Advice for talking to journalists

The following post is by Rueben Taylor, a campaigner with SQUASH.

So, the Murdoch empire is trembling under the weight of all their rivals’ gloating. The stories that we’re being drip-fed daily are grotesque, each revealing the monstrous callousness of the News International hacks. Shocking, yes. But for anyone who’s ever experienced the venom of a journalist looking to make their name from sensationalism and populism, it’s hardly surprising.

Just like those who work in call centres, or those who work on stage, will use alternative names while at work, we recommend that anyone who decides to tell their story to a journalist takes similar precautions. As our concepts of privacy are becoming rapidly mutated by the push to publish all on Facebook, don’t be fooled into believing that the desire to protect yourself is in some way dishonest.

Many people, including many squatters, are deeply suspicious of talking to journalists. It’s easy to see why, given the amount of misrepresentation, slander, and lies that many newspapers peddle.

Even more scary than these quite general and widespread distortions is the possibility that you might yourself become the focus. The personal harassment that comes with being the subject of tomorrow’s chip paper can be deeply traumatic. How do you reckon your granny is going to take to being doorstepped? And are you sure there’s no one in your past who can tell a tale of a drunken night?

As well as the psychological impact on the target, this kind of celebritisation can be deadly to a campaign. It can seem quite exciting to be on the telly, and people seeking to further their campaign often think that the coverage that they’re getting must be good for that cause – publicity is the aim, right? A few articles capturing their pretty face and their oh-so-inspiring lifestyle, and they find themselves branded the “leader” of a cause … of a movement … of a generation!

We live in the age of twitter and of non-hierarchical organisation. Despite the best efforts of both press and police, it turned out there really was no one who could credibly be labelled a “leader” of the students. Celebritisation of individuals is an attempt to control and contain ideas: it is much easier to discredit a person than it is to discredit an argument. For just as surely as they’ll build them up, they’ll knock them down.

Of course, many journalists seek honestly to tell a story. Real human lives can be essential to explaining the effect of a policy or a piece of legislation, enacted by politicians living far away from our real world. Don’t be scared to tell your story, but be confident enough to choose what you keep private.