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Regional political editor to national columnist: ‘You are not a journalist’

Jen WilliamsAn award-winning regional political editor has hit out at a national columnist over his criticism of the newspaper industry, telling him “you are not a journalist”.

Jen Williams, politics and investigations editor at the Manchester Evening News, hit out at Guardian writer Owen Jones after he appeared on BBC Newsnight last night to discuss the journalism industry following Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on proposed media reform and public interest journalism yesterday.

Owen asserted on the programme that “most of the press in this country is run by a very small group of media moguls” and described journalism as “the most social exclusive profession, other than medicine”.

However, his appearance prompted Jen, pictured, to take to Twitter and tell him that she was “not run by a f***ing media mogul”.

Posting on the social media site, Jen added: “Feel free to argue with me, Owen Jones, about where my public interest journalism comes from, which mogul is telling me and my colleagues across the country what to do and how to do it and how my relative poshness is a factor.

“Because actually here’s the thing: you earn your living writing polemic, which is fine, that’s a thing. But I earn my living doing public interest journalism. I know more about it. And if I sound angry it’s because I am. I’m absolutely f***ing sick of this.”

In response, Owen wrote: “I don’t know why you take this so personally? It is objectively true that the media is extremely socially exclusive. It’s also true most of the press is run by moguls, and most back the Tory Party. Why treat someone stating these self-evident facts as a personal attack on you?”

Jen replied: “Well, there’s a number of things here. The debate was, as far as I understand it, initially about public interest journalism. If you want to make it about class, OK. I agree that – like many white collar professions – there’s a predominance of middle class people, including me.

“However, if the debate is about journalism as a trade, then I reserve the right to take it personally to be honest. I trained, I did all the things you’re meant to do in order to be a proper journalist, but increasingly I’m watching you slate what I do.”

In his speech yesterday, Mr Corbyn praised the work of the MEN and singled out Jen’s “powerful investigation” into the deaths of homeless people in Manchester.

Jen, , who won Specialist Writer/Impact Journalist of the Year at this year’s Regional Press Awards, went on to question what qualified Owen to talk about journalism, quizzing him on whether he had ever taken NCTJ qualifications.

He replied: “Are you saying that unless I do an NCTJ qualification then I shouldn’t be on television – as someone who has worked in the media for seven years – to state official statistics about how the privileged dominate the media, or that the press is run by right-wing moguls? Why?”

Jen responded: “No, I’m saying that you’re not a journalist. And that when I see you passing comment on the TV about me, a journalist, and my profession (journalism) it p***es me off.

She added: “Most papers back the Tories. They also did when I was growing up – which doesn’t legitimise it, but it isn’t a new thing. What I’m not OK with is you popping up here there and everywhere criticising my entire industry. Why? How are you even qualified to do that?

“I will absolutely take this personally and I’ll continue to do so and if I’m annoying you then I’m sorry, but it’s only the same as you do to loads of people all of the time.”

Owen later went on to state that his appearance was “not an attack on any individual journalists”, adding: “I’ve been told that I can’t criticise the media because I’m not a journalist. Leaving aside the fact that opinion writing is a subset of journalism – which is distinct from news reporting – everyone has the right to critique the media. It’s a pillar of democracy, after all.”

8 comments

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  • August 24, 2018 at 2:43 pm
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    So Ms Williams attacked Jones for not being a journalist before conceding that he, er, isn’t a journalist. If she doesn’t like non-journalists criticising the profession, she’d better stay away from the letters page!

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  • August 24, 2018 at 2:55 pm
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    I’m not a Tory and there are thousands of others no doubt who are current or retired journalists who share my political views. Then there are some who are Tories, Lib Dem and Labour supporters. We all worked hard for years to ensure there was no bias in what we wrote except perhaps if you worked for the Mail and Telegraph, for instance.
    Owen Jones should have the fair mindedness to step back and apologise for his silly statement. He’s right however to say that press ownership is dominated by Tories, but that’s all and most of them don’t dictate the nitty-gritty day to day coverage on locals, for instance.

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  • August 24, 2018 at 8:28 pm
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    Sorry Geronimo. I have seen local editors do favours occasionally for favourite Tories., including pulling stories where they are criticised. Anyone else?
    I wonder if Owen is as well qualified as Jen?
    I am biased. I think there are far too many opinion writers on the nationals and not enough news. Most people can make their own minds about the world anyway. They do not need the likes of Owen, whereas Jen performs a more useful job.

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  • August 27, 2018 at 3:27 am
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    Journalism IS an elitist profession and it is surprising the social affairs editor of a regional news paper appears to lack the self-awareness to see that.

    White, middle-class people – especially the privately school educated – like to believe they have got where they are on their own merit and hard work alone.

    This is quite obviously not the case. Even if you are a white journalist who works very hard, you have made it through the door in the first instance because the industry makes it easier for you to get in. Easier still if you went to public school/ have a relative on a paper/ could afford a two-week work experience over the summer instead of having to work.

    It is staggering the number of white journalists who cannot swallow the truth that they are privileged because they can’t see beyond their own 50-hour working week.

    Twitter brings out the worst in some very good journalists who fall into the temptation of becoming the story for the sake of the endorphin hit of a 1,000 retweets. Owen Jones wasn’t personally attacking anyone.

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  • August 28, 2018 at 9:51 am
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    Sorry, Pappadontpreach, but you’re wrong.

    Owen’s statement might be true if applied to the handful of London-based national newspapers that he is used to dealing with. But they don’t represent the reality of most HTFP readers’ working lives.

    Jones makes sweeping, derogatory statements about journalists being middle class and privileged, but the fact is that he is only talking about the small corner of the media that his experience enables him to comprehend. He seemingly has no awareness that most journalists in the UK do not work on national newspapers in London. They work in the local and regional press all over the country – and they are overwhelmingly working class.

    Local/regional journalism is NOT well-paid. The middle and upper classes would never stand for the pay – especially when coupled with the often appalling working conditions: hours and hours of unpaid overtime, unsociable hours, zero perks, ever-increasing workloads, very limited opportunities for career progression. Why would a privileged, well-connected individual subject themselves to that, when they could earn twice as much elsewhere for half the work?

    So that’s what really gets us local/regional journos’ goat: Owen Jones – who, despite being working class and having no journalism training, walked into a job at a national newspaper and now earns a fortune – lecturing the public about how ‘elitist’ journalism is, and how ‘most journalists’ or ‘a disproportionately high number of journalists’ are middle or upper class, privileged snobs. That is extremely irritating and actually very insulting when the REALITY is that, unlike Owen Jones, most of us are slogging our guts out for an absolute pittance.

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  • August 28, 2018 at 10:34 am
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    Hear hear TwisV – and well said Jen! I was so middle-class and privileged that I was forced to leave school at 16 with 4 O-levels in my native working class town in Yorkshire and put myself through night school to learn shorthand. I also agree with Geronimo, but if you’re mentioning newspapers with political bias then you also have to add the left-wing Guardian, which is why this offending column was published in the first place.

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  • August 28, 2018 at 11:17 am
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    Imagine walking into a job at a national newspaper with zero journalism training, and earning a fortune writing opinion pieces like, ‘Why calling someone a Gammon isn’t racist’, and then sneering at thousands of struggling, hard-working, working class journalists, who work 12-hour days investigating and writing proper, hard news stories, about how crap they all are. Just imagine that.

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  • August 28, 2018 at 11:35 am
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    “they can’t see beyond their own 50-hour working week”
    Just 50 hours? @pappadontpreach – this white, middle-aged, lower-middle class ‘tog dreams of so few hours!!

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