I’m an aspiring journalist. And I’m questioning my faith in journalism now.

by Maddie
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I think I’ve wanted to be a writer on and off since I was very young. I can pinpoint age 9, where I’ve found notebooks of me writing story after story about a ‘Crazy Maizy’ character I’d invented, who got herself into various escapades. That love for writing manifested itself into a love for journalism and the realities of non-fiction not long after; I can remember mocking up my own copies of my spin-off ‘Girl Talk‘ magazine on my first computer I inherited from my parents. I don’t know what drew me to writing at that age, I’ve just always loved it. The very absolute that compels me towards journalism now and has been the driving force in me striving for work experience at my favourite publishers over the last few years has been the very fact that journalism has an incredible power to give a space to the honesty of someone’s genuine voice, and that it allows for diversity of expression, as we can openly share our innermost experiences to bring about public understanding.

Journalism should be an extreme force of good.

It has a duty of what I believe are three main values: to bring people together from all walks of life to explore the shared human experience, to allow marginalised people a voice and to report the facts. But in light of the utterly distressing, unspeakable tragedy of Caroline Flack’s passing yesterday, I honestly believe the media and journalism have taken these values and have warped them, shattering any ounce of good that reporting, writing and investigative research could ever do for our society. Bringing diverse voices together to form a positive community has now become banding the public together to form a witch-hunt that brings out humanity’s worst qualities; allowing marginalised people a voice has become marginalising individuals through hear-say, moral panic and viscous rumours; and reporting ‘facts’ has become reporting the so-called, unproven ‘facts’ that disgraceful publications know will gather the most readership.

These are people’s lives at stake. The lives that journalism is supposed to support and represent. And instead, the media are obliterating individuals’ hope for future. Wrecking lives. Driving people to an edge where they see not living as the only way out.

It’s an absolute disgrace, and as an aspiring journalist, I feel ashamed of the profession I so desperately wanted to find a career in.

I don’t want to add to the deluge of reporting about Caroline Flack. I don’t want to be a part of the speculation, the supposedly ‘tantalising’ mystery the media has created surrounding the recent events in her life. The excitement the public has been swept up in, waiting to see what the outcome of the trial will be, whether Love Island will ever again resurface with her presenting it. I found it sickening seeing the palpable excitement of trending posts on Twitter when the domestic abuse allegations surfaced back then, and I find it violently sickening now. I do not condone criminal actions, or support the toxic nature of the reported fight between herself and her partner. But the sickening reality of how this has all played out in the media is that instead of calmly reporting the facts that an individual has been put on trial with an outcome of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ being placed upon them in a few months, the media – and the masses on social media – have been lowering themselves to what I believe should be regarded as criminal levels.

Mocking, bullying, verbally assaulting an individual we have never met and know nothing about to drive her to believing life cannot be lived anymore. An individual who was clearly unwell and clearly needed some professional support, regardless of any crime she may have committed. Exact proof that mental health is never, ever viewed the same as physical health even in such a so-called progressive society as today. Fighting crime with crime is never the answer. And the disgusting fact is the media and Twitter trolls, very real people like you and me, will never be held accountable for this vile crime.

I find it utterly depressing that mental health has become a buzzword, a trendy topic and some money-grabbing material for media institutions – a subject to capitalise off for profit and readership. We should be hearing true accounts of those who’ve experienced acute mental illness to break down the taboo that still exists in society; we should be reporting with sensitivity around news items where individuals are clearly distressingly vulnerable. The media perpetuates the stigmas of mental health and sees vulnerable lives as profitable opportunities.

I’m angry as I write this post, and as I’m writing the anger is replacing itself with sadness. A desperate sadness where I feel literally exhausted to keep writing. Because I want a world where we report with honesty about taboo topics, where we open up and share our life stories so people feel a whole lot less alone. But I know that’s not going to happen. And the very fact that tabloids such as The Sun have today deleted old negative articles where they’re psychoanalysing Caroline Flack through their gossip-inducing, witch-hunt for readership lens has shown that absolutely nothing will change. Publications believe erasing journalism will in turn erase the powerful damage of hurtful words – and throwing in a paragraph about suicide prevention is them adding ‘support’ to the mental health movement. Throw in the elitist nature of the journalism business, where working class and marginalised voices have to struggle to make it in the competitive career, and it’ll always be readership before real lives.

You might be wondering: ‘but isn’t social media to blame for this, too?’. Yes, incredibly so. But I honestly believe that the public feel they have a ‘right’ to comment on the lives of literal strangers purely because of the way the media report on individuals’ inner lives. News publications report in absolutes, masquerading hear-say for fact. They report as if they were sat in the very court room; a fly on the wall in someone’s own home. And we read these absolute-fuelled articles and feel as if we know these people, as if we have heard enough of these ‘facts’ to take reported garbage as first-hand information. We make decisions on people we don’t know from Adam. The media creates the furore that allows people to feel they have the authority to comment publicly on someone else’s life. And I struggle to believe that social media would be as hate-fuelled if journalism wasn’t abusing its power.

I’m aware this post is a jumble of thoughts with no coherent conclusion. But I don’t think there is a coherent conclusion for this absolute mess of a society we so clearly live in. My vision for journalism and the very reason I began to dream for a career in the business was that it should be a place to explore our individual experiences, the good and the bad, to help us all feel a little less alone. Right now, that’s not happening. And although I’m ashamed to say I want to be a journalist today, I hope writers will start acknowledging the severe power of words and choose carefully about how they report stories they feel they have a duty to tell, even if their editor pushes them to write them into existence. A life lost that, regardless of recent events, absolutely should not have been cut short. An all-too-real shocking parable for our lives as millennials and in Generation Z. This news has sliced the souls of lots of young people I know; it’s all a little too close to home. And I hope we all realise now that something needs to fundamentally change about the media and the way we use our personal social channels. Let’s report with honesty, integrity and sensitivity. And pray we learn from a tragedy that never ever should have happened.

If anything you have read over this weekend has impacted your mental health, please talk. To a loved one, to someone you trust or to someone impartial which can be so beneficial if you don’t want to burden those you know, such as the Samaritans on 116 123. You are never alone, no matter how society can make you feel like you are.

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