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Journalism is a privilege

November 22, 2010

The Ministry of Justice building

Last week saw an exciting adventure on my road to journalistic success; a visit to the ever-powerful Ministry of Justice. The prospect of an inside view of such an iconic institution was thrilling, however I have to admit I was slightly disappointed at the lack of James Bond-style gadgets (although I know he is not employed by the MoJ but by MI6, I was hoping for something similar).

Perhaps my vision of fingerprint scans and secret lifts hidden behind invisible doors was slightly over-dramatic, however I do maintain the belief that, hidden behind the mundane exterior of the press rooms, there must exist an intricate and fascinating world of secretive technology. Regardless of whether my imaginings are true or not, the MoJ remains a vital institution within British government and our visit gave us a keen insight into what we will be faced with should we ever be invited to report on any related topics.

The Deputy Head of News, Simon Steel, gave us an interesting and fact-filled insight into the MoJ’s ongoing relationship with the national press, offering us advice about how we might best deal with the press office should we require their help in the future. Mr Steel, a journalism graduate from Cardiff (yes, yes, boo hiss, ‘the competition), indicated that his press office, or indeed any other press office in Whitehall, would not be willing to deal with requests from students, nor would they fall for our well-versed lie about being a freelance journalist.

We will be able to tell. We give freelance journalists a pretty good grilling and, trust me, a lot of the freelancers fail to impress us. I understand your frustration but we just don’t have time to deal with student requests.

Despite my never-ending frustration with the lack of response from various government press offices, I understand Mr Steel’s point of view. Why waste time answering potentially uninformed student questions without the guarantee that the ensuing article will have any national press coverage? I have to admit, should I ever find myself working for the press office at the MoJ, student journalists will probably never be a top priority.

Aside from our questions about the work of the MoJ itself, we were all keen to learn how Mr Steel had ended up working in a press office, having pursued and achieved a pretty successful career as a journalist.

Do you miss writing?

Do  you really see press office work as real journalism?

Needless to say, we were all jealous of Mr Steel’s job, particularly when we saw the unbelievable panoramic view of London from the immense 10th floor space that currently houses the MoJ Press Office. However, I think each of us questioned whether we could leave a career which allows us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in skilled writing for one that is focused on attempting to control and manipulate the media.

Although Mr Steel has clearly achieved great success in his career, there was an element of nostalgia present as he reminisced about his days as a reporter in Gloucester. In his role as the Deputy Head of News, Mr Steel deals with a variety of experienced journalists on a day-to-day basis and has the power to shape and essentially control the information that they are privy to. It is evident, however, that Mr Steel misses his job as an active journalist and his passion for the field was easy for all to see and understand.

The opportunity to work as a journalist is a true privilege. Don’t give up on it. Follow it through. It can be awful at times but really it’s the most interesting job in the world.

At times, I have questioned whether this career is truly right for me, whether I have the strength to complete every task that is laid before me on the seemingly never-ending road to professional, paid employment. The words of Mr Steel, however, have filled me with new confidence and determination. Not only have they come from within the hallowed halls of the MoJ, but they were spoken by someone who has lived through tough and rigorous journalism training and has achieved the success that we all dream of on a daily basis. If I have come away from the MoJ with one key lesson it is this; Journalism is a privilege, not a right.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Hilary Wingfield permalink
    November 22, 2010 1:56 pm

    I am surprised and pretty disappointed at Mr. Steel’s espoused approach regarding student journalists! Firstly, I believe that Government departments have a responsibility to encourage education generally and specifically the journalists of the future. After all, we pay their salaries! Secondly, on a more personal basis, Mr. Steel could show a little more respect – he may end up working for one of you one day!!

    • November 22, 2010 2:45 pm

      I don’t think that this was Simon Steel’s personal opinion, it seems to me that every press office treats student journalism students with the same sort of disregard. When it comes to an institution as influential as the MoJ, I suppose they have to prioritise journalists and publications that they already have a good working relationship with. Although not particularly fair on the students, it is understandable.

  2. Giles permalink
    November 22, 2010 2:05 pm

    I agree that it seems odd that having experienced the same barriers that you have already he isn’t more inclined to assist student journalists. Maybe he thinks that overcoming those problems helps students become better journalists. What made him switch from journalism to his current role?

    • November 22, 2010 2:47 pm

      Firstly, I think he was assisting us merely by giving up his time to show us round and answer our questions, I am sure there are many press office officials who wold not have been so willing.
      Secondly, in terms of his career choices I think it was a case of choosing the job with the best prospects. Entirely understandable in today’s economic environment!

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