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By Pamela Head on 18.4.2023

The Student, The Unions and The Article

Journalists like to be controversial. That’s no secret. I mean, just look at Samantha ‘I’m so beautiful’ Brick. She became a worldwide figure on the back of one article proclaiming her view that women hate her for being beautiful. (If you’ve not heard of her, where have you been?!) So, the controversy surrounding Sara Malm, a third year Journalism student studying at the University of Kent shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Writing an article about trade unions and their selfishness in choosing to strike rather than accepting their conditions in the Independent this week, she was bound to stir up controversy from the very first word.

She asserts, and I quote, “It is a selfish, disgraceful and, quite frankly, passé behaviour which has no place in a market economy, especially not one four years into a recession.” Strong opinion, no? Obviously, the backlash was huge. One commenter stated: “This shows an infantile understanding of the issues. I’ve seen more literate Internet trolling.” You’d have to dig deep to find a positive comment in the flow of negativity rolling in on the Independent website.

What IS the issue that Sara Malm tackled? Trade unions have been widespread in Britain from as early as 1824. Appearing during the Industrial Revolution and finally gaining legal status by a Royal Commission in 1867, they sought to give the mistreated and underpaid workers some rights against the employers who were exploiting them. They’ve given workers stability, a regular working day and a decent pension. All the things we’ve come to expect.

Of course, this isn’t an outdated issue as trade unions still play a role today. The recent decision for more teacher strikes are due to the government insisting that they pay more into their pensions and work for longer; more work, less money, essentially. Indeed, it is the teachers who appear to be leading the revolt against Malm and her claims that strikers are selfish. Teachers aren’t being selfish in demanding that they receive what they were promised, are they?

Malm’s main argument is that strikes affect the public: the parents having to take time off work to look after children who should be in school. In this respect… she may have a point, though badly put. A different example may help. When the air traffic controllers went on strike in June, it wasn’t the politician that suffered it was the family trying to go on holiday after a year of saving. These were real people who dealt with the aftermath of the government’s decision, not the decision-makers.

Strikes have to be disruptive. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t draw media attention. They have to cause the most fuss possible in order to get something changed. Striking and causing parents to stay home does just that. For the unions, it’s the best and pretty much only way to make a stand. For the parents, it’s annoying, but most people understand. Malm, in her article, doesn’t appear to be one of them. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also her opinion.

The very nature of writing comment articles online means that you should expect criticism. People very rarely feel the compunction to express agreement. Just a quick read, nod of the head and you move on. Comments… well, they usually come with a healthy dose of vitriol, let’s be honest.

Tim Luckhurst, founder of the University’s Centre for Journalism said: “We teach our students to report news accurately, intelligently and ethically. But there is a role for journalism to be provocative. Being provocative and stimulating is part of the job. People who understand free speech understand the difference between offence and harm. We have freedom of speech so that we can have a range of debate. I don’t endorse her views or express an opinion on the topic. I’m proud of Sara Malm and think it’s a great achievement.”

I think Voltaire hit the nail on the head with this one in his beliefs about free speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” You can disagree with Sara Malm’s opinion, but she has a right to express it… in whichever contentious way she wants.

Comments

  • Dear Sara Malm,

    What i’m getting is that you’ve disagreed with my statement that you intended to create merry hell, and yet you state that you knew that your views and the way that you write would. So I’m guessing that this discussion is furthering your ego? And while I admire your ‘bravery’ I believe that good journalism should be the focus here and I’m in doubt as to whether your original piece actually was.

    A

    By Apollo Chase on 24.4.2023

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  • Amelia, I haven’t accused Pamela of anything at all. I actually really enjoyed reading this article and understand Pamela’s opinion. I was commenting on the reception that Sara’s original article received on the Independent website – if you look, there’s pages of comments by readers. I’m not making an accusation against any inquire writer (there comments on the Independent website that are vitriolic – this article here isn’t); and I’m not slagging off this writer’s work and making comments that are unfounded (I don’t troll on inquire comment boards). I was just adding my opinion on the original source and the debate that it stoked. I hope that clears things. Sorry for the confusion caused.

    By George Hopkin on 20.4.2023

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  • I don’t understand why Sara Malm is receiving all the praise that Pamela is equally entitled to. Both Sara and Pamela’s article are opinion pieces which contribute to a certain debate. People seem to be rushing to Sara’s defence as if Pamela is openly attacking her, though she might not agree with Sara’s argument or personally like the way she phrases it, she quite rightly (and fairly I might add) argues that Sara is entitled to her opinion, just as Pamela herself is. And I certainly wouldn’t categorise this article as part of the ‘vitrolic feedback’ or for one moment suggest Pamela is trying to belittle Sara’s achievement, that’s quite an accusation you make there George and one completely unfounded.

    By Amelia Cox on 20.4.2023

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  • I supported Sara Malm on the Independent website and I still do support her now. There’s nothing wrong with what she did: chiefly, sparking a debate over union strike actions through an article showing her opinion.

    She’s getting a lot of vitriolic ‘feedback’ for her work and I think that the amateur journalists among us should rather be looking at her success in breaking into the national news sphere and respecting her for it. It may not be the kind of article that I write or normally like to read, as it may not be a lot of other people’s, but at least it got me thinking about the theme of striking – and that’s good enough for me.

    (I’ve also respect for Sara for coming out and answering criticism too. Even on Inquirelive she’s here and commenting back, justifying her work. That unnecessary dedication and bravery should at least be acknowledged).

    By George Hopkin on 19.4.2023

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  • Dear Apollo Chase – please re-read my rebuttal. You seem to have misunderstood me. I did not say those views to ‘create merry hell’. What I am saying is that I was aware that my views and the way I write would. There is a massive difference.

    By Sara Malm on 19.4.2023

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  • Apologies, this article is well written, however the piece I refer to is Malm’s article that is the subject. The piece was unsubstantiated criticism of groups that have given us quite a bit.

    There was no offence meant to the Inquire team or indeed the writer of the above article.

    By Apollo Chase on 18.4.2023

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  • This article is in part about Malm’s piece yes, specifically the arguments she raised within the context of the issue of trade unions and then the response to her piece. The intention was definitely to provide further discussion by looking at this whole picture at once. It is as much about her argument as it is the criticism it received.

    As for your remark about it not being researched, I can assure you that that is not the case. I was in constant communication with the writer during the construction of the article, providing sources of other discussions and thoughts. Whilst I cannot comment, due to lack of knowledge, on the standards of the Journalism course, I have my own expectations of quality. Simply put, I would not put up an article if I was not satisfied with its quality of content.

    By website-comment on 18.4.2023

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  • I’m confused is the above an article about Sara Malm? I didn’t understand her views and even her rebuttal that she said those views just to create merry hell. But why is the above article furthering the discussion on this piece of disastrous journalism? Articles should be well re-searched and this clearly wasn’t. I’m a bit worried about the standards that students on the Journalism Course are held to…

    By Apollo Chase on 18.4.2023

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