That Julie Burchill has been censored by the Observer of all papers is plainly absurd. She is paid to be controversial – it’s the whole point of her. That’s what she does and it’s why people love her and hate her. There’s only one thing worse than being talked about..etc. etc.
What is more bizarre, however, is the outcry about the censorship. Do people honestly think that journalists, even columnists, have a free rein? Not only are columnists selected to reflect the views of the editor and proprietor, they are then guided on what to write and censored before publication if they’re not in line. There are exceptions to this – the Mail hired Suzanne Moore to soften their nutty ultra-right image and she probably does have a freer rein than most. She’s certainly being paid better than most (and good for her).
However, the fact is that journalists are paid to provide a service that is dictated by the editor, not by our own principles. You might want to write about rape in India but, if in the morning conference it is decided that pensions are the big issue today then you will write about pensions. If you work for the Telegraph and you write that taxes should be raised to pay for far larger pensions for all then your column will not run. That’s just how it is.
I had a slot (very briefly and a very long time ago) on the Telegraph’s rotating op-ed column and I filed something that contained a joke about the royals and a vaguely anti-hunting line. I delivered to an unsuspecting night editor over the weekend and when the person who hired me read the copy she said; ‘I had to read it through my fingers I was so horrified.’ I didn’t know the paper’s unwritten rules – no anti-royals and no anti-hunt, even in jest.
Papers never actually sack freelancers even if you’re filing for a regular slot. You just file on time (as I did the following week) but they don’t run the copy. They say they’ll put it in the next week, they don’t, and you never hear from them again. You are sacked, though you were never actually hired. It’s all silent, the rules are unwritten, as are the contracts.
I’m sure Julie Burchill is familiar with the system, but those of us who aren’t as famous as she is just sort of die away… write unpaid on our own blogs….Yup.