I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in Leicester in the last six months or so, and, as I’m not working, and because I like writing – and because I delude myself that someone might like to pay me for doing some – I thought I would try a speculative approach to the Leicester Mercury, vidēlicet:
My name is Lee Turnpenny; I am a biologist, hailing from Leicester, and a graduate of its University (1996; Biological Sciences [Genetics]; First Class [Hons.]).
I left my position in academic research late last year, and have been travelling for six months in South America. However, I am now back in the country, semi-based in Leicester, and looking for a new work direction.
I am therefore contacting you provisionally, to enquire as to whether your newspaper would consider (occasional) articles on science and scientific issues?
Should you be interested, I would be happy to provide details of my qualifications and experience, and examples of my writing.
With thanks for your time,
Yours faithfully, etc
This garnered no response. So a while later I became a little cheekier and re-sent with my CV attached. Which did. With a request for some examples of the type of article I would submit, which I quickly eructed, with the qualification that:
… although comment pieces, these were written for scientific journals, and I appreciate that they would require adjustment for a more lay readership, the ‘type’ of article being driven by what the publication and its readers wanted.
Over a week later, having heard nothing back, I decided to prod, which resulted in an invitation ‘… as a first step, to write one of our First Person columns.’ Just to check any gleeful rubbing together of hands, this was immediately followed with:
‘This would not be paid.’
Well, you’ve gotsta start somewhere. So, I awaited contact from the copied-in editor who oversees/looks after the ‘First Person’ column. And, a week later, following a further two prods with a proposed topical piece, I was offered a read; proviso: 450 words.
The piece eventually appeared over a topicality diminishing fortnight later. But let’s not quibble too much about that. Instead, I decided to strike before the iron cooled too much with the immediate offer of another piece – and a subtle reminder that I was looking for work. The former was welcomed; the latter was roundly ignored. Nevertheless, despite being initially rejected, I repeatedly re-worked this second offering, and it was eventually published over two weeks later.
So, I’ve continued with the occasional submission. The ‘First Person’ column is, in essence, a soap-boxing vehicle, situated down the right-hand side of the two Letters’ pages, apart from, but alongside the various entreaties and rants to the editor. My pieces have interleaved with those of local council, religious and university dignitaries. Which is kinda nice. I have no idea whether these other contributors have been paid for their trouble. I think the reward is the space to publicly promote something (I’m sure I don’t need to explain with examples). As for me, my five pieces deemed worthy of reading have been more by the way of pro-science reactions, and have predominantly been re-workings of lengthier pieces posted on this blog.
But it now seems an impasse has been arrived at. I am at the point at which I want to remind that doing this takes time and effort, and is there any scope for getting paid? So, as my last post here is (still – judging by this week’s 4thought.tv run) topical, I decided to work it down to the allowed 450 words, offer it, wait for acceptance, then re-broach the money issue.
Problem: they don’t want the piece. Instead, I’m told that the editor considers it could be used as a letter – ‘… although we would probably have to tone it down a bit’.
Cut down word count, and tone !? Why? What’s wrong with it?
Have a look at the proffered version:
I’ve often wondered what it is Baroness Warsi does. And it strikes me that she must have wondered herself. Hence how readily she embraced her chance to fly the flag for Cameron’s UK vision all the way to The Vatican, where, in her fawning Valentine’s Day speech, she said,
“[Militant secularism…] demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes…”
This paranoid, dishonest allying of secularism with totalitarianism was coupled with repeated reference to The Pope’s state visit to Britain in 2010, and how successful and well received this was. But she disingenuously (diplomatically) avoided mention of the accompanying controversy and protest. Moreover, she declined to pass judgment on instances of conflict between faith and public policy, genuflecting to someone who continues to evade the serious questions that she wouldn’t dream of asking him. It’s not “… aggressive secularism by stealth” the religious need fear, Baroness, it’s your humourless, religious conservative authoritarians.
There were, grant you, important matters on the round table with Vatican officials the following day: climate change, international aid, Somalia. Which must have made for a frantic twenty minutes! This brief allotted time span did yield a joint declaration calling for an “immediate end” to violence in Syria, which I imagine will make all the difference. And left plenty of free time for more photos of Warsi looking like a self-satisfied gormless tourist.
When Warsi says,
“For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant.”
she either exposes or feigns her complete ignorance of what secularism is. It is notable that she said “For me…” rather a lot. As though her own opinion carries significance and is universally applicable. In fact, Warsi revolved her speech around herself, employing " … I… / … me… " around seventy times, deeming her biography of relevance and of interest to the cocooned popedom. This Minister Without Portfolio, sycophantically trying to make her mark by colluding in an effort to turn back the clock on a world she considers has became too liberal.
She further misrepresents secularists as,
“… the anti-religionists, the faith deniers… attempting to remove all trace of religion from culture, history and public discourse.”
Again, the gratuitous implication of history-re-writing totalitarianism. And the Janus-faced depiction of the UK’s consensual welcoming of The Pope’s visit, with the admission and calumnious portrayal of its dissenters.
Secularism is not intolerant of any faith; but it rejects that privileged place, and automatic unqualified respect, that religious leaders and lobby groups carry in our political decision-making bodies. In her cupidity for worthiness with her vain (in all senses of the word) excursion, Warsi has embarrassingly let down her country.
I’ve already scythed the word count by more than half, a process that ‘toned it down’ substantially, which – to be fair – is arguably necessary for a local newspaper, which doesn’t exist in order to alienate its readers (a particular consideration in multicultural Leicester). But newspapers exist also to provide platform for fair viewpoints (and the First Person column is footnoted with the standard ‘The views expressed above are the views of the author and not necessarily… etc’ disclaimer). I simply don’t get what is now in need of ‘toning down’. Neither the original version last week, nor the edit above, is blasphemous. It potentially might have been deemed offensive; but it did not break any laws and, I feel, made fair points, being primarily an attack on, and reaction to, the dissimulative public utterances of Baroness bozo Warsi.
I attended the recent Rally for Free Expression, and am currently into Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book – a recommended but discomforting read. I’ll leave it there for now. Except to say that I await the letter edit (which I’ve asked to see before printing). I guess I’ve lost any leverage for getting paid.