pigeonholing of other Black musical artists – and he did it through style.

Rather than follow in the visual trajectory of successful Black male soul stars such as Teddy Pendergrass, Prince’s early album covers were closer to those of Gloria Gaynor. In fact his cover shot for the 1979 studio Prince looks uncannily like that on an earlier Donna Summer release.  Prince once explained that while he loved the look of the Jackson 5, “they all wore flat shoes and it didn’t work”.

So from the early 80s onwards, Prince fashioned himself as a baroque dandy, resplendent in those aforementioned ruffles, thighs festooned in lace, powdered and mascara’d. The tabloid press recoiled at the idea of a diminutive, Black hyper-feminised young male attracting the attentions of thousands of white women and created a mythology of Prince as a rather animalistic, lascivious creature. As with so many Black artists, the media focused on his physicality and sexuality and comparisons with Michael Jackson

What they didn’t grasp was how Prince was using style as a political statement at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period. Not only was he commenting on the banality of white, heterosexual western masculinity, but also drawing on a rich heritage of earlier style-as-protest movements.

He emulated the dandies and their class-based assault on the privilege of aristocracy. He channeled the zoot suiters, young Mexican and African American men from the 1940s whose giant jackets and voluminous trousers symbolized freedom and self-determination to them but rebelliousness to their white counterparts.

Prince’s aligned himself with femininity to the extent of creating himself as the ultimate diva in his motion picture Under The Cherry Moon. Draped in ornate brocades, hair sculpted into a vertiginous, curled bouffant, Prince’s to-be-looked-at-ness totally upstages the decorous presence of Kristin Scott-Thomas and Francesca Annis.

While today, the avowedly spiritual icon has abandoned his midriff- or even backside-baring outfits to the back of the wardrobe, his penchant for sumptuous fabrics, colours and textures is very much in evidence. He was a muse for the late Gianni Versace and is as regular and conspicuous a presence next to the Fashion Week runways as Anna Wintour.

To book a ticket: https://uk.patronbase.com/_ICA/Seats/NumSeats?prod_id=PF4&perf_id=1&section_id=M&seat_type_id=S


Princefest at ICA

Prince: Style and Subversion

15 December 2012

£8 / £6 concessions / £5 ICA members

Weird, repulsive, sexy or glamorous, the image of Prince is as sensual and unforgettable as his sound. Author, journalist and academic Sarah Niblock examines how Prince is a master of the power of imagery in marketing, self-styling himself as someone ethically ambiguous, androgynous and aspirational.

Whether he is stealing the limelight from the models in tomato satin and sunglasses at Paris Fashion Week or reclining seductively in brocade and doe-eyed mascara in one of his films, Prince commands our attention. How could this 5ft 2ins multi-ethnic feminised male make such a profound and memorable visual impact? A visual journey through some of his most iconic fashion moments shows how Prince utilises a dazzling array of visual signifiers from head to toe. Whether he’s sporting that iconic lavender raincoat in Purple Rain to adjusting the cufflinks of his immaculate jazz suits, Prince’s exuberant campness, full of visual puns, comments on the banality of white, mainstream, Western masculinity.

His theatrical ethnic masculinity offers a powerful visual and symbolic assault on the mainstream. His dandified zoot suits harness the raw energy and anger of hard-time street fashion coupled with decadence and indifference to aristocratic mores. Mapped against the vigorous representations of white American rock, Prince’s preoccupation with gender bending, the feminine and the effete is startling. Over three decades his look, with all the indisputable signifiers of femininity, class and ethnicity, has helped reconfigure our views around sexuality, race, gender and normalized behaviour.

Sarah Niblock is Professor of Journalism at Brunel University, London. She is the author ofPrince: The Making of a Pop Music Phenomenon (Ashgate 2012, co-written with Stan Hawkins) and several other books, chapters and journal articles on journalism and visual culture. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing news and features for the national and regional print media including Company and Cosmopolitan magazines. Her latest book, Media Professionalism and Training, is due to be published by Palgrave Macmillan shortly.



Media and the Riots

I had the honour of being invited by Marc Wadsworth to speak at the Media and the Riots Conference held by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.com in November.

Media and the Riots: A Call for Action, published on the first anniversary of the Tottenham, north London, riot is the first report to examine the impact of the mainstream print and broadcast media’s reporting on the communities most affected.

The report, written by University of Leicester sociologist Dr Leah Bassel, reflects the views of those people who attended the conference – I was there as a former local journalist and as staunch defender of local journalism while at the same time being an academic and educator.

You can get the report here http://www.the-latest.com/riots-and-media-report

Along with Roy Greenslade (who wrote the foreword) and Marc Wadsworth, (the organiser) I have been singled out for particular criticism on the website Holdthefrontpage.co.uk, and have been on the receiving end of pretty personal attacks from journalists who for the most part conceal their identity. Their main ‘beef’ is with me being a professor, but what I am most concerned about is how some have responded with anger at the very suggestion that there should be more black and other minority ethnic journalists employed in the media. Holdthefrontpage.co.uk closed the comments section before I had the opportunity to respond, and has breached its own house rules by failing to moderate or remove certain personal remarks. I have asked them for my right-to-reply,  and we’ll see if I get it.

I can see why some correspondents are feeling so defensive – I’ve been pitched as the typical ‘lofty white middle class professor’ who hasn’t got a clue about real-world journalism having a bit of an ill-informed pop. Indeed one commentator – Steve Dyson – takes the rip out of my name. Well if they read this positive report (in which I actually play a minor role) and heard what I had to say on the day, they’d know I speak as former local, regional and national journalist and as an NCTJ trainer  who actively defends and promotes local journalism, not least against the cutbacks wrought by the companies that own their last-remaining titles. My origins were far from middle-class too.

While my family slept, I went out into Wood Green all night on the first night of the riots, and saw the rioting and looting with my own eyes. I spoke to loads of people in Tottenham over the next few days and I heard amazing stories from people keen to tell their tale but with no outlet and a sense that the local media had no part to play in their lives. I monitored what colleagues, friends and former students were doing up and down the country with awe and respect.  No-one’s denying the widespread criminality.  Nor was anyone in that conference knocking the professionalism of the individual journalists. Quite the opposite in fact. They took massive risks. What is at the heart of the issue is the lack of time and resources local journalists have at their disposal to do their best for their communities 365 days a year, not only when big stories break.

Surely it’s good to reflect on these things and debate them at a time when readership figures and trust in journalists are at a low point, It was great that the conference brought together readers, journalists and people from the communities worst-affected. All agreed the local media have a powerful and positive role to play in their areas and should be supported in doing so.


“A simple girl, Rebekah…”

Satirical magazine Private Eye has depicted the former News International chief executive as a Salem Witch on the cover of its current issue (May 31, 2012) following charges made against her of perverting the course of justice during investigations into phone hacking.

Whatever Private Eye’s intentions, Rebekah’s Brooks’ representation as a female folk devil is vehemently justified by some journalists and academics on the grounds that her papers have doled out full-scale vilification to individuals without proof.

The Daily Mail has been particularly keen to wheel out the type of ‘career girl’ cliches than went out of fashion in the 1980s (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2142997/Leveson-Inquiry-Rebekah-Brooks-complains-sexist-questioning.html). BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas provides a round-up here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18043885

As a teacher of ethics, I share the concerns of many that some national news brands have cumulatively created a climate of prejudice and misapprehension towards certain groups and figures. And few could be averse to be jumping on any signs of double standards. But the disparaging of Brooks by virtue of her gender is a direct attack on her as a powerful female figure.

Compare her treatment to that of the other goliaths in the hacking story and you get the distinction. Rupert Murdoch is characterised as a ageing, table-thumping incompetent, while his son James is someone who only got his job through nepotism. They, Hunt and Coulson – I’ve never read an intricate description of their clothing, hairstyle not seen a metaphor or adjective alluding to their masculinity.

Whatever Brooks is alleged to have done as a newspaper executive, her alleged misdeeds have been compounded by the combination of her gender and ambition. Media coverage has devoted far more attention to painting Brooks as a folk devil than it has to the male players. While the somberly be-suited men accord with society’s expectations, a female leader can expect to be castigated for the sins of not conforming to her allotted role.

Brooks’ symbolic annihilation came in the wake of another media moral panic about crimes against femininity. ‘Britain’s worst mother” Karen Matthews was photographed and her new appearance scrutinised following her release from prison for staging the kidnap of her daughter.

The ‘phone hacking scandal is only a part of the motivation for presenting Brooks this way. Men have failed all along the way. But woman are expected to behave perfectly at all times. So whether you are 50-something, weight-lifting pop star, a bad mother (note mother not parent)  or a powerful industry figure, you can expect far tougher media treatment than your male counterparts.