I still get cross thinking about it. The story in The Times about spectacularly successful and influential Helena Morrissey and how she copes with her nine children and the fact that her husband is of the ‘house’ persuasion.
A successful person with quite a few children is happy to leave them in the care of their other parent – how in the world is that a story?
News sense is a fickle thing. It’s hard to pin down why something is a ‘great story’ and something else, similar, is a bit of a dud. But newspaper folk have to decide, on a daily basis, what ‘makes’ and what doesn’t.
When they spot a story their pulses race and their palms moisten – they just know. I’ve felt it myself, I still do from time-to-time. Especially when the teller of the tale doesn’t recognise its value.
It might be possible to try a ranking system to fathom it. Royalty usually trumps red-blooded celebs. Animals, especially cute ones, are always good. Sex, obviously, greed, stupidity and money are successful ingredients. Tragedy and triumph work well, as does extreme grottiness and fairy-tale frighteners such as killer clowns. Penguins, garden gnomes and monkeys are also popular with newsdesks, as is death.
What shouldn’t be newsworthy, however, is someone doing their job or looking after their family in whatever way they choose. Neither should what they look like nor who (mostly) they choose to marry or sleep with.
Maybe it’s time for the Bechdel Test to come to journalism.
With movies, the elements are:
- The movie has to have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
(As an aside, Boys Two and Three took me to the pictures to see Sing this afternoon. It’s great fun, but fails the test spectacularly.)
How about with news we must pass the following test?:
- If you replace one gender with another, or a neutral ‘person’, it is still a story
- The story is not about a person’s appearance instead of their actions or ability
- The story is not based on one of the following presuppositions:
- Women will normally look after the children
- Men will be feckless/promiscuous or otherwise useless
- The appearance or management of a person’s secondary sexual characteristics matters
- A person’s ability is related to their gender in anything other than giving birth and peeing standing up.
That way we won’t have our newspaper cluttered by senior politician’s footwear, men performing astonishing feats of childcare or any mention whatsoever of armpit hair. It might be a start.