Like the vast majority of people in this country, I have never been a journalist. So I can accept the point that anyone could say to me that its very easy for me to sit here in the comfort of my desk and criticise while I’m not doing it from a position of knowledge. By all means view what I say in this light. But I’m still going to say it.
The particular article which leads me to post appeared this week, on Thursday, after the superb University Challenge quarter finals match between St. John’s Oxford and Manchester University. The local newspaper, the South Manchester Reporter, ran a feature , which focused on Rachael Neiman, otherwise known as LAM regular Rach Cherryade, entitled,
“Blind Rachael’s New Challenge”
If you live in the area, maybe you read the report. Even if you didn’t, I kind of have more than half a suspicion that you can guess the tone of the article from the headline. You may well ask – what’s the problem with that ? Allow me to explain.
As Rachael has herself explained it, this article arose from an interview which was given to the journalist by the whole team. They were told that the article was to be about the whole team’s experiences in the series so far, which I’m sure is of much interest to the good people of Manchester, not least because University Challenge is made in Manchester, but also because the University are the reigning champions. Instead, we have an article almost exclusively about Rachael, an article which concentrates on the fact that she is blind to the exclusion of almost anything else. But that was never the subject of the interview itself, and frankly, Rachael tried to steer away any attempts to direct the interview down that path. Don’t take my word for it. Ask her yourself. Read the comments she wrote after the last UC review.
In the article as it appeared in the paper, the other members of the team received a brief name check, and that’s all. Instead, anything that Rachael said that refers even in passing to being blind has been taken, and strung together, to make something altogether different from a report on a local team doing well on University Challenge
Let’s look at the headline again , “Blind Rachael’s new Challenge “. Is it just me who finds that headline rather distasteful ? Yes, Rachael is blind. Get over it. She is also witty, highly intelligent, and a good quizzer who also manages her own record label. But that can’t be that important, can it ? Certainly you won’t find these things made explicit in the article. Lets not leave it there. “ . . . new Challenge” Yes , that would be University Challenge, wouldn’t it ? But why new ? Obviously the implication is that because she is blind it must be that she faces challenges every day which a sighted person doesn’t, poor dab. Oh and just in case you didn’t get the point from the headline, despite the fact that it was the very first two words, just in case you missed it the second paragraph of the article begins
“Blind Rachael, 25, who lives in Didsbury . . . “
Do you know, I had always thought that Rachael was her christian name, rather than her surname.
Sorry, I am getting sarcastic. But when someone upsets one of my friends, then I tend to react this way. You see, although on the surface you might say -
well, isn’t the article praising Rachael ? Doesn’t it say that she’s a ‘role model’ ? – there’s something rather nasty about this .Maybe I’m wrong, but to me, there is a rather unpleasant subtext to the whole article. Take this, for instance,
“The English and American Studies PhD student . . . said she does not let being blind get in the way of leading a normal life. “
Well, what is she supposed to do, for heaven’s sake ? It continues with a quote,
“When University Challenge came up I just thought, well I fancy that, I’ll go for it. “
Just the same as the rest of the team, doubtless, and just the same as every member of every team in the competition.
I don’t know, but it just seems to me that what the editor has tried to do is to turn a nice article about a very good team who played in a fantastic match last week, into an X-Factor style sob story about 'a plucky contestant who has overcome adversity '. Does Rachael want this ? No. Does she sanction it ? No. Does this matter ? Actually, yes it does.
As Rachael has explained it, she would never have agreed to take part in the interview if she had known an article like this would be the result. Yes, she is a special person, but she is a special person in the way that everyone who has the guts to take part in UC is a special person. Rachael does not set herself above the other members of her team, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that she does from the tone of the article.
Yeah, OK, I’m not so naïve as to believe that journalists are always, or even usually 100% straight with people they interview. Journalists more than any of us know how to get a good story. But even if the writers of the article thought they were being ‘nice’ about Rachael, giving the article a slant which they must have realised was
a) totally different from the way it had been represented to the Manchester team,
b) totally against the way that Rachael wanted to be presented,
was just plain wrong. Rachael , of course, is more than capable of putting her own point of view, and I can do nothing better than leave you with her own words about the article : -
“I can only say that had I known that this was the article they had in mind ( rather than a piece on the whole team as it was pitched to us) I would have refused to take part. The content, quality of writing and general feel of the piece are all awful, and I think reflects badly on the journalist who wrote the piece and the editor who allowed it to be published in this format. “