A Day in the Life of...

List the perks of most jobs. A salary- evidently, a company car- perhaps, bonuses- maybe, freebies- occasionally, a pension- if you're lucky. But what about gossip? I'm not talking about office gossip; uncovering the trials and tribulations of your emotionally overloaded colleague, a sordid revelation that your boss has a 'fiddle' in the toilets, or actively seeking out the scandalous stories of the incompetent bitch who sits two desks away. Understandably in an office environment, one needs to alleviate oneself from the monotony of the mundane through gossip- be it meeting at the water cooler or sneaking out for a fag- but what if you don't have to chase gossip? What if gossip comes to your door all day everyday and your job is simply to sit, listen and digest the information? Welcome to the job of a journalist.

Contrary to popular belief, what you read and hear about in the media isn't the result of whimsical investigation. No matter how big the story, scandal or expose, the end product is always a result of a primary lead or an 'undisclosed source' who divulges the initial information. The trouble is when you work on a national newspaper, you receive hundreds of phone calls daily from people who deem their story to be front page news. But how do you know if they're telling the truth? In my time I've heard everything from "I had a threesome with a premiership footballer and a midget" to "I've just seen Elvis Presley in McDonald's" and much, much more.

Last week I was asked to do some freelance work for a national UK newspaper. On my first shift, after trawling through the wire (an internal news system journalists use) I sat twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. As expected, I didn't have to wait long.

"'Allo? 'Allo! Yeah, I wanna report a story....yeah, yeah...I jus' seen Osama Bin Laden in Leicester." mumbled a gruff voice.
"Oh really? What was he doing?" I asked, humouring him.
"Well, I just seen 'im coming out my local corner shop, hijab and all, carryin' a pint'o milk- didn't have time to take a photo though." he said regrettably.
"Very good of you for calling us Sir, but unfortunately we have no evidence. Do feel free to call us if you have any proof of your findings."

After placing the phone back on the receiver I let out an almighty cackle; it was my only form of release after having to remain professional. I didn't have long, the phone rang almost immediately. I took a deep breath and braced myself.

"Hello, news desk" I said.
"Yeah I got a story, how much you gonna pay me?" he demanded.
"It depends on whose involved and what the story is, Sir."
"Well basically yeah- um- I met this bird down the laundrette. I'm a chimney sweeper you see and I was washing my clothes and this bird walked in yeah and we got talkin'-we hit it off. Had a bit of a fling with her you know?
"Right...so what's the story?" I said, encouraging him to hurry up.
"Well 'ang on love I'm getting to that. She's called Clare- and we started having sex."
"What? IN the launderette? I said in disbelief.
"Na na we 'ad a fling- next thing I know she tells me she's married to some famous Australian geezer called Alexander Bunyip. Obviously I was gobsmacked. Anyway...he found out I was shagging his misses and now I got the FBI and the CIA after me. Help!"
"Sorry sir, but what has the FBI got to do with it if you're a British citizen and he's Australian?" I said, with a hint of sarcasm in my voice.
"Well I'm calling for help! I'm in hiding, he got his heavies after me and I can't leave my house."
"Sir, without sounding rude this is a national newspaper not a Samaritan hotline. I'm sorry for your circumstance but we won't be able to run this story, it's not newsworthy."
"Whadddayamean it's not newsworthy! Who are you to tell me what's newsworthy?"
"Who am I? I'm a journalist. And I'm telling you it's not newsworthy. Thank you for calling Sir, goodbye." I said bluntly after using up my last ounce of patience.

Slamming down the receiver, I was annoyed at allowing myself to become riled by this man's behaviour, but it didn't stop me from conducting some pointless research into exactly who Alexander Bunyip was. A mythical cartoon character. Great, another prank caller. The most astounding thing is people actually think they can get away with feeding us lies in the hope of a lump sum payment for their story. As well as being highly insulting to my integrity, this man had simply wasted my time for no reason at all. This is the constant burden of a journalist; sustaining professionalism when you know full well that the person on the other end of the line is wasting your time and is either genuinely loopy, a prank caller or antagonistic. In some cases callers refuse to give in, demanding payment and purporting their story is front page news. As a journalist representing a national newspaper you can't hang up, shout or have a hint of disbelief in your voice.

Although other times you get good tip-off's from callers- truly delightful to acquire such knowledge- and it's what makes being a journalist so worthwhile. I'll never forget the man who called in to tell me about the professional misconduct of a night shift manager at one of the top four major supermarket chains in the UK (which I can't name). He told me that the night shift manager in a particular store had been unwrapping the pastry products, smothering them with his ball sack and rubbing them with his penis, then re-wrapping them and putting them back on the shop floor. At first the story sounded absurdly far-fetched and crucially there was no evidence...That was until he told me the manager had been taking photos of his nightly shenanigans and he had photographic evidence to prove the malpractice. He sent me emails which included snapshots of an unsightly, flaccid looking willy prodding some pork pies. After seeing the photo's I felt sick. Not because of the horrific looking penis, but out of worry that I had possibly fallen prey to this sort of roguery. I don't know about you, but when I go to the supermarket I expect to find 'fresh baked produce', not some cock-flavoured croissant. Disgusting.

As disgusting as this revelation was, it is precisely the reason why being a journalist is so satisfying. You get to find out gossip that most people wouldn't be aware of, and it's up to you how you choose to deal with it. Being the first to hold such information - be it exciting news, quirky stories or cutting edge drama- is what we thrive off. And when we do find a good story it makes our job all the more worthwhile.

Black Representations

Three weeks ago I boarded a plane from London to New York. I seated myself in 34K, adjusted the air valve above me and immediately conducted my usual safety check (avidly reading the safety manual and checking that my life-jacket was under my seat) until the cartoon saftey video popped up on my TV screen. I watched the little on-screen caricatures and laughed sardonically. The safety clip depicted a pale attractive white woman with her obedient baby, an average looking teenager, a yabbering Chinese kid who had two slits for eyes, an elderly Indian man sporting a rather large bindi with a rather suspicious looking backpack and a black man. The black man wore a slouchy hat, sunglasses and had two bulky, gold chains round his neck with a beatbox on his shoulder, a cigarette in his mouth and a big fat red 'X' over his head. Now tell me that's not racist. Well...actually it's not racist, the person who made the video was probably racist. The outcome was just another bromide against the negative stereotypes of the black man (and albeit the Indian); a video clip that was culturally insensitive and completely tasteless...and tactless.

This observation got me thinking about the many other unfavourable cliches associated with black people in modern day society. The media does nothing to quell the negativity. Take the film industry for example; why is it the black person usually dies first? Well that used to be the case. Nowadays movie-makers have cottoned on to the fact that having a black man die within five minutes of violence was so noticeably transparent that they've allowed the him 15 more seconds of fame. Thanks. In the very few circumstances the black man makes it to the end of the film alive, it's usually because he's playing 'the baddie'. It's almost comical how predictable some films are when it comes to things like this. Although saying that, one film of late that shocked me to the very core was The Hunger Games. I had no real desire to go but was tempted into seeing it by the media speculation surrounding its release, and by my boyfriend. I sat in my seat, watched the movie and as soon as I saw two black characters come on screen, I muttered "10 bucks a black man dies first." Well, there went my 10 bucks. Refreshingly, the black people weren't the first to die, but more importantly they played vital and amicable roles within the film. I was pleasantly surprised...until I found out they were depicted as the poorest and most destitute of the lot.  This sinking feeling continued when it was the black man's turn to die. After watching white person upon white person die valiantly in battle, the black man was killed by a dog. A dog. To top it all off, his death didn't make it on screen, instead the audience was confronted with a black screen with the sound of a bark and a whimper. A black man in the audience two rows down from us said loudly (and sarcastically), "Reaalllly?" Humourous as his response was, he was right; his death lacked both honour and credibility in comparison to all the other characters. Sadly I, along with many others have become accustomed to such black misrepresentation and what I saw in The Hunger Games didn't really effect me. What did anger me was the response it got from movie critics; white people up in arms about how all the 'good' characters were black, and how the director should have chosen an all white cast. Erm...excuse me? Deal with it. Black people have been dealing with that shit all their life. Did white people ever have a problem when the role of Cleopatra (who is known to be black) was given to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film? Didn't think so.

More worrying is the fact that this continuous black prejudice within the media only serves to support and provoke these embedded negative attitudes. You only have to flick on the TV and watch the news to see the evidence. Look at the case of 17 year old Travyon Martin, an innocent Floridian citizen who was gunned down by a neighbourhood watchman who says he acted in "self-defense". Most of you know the story, but the bottom line is this young man wouldn't have died if he was white. As if this case wasn't disturbing enough, the stories that have leaked out in the press recently about the extraordinary levels of racist, sectarian misconduct within the UK police force are far more chilling. You only have to listen to the recorded clip (click here) of a London Met policeman racially abusing a young black man to know that racist attitudes are inherent amongst officers. As shocked as I was after listening to the clip, I am glad it's gone viral. Why? Because apart from exposing how corrupt the police force is it poses an important question. Racism: who's problem is it? The racist's or the victim's? In the clip the officer says: "See the problem with you is that you'll always be a n*gga. That's your problem." No, I beg to differ. The problem with YOU Mr. Officer is that you'll always be a racist. That's your problem, and society's problem; black people don't have a problem with their skin colour. The fact that black people are seven times more likely to get stopped and searched when they account for only a slight majority in London's crime levels should not give police officers justification to racially abuse them. Police are meant to protect citizens from crimes like these, not contribute to the problem.

It's sad to see that even in the 21st century the majority of Western society as a whole is saturated with passive attitudes towards racism at every social level, but black (mis)representations within the media and racially corrupt police forces only serve to desensitize this ever-growing, real life problem. Until an example is set and ignorant beliefs are ousted, wider society won't even begin to endeavor regulating the problem of racism; it's a losing battle.