Credit: Hepzi Rattray (

Money or morality?

By Basilia Weir

BREAKING! Glasgow Uni student says she’ll never write for “rags” like the Daily Mail.

“Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?” is just one of the many ridiculous Daily Mail headlines from the last decade that is seared into my brain. Thing is, I am on my third attempt at writing this article. It keeps coming out too cynical and, perhaps, a bit pretentious. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, the wee voice in my head that’s worried about being permanently unemployed says. And then I remember that headline, and all the other sickening stuff that’s been printed in the Mail, and the cynicism comes flooding back.

See, I was 14 when I decided on a career in journalism. I liked politics, I liked writing. What better way to fund my retirement? I was 16 when I made the mistake of researching the education history of every major journalist in the UK. I truly had no idea just how many obscure Oxbridge colleges exist. It’s hard not to feel disillusioned; like the deck is stacked against you. So, when an internship comes up at a newspaper you’ve berated for most of your life, it’s easy to throw your morals right out the window of your ex-council house. I was 19 when I lost all passion for writing. As it turns out, getting rejected by a publication you’ve previously said you wouldn’t use as toilet paper hits pretty hard. Of course, you’re reading this now, which means I’ve started writing again. Whilst my career aspirations are less set in stone than before, that ethical dilemma still bothers me: is it okay to write for publications like the Daily Mail?

Journalism is a tough industry to get into, and an even tougher one to sustain yourself off of. So, you can’t always afford to be picky about where you get your bylines from, especially if you come from a working-class background. But headlines like the one I mentioned above sicken me. It’s for-profit sexism. Then there’s the treatment of people like Meghan Markle. The idea of contributing to this sort of toxicity makes me uneasy. It is monetised virulence. When I mention this unease to my family and friends, though, they always shrug me off: “You’ve got to start somewhere, hen.” When I told my Dad I was writing this article, his exact words were: “Is there anyone you do want to work for?”

As a matter of fact, yes. Novara Media, if you are in need of some off-kilter political punditry that skews left, hit me up. Anyway – I see where my Dad is coming from. I’ve watched him work 60 hours a week to provide for us since I was six. I’m not looking to glorify the starving artist thing. However, if I wanted to flush my morals down the toilet, I’d at least like a decent salary in exchange – not the £15,000 that, according to Prospects UK, is the starting salary for a journalist. The starting salary for consultants, by the way, is £30,000. The way I see it, I’d rather be skint because I’m helping make the world a better place, rather than helping line the pockets of Rupert Murdoch, cough cough the Tab, or Lord Something-or-Other XII. I am not sure that weaponising misinformation and helping move the Overton window of every political system in the Global North to the alt-right is worth any amount of money. 

I understand how idealistic this is – and how off putting it could potentially be to future employers. However, I think there’s a considerable difference between cooperating with people who have different views in order to make progress, and being part of a system that disseminates harmful misinformation and hate speech. The small-town, “as long as it puts food on the table” part of me doesn’t blame anyone who grew up in similar circumstances for wanting the payslip that accompanies the byline, though. In writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should be less critical of aspiring journalists who just want to make ends meet and instead be critical of how the media industry is set up.  

There’s the issue of reporting driven by ads and clicks. It incentivises misleading, inflammatory, and virulent headlines. Then there’s the whole elitist, inaccessible, part. Perhaps if we find a way of making journalism more accessible to kids from working-class backgrounds who don’t have media connections, then they’ll feel less pressure to sacrifice their morals to write for papers like the Daily Mail. I’m not the only one who’s been told they “have to start somewhere”. Blacklisting people for writing for rags seems to me like a great way to further disenfranchise those from low-income households from becoming writers and reporters. 

This all underscores the importance of a few things. First, do not click on that Daily Mail article, no matter how juicy the headline is. You are feeding the beast. Secondly, we need to support good journalism, that way smaller newspapers can have the ability to uplift low-income voices. Thirdly, we need to recognise the importance of student publications like The Glasgow Guardian. They allow students like myself to gain writing experience without having to sacrifice 20 hours of unpaid labour a week along with our morals. 

Apologies Dad – I know you were really looking forward to my byline in The Sun in a few years. 


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