“Far from innumeracy being some badge of literary worth, it is, for the modern journalist, a fatal weakness” – David Randall

I’ll hang up my writing aspirations now then, shall I?

Despite being hopeless with fractions, percentages and ratios, its probably useful to have a good grasp of statistics when discussing climate change, sustainability and transition. However, Randall does point to various concerns journalists should have when using statistics to find stories: consider where the story comes from, why and when the report is published and determine if the source is biased.

My numerical journalism quest began with a visit to the website of my most dependable source: Greenpeace. Here I found a range of interesting reports ranging from deforestation studies to food security data. Of particular interest was a report on tuna fishing. Whilst I’m not about to sponsor a skipjack or bluefin, the report highlights a significant problem for sustainability. Salt water oceans make up about 70% of the Earth’s surface so it can be argued that disruption of the ecosystems inhabiting the Atlantic, Pacific and various seas, will eventually have a knock-on effect to anything surviving on land. As the report indicates, unsustainable fishing methods have led to the depletion of various tuna species and this annually affects 300K sea turtles and 160K sea birds, not to mention millions of sharks. There are also humanitarian aspects as the estimated 5000 vessels stay out at sea for several years with captive crews.

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By this point I was as narked with Greenpeace for saying ‘millions of sharks’ as I was with mankind for making the problem in the first place. So I ended up finding a report on the EU Shark Finning Policy through Shark Advocates International whilst trying to google the specific numbers myself. While the report is short, the statistics cover a vast quantity of information that could inspire a range of stories:  the value of shark meat is 90 – 300 euros per kilo in Hong Kong, whilst 25% pelagic sharks, 35% epipelagic and over half of large large, oceanic-pelagic sharks are classified as threatened on the IUCN red list.

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Moving away from oceanic horror and growing weary of processing statistics, I was relieved to find a page simply titled ‘Facts & Figures’ on the sidebar of The Fairtrade Foundation site. Here was a colourful arrangement of UK fairtrade market figures including details on products, producers and campaigns. Right at the bottom are individual ‘impact, strategy and commodity’ reports, including one of fairtrade in Malawi from April 2013.  The report covers a breakdown of product reviews and the impact of fairtrade in the area.

As the three reports I looked at regard issues I was already interested in, they all offer support to hooks. Potential story topics for environmental journalism are in abundance as they are usually central to research, so this interest is a convenience if I continue to develop these numerical and statistic analysis skills.

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“Human interest stories are about weak-minded, vulnerable people… for weak-minded, vulnerable people” according to apathetic journalist, Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan, in Stephen Frears’ latest film ‘Philomena’.

Having recently lost his job as the Labour government’s communications director, Sixsmith is reluctant to help when a waitress approaches him at a party to ask for help. However, he soon learns that the story he believes belongs in women’s weeklies contains as much conspiracy, drama and complications as any of his previous political reporting.

Based on true events, Frears’ film focuses on the journey of Sixsmith and Philomena (Judi Dench), an Irish woman in her 70s of strong Catholic faith, who go in search of Anthony (the son she was forced to give up for adoption by nuns in the fifties).

The story is emotive and it’s easy to sympathise with both characters. Philomena’s time in a convent in Roscrea is told in flashbacks, which are brief but cover enough detail to serve their tragic purpose. Viewers see the young Philomena (played by Sophie Kennedy Clark) suffer a breach labour, in which she begs the sisters not to put her baby in the cold ground, and later racing up a flight of stairs to catch a last glimpse of Anthony as he is sold to strangers by the sisters.

The extent of tragedy is softened by the abundance of humour, which is often down to a coagulation of Philomena’s innocence and the contrast between the two leading character’s educations. Whilst it is simply comical to observe an evidently conservative Sixsmith squirm as Philomena openly discusses the encounter that got her into this altercation, it is humorously touching to watch the Oxbridge educated journalist at the salad bar in Harvester as Philomena overfills her bowl with croutons. In addition to this, Sixsmith is seen trying to make a number of clever jokes, which Philomena fails to understand, and he is left looking foolish.

 

“Would you like a tune, Martin?”

“If you hum it, I’ll sing it?”

“Hmm?”

Despite reflecting a lack of the common sense and kindness displayed by Dench’s character, it is not possible to dislike Sixsmith. Sixsmith starts off as a stereotypical journalist but begins to show more humility as the story develops and questions whether to publish the story as the severity of its truth unfolds. In this sense, Coogan’s writing of Sixsmith’s character is ironic given his Newsnight showdown with Paul McMullen, deputy features editor for News Of The World. This proves an excellent demonstration.

Throughout the film there are a handful of predictable outcomes but none of these ensue and the audience should be left in slight melancholy but some hope, as the film ultimately reflects the ability to keep faith and forgive.

I was initially apprehensive when asked to accompany my grandmother to the ‘pictures’ to see this: the genre was out of my comfort zone, but I soon realised that the trailer does not do the film itself justice. In fact, it was slightly reminiscent of Peter Mullan’s 2002 film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’, which I also thoroughly enjoyed after she’d advised me to watch it years ago.

Despite the character herself being known for abusing the phrase, the film “Philomena” is definitely one in a million!

 

 

There’s something unbelievably tacky about Q&A interviews. That’s another reason I love Elle: their interviews reflect their writer’s creative abilities, not their transcription skills.

Probably one of the best interviews I’ve ever read was Kate Mulloy’s feature with Lindsay Lohan for Elle in April 2009. Reviews of this interview are vast, which is surprising because… it didn’t really happen.

Mulloy asserts her struggle to arrange a meeting with the actress, who responds with a series of texts including the audacious “I can see u at 7.15 til 7.30 then I have to meet with a spray tanner”. When Mulloy finally meets with Lohan, she seems distracted, flitting between the balcony, her phone and an ipod playlist. Not to mention a slice of pizza she consistently forgets she’s eating. On another one of the rare occasions that they meet, Mulloy goes to a nightclub with Lohan where she witnesses an awkward encounter between Lohan and ex girlfriend, Samantha Ronson.

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“It’s only later, when Lindsay’s face is about to crumple into sobs, that the reason for our diversion to Bungalow 8 becomes clear. Sam Ronson is here. […] It took only seconds for Lindsay to approach and then flee from Sam but, whatever she said, she is devastated. It does not matter that we’re in the middle of a bar, that I’m a journalist she barely knows, that Sam is still in the same room, Lindsay cannot stop the tears. She can barely speak.”

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“She wants to go and talk to Sam. It is not a good idea. But Lindsay is not your best friend and you can’t tell her that. Does she look OK? Amazing. Hair up or down? Down. This top or the other one? That one. You want to stop Lindsay, beg her not to do this to herself

In the end Mulloy was forced to ask her questions by email, to which she got limited answers. What was meant to be an interview in the magazine worked out as a feature that evoked sympathy for Lohan and provided intense insight to Lohan’s personal life, whilst creating this relatable scenario of instinctual sisterhood on Mulloy’s part (that is, feeling the need to protect the interviewee who she barely knew).

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When reading interviews like these, I always struggle to imagine what I would ask, what I could ask.

Whilst Jaldeen Katwala suggests considering what your audience would want you to ask, Simon Hattenstone points out that the best way of finding out what people want to know is to ask them.

Although Katwala points out that an interview is essentially a conversation, I can’t imagine myself being selfless – let alone anything less than starstuck – if I was ever given the opportunity to interview someone like… Elizabeth Grant or Taylor Momsen. So for the sake of good preparation and the right angle, a great interviewer in journalism will usually suss out what their readers would ask.

However, when referencing an interview with Courtney Love, Hattenstone points out that he was ‘made to sign a form’ promising he would not ‘ask questions about Cobain, drugs and stripping’. Instead he asked why she didn’t want to talk about it.

I can imagine people would want me to ask about Elizabeth Grant’s troubled adolescence – the obvious vehicle behind her flawless song writing – or why that innocent little girl from The Grinch made the debauched transition into a rebellious rock star, donning an excessive quantity of black kohl and those infamous suspenders as outerwear.

There are obviously always going to be those questions a reader assumes will be answered in an interview splashed on the cover of a weekly glossy, but I think what ultimately makes a good interviewer in journalism is surely the ability to demonstrate tact and sympathy over disrespecting the interviewee for the short-term advantage of a good story and better commission.

“There is no such thing as cheap clothing, somebody has to pay…”

Neil Kearney – International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation.

I would be lying if I said it was easy to access fair trade fashion, let alone afford it. A simple blouse from People Tree, a leading fair trade fashion chain, may set you back at least £45 (… and that’s IN the sale). But if you could consider the hidden problems with fast fashion, like the gluttonous implementation of dwindling resources, not to mention the vast human exploitation that is required to provide a dress for under £10, we’d want to know who was suffering for our vanity.

Fashion conscious viewers should have been appalled by the revelations in Panorama ‘Primark: On The Rack’, where children as young as eleven were exposed sewing beads onto garments by candlelight. After the broadcast in 2008 Primark simply ‘dropped’ Fab & Fabric, the Indian supplier who were sub-contracting middle men to employ children from the Bhavanisgar refugee camp.

A year later it was discovered that sweatshops were also apparent in England. TNS Knitwear Ltd, in Manchester, a supplier to Primark, was found to be working employees 12 hours a day for 7 days a week at just over half of the minimum wage. In addition to this, the bulk of workers were immigrants, who were not asked to declare their right to work in the UK, and, evidently petrified of deportation, complied with the squalid working conditions: no heating, vast debris and a broken toilet, meaning male and female employees were forced to use the same bathroom.

Just this year a factory building in Rana Plaza (Dhaka, Bangladesh), who were supplying to Primark as well as other high street fashion chains, collapsed, killing 1000 people and injuring 3000 more. Primark offered compensation and emergency aid, much to the appreciation of Oxfam. But was it really enough?

Primark had little consideration for the human rights of these people and exploited them as workers of these suppliers – they were people living in poverty in India and Bangladesh, and people living in fear in the ‘freedom’ of the UK. Although Primark now pride themselves on providing long and short term compensation for workers, they merely ceased to trade with certain suppliers after the exposure. Was that helping the people affected or just protecting Primark’s reputation?

Some of the best LUSH products contain cocoa butter: it’s a great natural source of moisture for the skin. LUSH source their cocoa butter from San Jose, where a farming community receive no government funding for health care or education because they have decided to stay neutral in a war between the government army and left-wing guerrillas. They have also been prohibited from selling cocoa beans within Columbia and have had to find an international market in buyers such as LUSH, who pay them a better price and are dedicated to making their struggle visible. The added benefit is that these farmers have been working in these plantations for decades and already know the value of sustainable farming: any bad cocoa beans are left beside the trees to encourage more to grow.

If LUSH, who have only been trading independently since 1994 can set up infrastructures to help rural communities why can Primark, who have been trading within the UK since 1973, not follow that initiative? Surely it would have made more sense for Primark to help these people into better employment?

“I think young people like me are becoming increasingly aware of the humanitarian issues surrounding fast fashion and want to make good choices but there aren’t many options out there”

Emma Watson – Actress/Model – Designer of two People Tree collections

While some high street brands are focusing on using fair trade suppliers, too few are and this is why it is still so expensive. Marks and Spencer pride their school uniforms on fair trade ethics, but watching my brother’s wife stitch the knees of my nephew’s school trousers (after he’s once again celebrated his goals with knee slides… on the playground!) its evident that it is not affordable. Fair trade is rare, expensive and limited in variety because its not widespread. My point in this post is not to persecute people for wearing Primark clothes, but to highlight how and where they are made in hope that one day there will be more options for fair trade on the high street so more workers can have their human rights addressed properly.

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I said my goodbyes, & reluctantly closed down my browser. The saving grace was that the next 72 hours were to be spent at my grandmother’s house where, if milk is a luxury, internet is certainly not seen as a necessity. I believed this would make my social media moratorium slightly easier.

The plan was to see if I could stay off social media, and/or the internet, for at least 24 hours.

I felt oddly optimistic at the prospect of increased productivity promised by Laura Symonds, another who had previously written about a similar challenge. However, I ultimately doubted my ability to see the plan through. In fact, the first indication that I was going to struggle occurred moments after closing the browser when a Facebook ‘push notification’ popped up on my phone: I had already opened it and began to reply before I realised what I was doing!

I decided to approach this task in a similar manner to Joshua Fields Milburn who ousted the internet from his home environment. This meant that I was permitted to use the internet at university, and anywhere else outside my grandmother’s house.

It was by no means without obstacles in the beginning.

When I complained to my grandmother that I felt excluded she continued to ask me what ‘Facebook’ is and does..

“When I was your age I could only talk to my friends at work or over the garden fence. Why not invite your cousin over for a cup of coffee?”

No, because my cousin, Emma, has already informed me that she won’t come anywhere that she can’t get internet or 3G on her phone, and my grandmother’s house must be coated in lead because there’s anything but signal. I also pondered how she thought I was going to get in touch with my cousin without Facebook messenger or the use of hashtags?

That’s when I remembered that, before Facebook and Twitter, and even before MySpace and MSN, there were those hefty British Telecom bills I regularly used to rack up, talking for hours to my friends on the telephone…

I decided to call my mother from this retro contraption two days in to inform her of the plan.

“I’ve been refreshing my news feed constantly – I thought you might have posted about your first day back at university! Can you at least check-in so I can see where it is on the map? My Epsom check-in this morning contained a typo – don’t lecture me on it!”

Given the chance to access Facebook at this point, I doubt her typo would have bothered me. What shocked me was that a woman who only discovered the internet four years ago was relying on social media in order to communicate with her daughter.

At the beginning I agreed when Laura Symonds likened social media to a ‘drug addiction’. I felt completely cut off and regretted previously scrolling the news feed without appreciating what anyone had posted enough to actually read it. Now I deem it a bad habit, like a morning coffee or afternoon biscuit. The human body doesn’t necessarily need these energy fixes, but they’ve become so embedded in our daily routines that going without renders us in a state of cold deprivation.

But I can definitely see where my productivity has increased. Instead of distracting myself with social media apps, I used my spare time on an evening to read newspapers or my course books, and frivolously practiced my shorthand. And, although my lectures didn’t start until 10am some mornings, I motivated myself to go in earlier to check my emails before class started.

In addition to this, I don’t know if I was just genuinely exhausted but 36 hours after leaving social media I woke up after 8 hours of completely unbroken blissful sleep. Seriously, it was perfect. This led me to recall a recent article in Elle where a businesswoman pinpointed the cause of her insomnia on constantly being ‘wired in’. During daylight hours she was permitted to use electronic devices, but once it was dark she had to turn everything off, including her beloved Blackberry, and thus her access to Facebook. This involved endless tossing and turning in the dark until, after three nights, she too slept solid.

Commuting from Blyth to Sunderland every morning would mean I have internet access to go home to every night, but its just not practical. So to save time and money whilst improving my carbon foot print, I’m happy to stay with my grandmother throughout the week – internet or no internet..

LUSH PRODUCTS

Bath bombs, melts, bubble bars, facial packs, cleansers, moisturisers, shampoo bars, toothy tabs! The creators of Lush never fail to astonish me: I’m obsessed with the products and the possibility of what they’ll come up with next. The ingredients are all fresh, they use minimal preservatives, and are sourced from fair trade farmers.  In addition to this, Lush sell a hand and body lotion, in which all the proceeds (apart from the VAT) go to the selected charity. The company are also dedicated to using minimal packaging and all their containers are made from 100% recycled material, which can be returned and transformed into threads to use in their vintage scarves, for which they use as gift wrap in a similar style to the Japanese furoshiki. Lush are dedicated to fighting animal testing, and their campaigns, whilst shocking, have proven very effective. The following videos contains some upsetting scenes, but its the reality that thousands of animals face every day so we can have an ample quantity of chemical lotions and potions gathering dust on our bathoom shelves..

ELLE MAGAZINE

This obsession started in January 2011 when I purchased a copy for the picture of Carey Mulligan on the front cover. I had a browse through after reading the interview and immediately fell in love with their features writers: a panel of amazing people I ultimately aspire to join. I buy 2 copies every month: one for reading, one for cutting out inspirational headings and pictures. I now have over 30 copies in my British collection, and, if my friends and family go abroad they always bring me back an international copy. My best friend brought me one back from Japan. I unfortunately can’t read it, but I’m besotted with how it differs from Western editions: it obviously reads from left to right, and rather than photographs, it appears to rely heavily on anime. Its just.. ah!

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MYELOMA UK

The obsession is raising money and awareness for this fantastic charity. Myeloma is a rare bone marrow cancer, and at present 20% of people die within 60 days of diagnosis. This statistic is decreasing with increasing awareness of the disease.

MACMILLAN

Whilst Cancer Research UK & other charities like Myeloma UK are doing amazing work to find cures and help people dealing with a particular cancer, Macmillan are dedicated to providing medical, emotional, practical and financial help for the families of those affected. If you’ve ever been to an oncology ward, you’ll have noticed the library of free information books – I’m yet to find one that hasn’t answered one of my millon questions. I think its important to be obsessed with a charity as fab as this. They’re fundraising ideas are so different too – they have an annual coffee morning, and also run a lottery. This October, I’m taking part in their ‘Go Sober’ campaign.

TEA

Nothing is impossible if you start with a cup of tea. I take mine with minimum milk, and no sugar. My favourite mug is a pink porcelain tea cup from Topshop. Can anyone share my anguish when you’ve dunked your bourbon too long and half falls off?

THE SIMPSONS

When everyone grew up and started finding Family Guy hilarious I continued to watch The Simpsons religiously. I’ve no idea why, I don’t necessarily even find it funny anymore, but I consistently find myself recording it, even though I’ve seen every episode a million times over!

TRAVELLING

I lived in Doha, Qatar until I was 5; stayed in Penang, Malaysia for 7 weeks when I was 10; and I’ve spent two Christmas seasons in Baku, Azerbaijan in the past few years. I’m besotted with travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people. I spent summer 2011 working in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, which was amazing because I met so many amazing Cypriot people, who were so welcoming, and I also met tourists from all over the world. Because of my experiences travelling abroad I have friends from Sweden, Portugal, Russia and Thailand, who I love to keep in touch with. I also love long road trips travelling around the UK. One weekend in August, so I could catch up with some friends from uni, I drove from Newcastle to Heathrow, then to Glastonbury, up to Gloucester and home again. Must plan another one of those!

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SUPERSTITION

Probably one of my biggest obsessions is my fixation with superstition: I’m going to say hello to that magpie, if I drop a knife on the floor I’ll ask you to pick it up, and if a bird wants to s*** on my head I’ll definitely be putting the lottery on.

THE 80’S

I watched 13 Going On 30 when I was 13, came home and ransacked my mother’s vinyls for Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar. I then insisted on dressing like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan and got sent home from school umpteen times for refusing to remove earrings the size of Christmas baubles. Whilst the other girls in my year were obsessing over Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, I fell in love with Kevin Bacon in Footloose and wanted to be in detention with The Breakfast Club. This song never fails to put me in a stupidly delicious mood

FAKERY

My mother has always said she feels sorry for the unlucky sod who ends up with me because… what you see is just not what you get. My nails are acrylic, my hair is weaved, and my eyelashes were once in the same Boots shopping basket as my tan. I’m seemingly obsessed with add-ons.

EARLY MORNINGS

Hand-in-hand with my sleep obsession goes waking up early! I’m obsessed with getting that head start on the world: there’s nothing like waking up 6am on a Sunday morning when the house is so quiet and nobody is on Facebook messenger so there are no distractions and you get everything finished that you needed to. An early night always follows an early morning, an you’re guaranteed to be naturally tired by the early evening so you’ll definitely get a better night’s sleep!

FOOTBALL

Being raised in the North East, I don’t think you have a choice other than to be football crazy. If you can’t beat them, join them! In addition to this, being the only girl alongside two older brothers, I’ve had to fight for my position in the family, and becoming a Sunderland fan at a young age I aimed to win their respect. For my 20th birthday my brother, Ian, gave me a Barcelona FC shirt, and I’ve followed the team passionately ever since. He also took me to see Brazil U21 play at St James Park during the 2012 Olympics. I became so fixated on Neymar that Ian got me a Brazil shirt for Christmas that year. I’m obsessed with football, and my ever-growing shirt collection can bear witness to that..

BAGELS

The best thing since sliced bread. Literally!

MUSIC

From being very young I’ve always been obsessed with music – hence why the majority of my posts and pages are titled after well known song lyrics. Although I am super excited to hear Santa Baby whilst I’m shopping in the next few months, I seriously can’t wait for festival season to start again! I’ve gone through every musical phase possible – I was a head banging goth in my early adolescence, I was a radgey dancing chav in my Cascada era and I’ve never quite fallen out of love with Dusty Springfield. The only stuff I can’t quite get to grips with is today’s charts – I’m sure it took Jason Derulo longer to learn his video choreography than to write the lyrics to #TalkDirty.

ANIMAL FARM

My father insisted on making me read this as a child, and when I reread in GCSE literature after studying the context in history, I had to chuckle at my innocence. Whilst I struggle to read anything twice, Animal Farm is something I can pick up over and over again. I think there’s always something new to pick up on each time you read it. I love most of Orwell’s texts, but this, along with Coming Up For Air, has to be my favourite.