Free From Journalism

Some months ago, this happened …

screen-shot-2016-03-17-at-15-54-33… which I took to be a reaction to my questioning Gluten Free Heaven magazine on their publication of an article by Kirsty Henshaw which encouraged new parents to delay the introduction of allergenic foods “for as long as possible” when weaning their children as “this reduces the risk of an allergy developing” – evidence for which has to my knowledge never been found, and in fact, which may be the opposite of the best recommendation, as emerging research indicates, which studies such as EAT may help further clarify, and which bodies such as the AAAAI appear to believe.

On the other hand, I guess it could have been due to a subsequent observation that their articles on ‘hidden gluten’ and food labelling called into question their understanding about subjects fundamental to their publication, which should concern any reader who looks to them as a source of information.

I had, last November, proposed to write an article for the magazine on the EU allergen labelling regulations, was invited to do so, but was told there was no editorial budget to pay writers. A credit, bio and a link to my ‘media outlet’ was offered instead, but my mortgage lender does not readily accept those in lieu of sterling, so I declined.

This frustrates me, even more so than the fact the magazine seems to ignore or plug its ears to dissenting voices on Twitter.

But anyway. That’s fine in this case, because what I have to say is not to them, but to you, so here goes.

If you want to pay £4.99 for a publication, which mainly amounts to a wide selection of perfectly good looking recipes, albeit many of which can be found online or in cookery books, and a few articles, not necessarily written by well-informed people, you’re free to do so.

And if you want to donate your recipes and articles to publications such as these, perhaps for that supposed golden egg that is ‘exposure’, that’s also your right. Next time you do so to Gluten Free Heaven / Free From Heaven, you’ll be doing it with the knowledge that the most recent annual turnover figures I’ve been able to find for Anthem Publishing – who publish them – are £3.3 million.

Journalism owes neither you nor me a living, and if an organisation does not wish to pay us for what we write, we can’t force them to do so – even when they can almost certainly afford it.

Other publishers are paying less and less for journalism – or failing to budge their rates upwards, despite inflation and rising costs – and we can’t force them to pay us more, either.

Here are the consequences.

As rates get squeezed, then so journalists are forced into writing more and more, working harder and harder, and standards drop. We under-research. We get things wrong.

When pages are willingly filled by donated contributions, and readers do not or cannot discriminate, there is no incentive to hire professional writers. Publications then effectively turn into advertising brochures, vehicles for reprinted material, and tools third parties use for self-promo.

Understand that if you routinely support – or contribute free material to – a publisher which arguably doesn’t appear to place much value on journalism, what you are doing is propping up a business model that undermines journalism.

The problem is wider than you might think, including online. Know that another offender is the Huffington Post, in which I have also seen several food allergy / intolerance bloggers. They were called out last year by Wil Wheaton.

Supporting them is your right too.

But the other thing to be undermined by this support is your moral right to criticise journalism.

In conclusion, this, then: if you are one of those people who routinely contributes free material or supports those publishers who request free material, and who gets upset on social media when some sorry journalist fucks up by describing coeliac disease as a type of food allergy, know that you are not merely highlighting that problem.

You are also in part responsible for it.

5 Comments

  1. Simon Whaley

    … and breathe! �� I wonder if the advertisers read the magazines they advertise in. If only readers could be told if they're buying a magazine that doesn't pay its writers, or publishes factually incorrect articles. So, yes, it's down to us to stop writing for these publications.

    Reply
  2. Mal

    Alex, it isn't only journalism that is undermined, but the cause/issues they write about too. If a well meaning family member/friend picks up those mags they may be reading wrong information and apply it when they cook for people who need to follow strict diets.

    I found these mags online yesterday, and was going to ask on Twitter whether anyone has had any success in making the phyllo pastry as seen in their pictures. I would love to see photographic evidence of it. Half the photos in the mag are clearly NOT the actual recipe being depicted.

    It even says on some recipes that they're copyright to Stockfood, The food media agency. I particularly liked the recipe for 'Cheese bread rolls on a floured surface' 😀

    Reply
  3. Alex G

    I wonder. But even if they did, would editorial quality sway them? Perhaps I'm being unfair, but I suspect most of them are just concerned with being seen in the most widely distributed publication which targets their potential ideal consumers.

    Reply
  4. Alex G

    Yes, you're right Mal. We have to accept that mistakes are inevitable, but it's the lack of acknowledgement / correction / engagement that really frustrates me. And mistakes in this context can have really grim effects on people following restricted diets – it's far more important to have strict fact-checking protocols in place where medical matters are concerned.

    Have to admit I've not paid much attention to the recipes …

    Reply
  5. Pingback: 2016: The 10 Best and Worst in Allergy & FreeFrom | Allergy Insight

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