Shit List

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

Sometimes seeing two pieces of information next to each other, or one immediately followed by the next is enough to send bolts of lightning of cognition through your brain. This happened to me today.

First I read this post by Broken Bottle Boy, the journalist Mic Wright, about a very interesting discussion he had with some other writers about the difficulties involved in gaining access to paid work in the mainstream media.

Then I saw this thread on Guardian’s Cif website, about the moderation of comments on articles.

One of the comments on the discussion included the following list, of where many Guardian journalists were educated:

George Monbiot – Brasenose College, Oxford

Jonathan Freedland – Wadham College, Oxford

Catherine Bennett – Hertford College, Oxford

Zoe Williams – Lincoln College, Oxford

Tanya Gold – Merton College, Oxford

Marina Hyde – Christ Church, Oxford

Bidisha Bandyopadhyay – St Edmund Hall, Oxford*

Melanie Phillips – St Anne’s College, Oxford

Emily Bell – A. N. Other College, Oxford

Allegra Stratton – Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Peter Bradshaw – A. N. Other College, Cambridge

David Mitchell – Peterhouse, Cambridge

Riazat Butt – A. N. Other College, Oxford

David Shariatmadari – King’s College, Cambridge

Timothy Garton Ash – St. Antony’s College, Oxford

Simon Tisdall – Downing College, Cambridge

Andrew Osborn – Oriel College, Oxford

Jane Martinson – A. N. Other College, Cambridge

John Hooper – St Catharines College, Cambridge

Ian Black – A.N. Other College, Cambridge

Sam Leith – Magdalen College, Oxford

Peter Preston – St John’s College, Oxford

Andrew Rawnsley – Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Simon Jenkins – St John’s College, Oxford

Alexander Chancellor – Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Alan Rusbridger – Magdalene College, Cambridge

Paul Sagar – Balliol College, Oxford

Richard Norton-Taylor – Hertford College, Oxford

Clare Armitstead – St Hilda’s College, Oxford

Janine Gibson – St John’s College, Oxford

Martin Wainwright – Merton College, Oxford

Victoria Coren – St Johns College, Oxford

Simon Hoggart – King’s College, Cambridge

Nick Cohen – Hertford College, Oxford

Ben Goldacre – Magdalen College, Oxford

Seumas Milne – Balliol College, Oxford

Rowenna Davis – Balliol College, Oxford

Hadley Freeman – St Anne’s College, Oxford

Paul Lewis – King’s College, Cambridge

John Harris – Queen’s College, Oxford

Madeleine Bunting – Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Jackie Ashley – St Anne’s College, Oxford

Polly Toynbee – St Anne’s College, Oxford

Next time you hear a Guardian journalist moaning about  ‘privilege’ and ‘inequality’ have a think about this list. I know I will.

Update: Mic Wright went to Homerton college, Cambridge. But he was the first in his family to go to university at all, and he says that Homerton is a relatively ‘new’ college in Cambridge, not a Kings or a Clare… Still this is an interesting way of looking at The Guardian and especially writings by journalists on social inequality.

(I didn’t go to Oxbridge. I went to an inner city comp and an ex-poly. My Dad went to Cambridge on a scholarship, the only member of his family to go to uni, till his sister got a degree this year aged 50 something.)

* I mean, FFS!!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christian Ward, Mic Wright, Cat Gee, jhbhq, Elly and others. Elly said: New Post: Shit List inspired by @brokenbottleboy @themanwhofell and The Guardian […]

  2. Lashington says:

    Getting into Oxford or Cambridge requires good grades. Getting into other universities — ex-polytechnics, for example — does not require such good grades.

    Could it be that these people are just intelligent? And that this is among the reasons the Guardian employed them?

    • You obviously don’t read the Guardian Lashington. If this list represents the creme de la creme of Britain’s minds, my name is Joan Collins!

      P.s. I got top grades at A level so there. But from an FE college in Birmingham. And I didn’t apply to Oxbridge anyway.

      • Lashington says:

        You’re right, I don’t read the Guardian. Not that that is anything to be ashamed of. (Nor, by the way, is being Joan Collins. Don’t be embarrassed by your true identity, “Quiet Riot Girl”.)

        If you had applied to Oxbridge, you might now be in a cushy job at a nominally left-wing newspaper. You should have considered it.

      • gwenhwyfaer says:

        Some people have chips on their shoulders. You appear to have a deep fat fryer.

  3. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I…

  4. innegative says:

    I’m not so convinced journalism matters a shit anyway. Sure, it’s nice to have a machine through which you can express and stage your opinions, but who cares and what difference does it make? What difference do they make?

    Be it the Guardian or The Sun, it’s all Rupert Murdoch ain’t it? Egalitarianism is just a middle-class pantomime. Stylisiation of concept, branded information. If you have the imagination, invent a concept and sell it; if not, hijack pre-existing cultural capital – ‘women’s issues’, ‘the poor’, ‘social justice’ etc – and sell that. Does any of it actually matter beyond selling back to people their own sense of self satisfaction and play-acted indignation?

    Seeing the list made me smile.

    • hmm says:

      I assume you mean rupert murdoch in the sense of “rupert murdoch” not in the sense of “Rupert Murdoch, born 1931”.

      If all commercial speech is reduced to cultural capital and goods, then does that deny its validity? One can be a privileged elite of nominal liberal/left wing/social democrat/socialist etc conviction and still make a thoroughly solid argument for and within that position. Just because someone is a hypocrite doesn’t mean they can’t be correct in their words. That’s certainly a principle on which right wing politicians operate, when they claim to speak “for the little guy” by promising to cut taxes and hire more rossers and revive intellectual honesty by speaking simply (read stupidly and thoughtlessly).

      Perhaps you have higher standards for intellect and integrity of journalism in the isles than are had across the pond. But from the other side, the guardian seems like a hotbed bastion of fundamentalist commies who inject wikileaks with fresh blood.

      • innegative says:

        I’m not questioning the possibility of validity (though what is definitively valid in the age of information overload?) I’m questioning how that apparent validity is used. The veneer of validity is fundamental to selling ‘quality newspapers’ – but this is all that is required, the appearance. The journalistic institution itself invensts itself with its own importance and through it the consumer of information can do the same. I don’t think it goes a great deal further than that and nor perhaps should it.

        Plus for journalists – what comes first? The institution they work for or the endeavour to enquire? There are very few journalists that I feel have any solid and rigorous philosophical system underpinning their own writings and it’s very rare they give me the impression that their work is a hard fought for creative work in progress.

        Most good writing I think, comes from feeling at odds with the language games and instituations that surround you. It also comes from finding reconcilliation for your own doubts and conflicts. Institutional language machines don’t seem geared towards this endeavour as they need to sell back to people a familliar narrative that is in keeping with the feelings of the target audience. Nor is there any place for boredom, complex argument or self-doubt. There are rules and systems that govern the writer and what they say

    • good question innegative. does any of it actually matter? I can’t help but think it does matter to an extent. But I take on your skepticism as ever.

  5. hmm says:

    One can dismiss the content for the prep school styled speech moderation and dainty ladies’ manners that dominate cambridge as harvard. One can alse EXCUSE those manners if they are attached to a worthwhile argument.

    Oh, I have to ask.

    Unfamiliar with british intellectual discourse these days except for internet encounters with the guardian and what seem to be insidious facsimiles of american tabloidism (but wasn’t everyone everywhere always catered to by them?), where is the creme de la creme of british thought to be found (in england, where the problem remains most intense, don’t gaelic this up to excuse british repression, for there are no more free thinking and amusingly literate people than the sexy redheads and blondes – bisexual all- of ireland and scotland).

    • Where are the creme de la creme of English thought, Hmm? That’s a good question. Possibly drowning their sorrows in the bars and gutters of Britain’s cities…

      I ask myself this question often about what has happened to intellectuals in our country. I do not know the answer. Wherever they are, I doubt they are terribly happy.

  6. yearzerowriters says:

    I went to Oxford from a regular state school, and stayed there too long doing postgraduate study and trying to make a career as an academic, racking up the debts as I went, before eventually having a breakdown and ending up with a low paid clerical job. The Guardian wouldn’t look twice at me – in part, of course, because I spend half my life writing and blogging about how the London literary establishment (most of whom write for the Guardian) are a bunch of talentless wannabe hipster sellouts. But mainly, my experience at Oxford and since, tells me, because of the school I went to. It’s one of those common misconceptions that it’s the university you go to that seals the deal with these networks. It’s not – it’s the school you went to (it just happens, of course, that these schools feed Oxbridge). Those of us from state schools couldn’t get near the networking groups at uni. Furthermore, of course, journalism is one of those careers where entry is often via unpaid internship – and for those of us with no money and without parental support, that just isn’t an option – whereas for those who could afford private school fees it’s easy.

    • Echidna says:

      I also went to Oxford. From a state education. And I can’t recall my school ever coming up, and I had no problem socialising and networking with those from private schools.
      I didn’t want to go into certain social circles, admittedly, but I broadly agree with Lashington. People with degrees from good universities tend to get good jobs, which are also often influential ones, and having gone to Oxford or Cambridge is not a mark of a privileged upbringing (even if a correlation exists it is not as strong as many think) and it’s mildly offensive to suggest that as well.
      Unpaid internships may be a problem though, I couldn’t comment on that.

  7. good points Dan. Yes, this list hides the public school system that must underpin it.

    It is a combination of factors that shore up people’s position in certain circles. I went to Manchester uni (for a while before dropping out) and met some people who are now successful in the media and politics. I was astounded at how many public school kids were at Manchester. It was a whole new, depressing world.

    I don’t think either of us will be writing for The Guardian any time soon!

  8. But ‘talentless wannabe hipster sellouts’ is such a great phrase I am going to remember that!

  9. Michael says:

    That’s 40-odd out of… er… how many journalists in total?

    And what is it specifically about going to Oxbridge that makes one automatically unqualified to hold views on issues of social inequality?

  10. It doesnt. BUt writers like Bidisha make out they suffer inequality due to other people’s privilege. I think this is hypocritical…

  11. Michael says:

    Seems a little odd though to bundle Bidisha, Melanie Phillips, Ben Goldacre, Simon Jenkins, David Mitchell and Polly Toynbee together purely on the basis of their alma mater, though. Not exactly a homogeneous group.

  12. If you asked most of the people who went to my university, Michael, what their ‘alma mater’ was they would probably reply, ‘you what?’

    I think this list is part of a window on the world of the class system in the UK and how education relates to the kinds of institutions people end up in as adults.

  13. innegative says:

    I tend to think working for the Guardian isn’t so significant a thing to do. We’d be better served maybe dismantling the idea that these institutions carry any kind of meaning at all and producing modes of inter-relation we find meaningful ourselves. I can’t think of any kind of writer I’d care less about than one that went straight from a good school into a journalistic post. You should maybe have built something of worth yourself prior to earning these sorts of positions – like Brooker or Mitchell

  14. innegative says:

    ‘The writer’ knows the desert of indifference that yawns below him; the straight to print or career journalist is under no imperative to face that void.

  15. true, innegative. I don’t care about the writers per se or their paper which I never buy. But especially within ‘movements’ or rather discourses like feminism, some of them do have quite a lot of influence and I think it is worth challenging both the ideas they espouse and the circumstances in which they are able to give exposure to those ideas.

  16. innegative says:

    I think feminism can be a stultifying pain in the ass, yes. It is indeed one of the few actual discouses that has effects and i expect this is due to its being primarily a middle-class or academic discourse. I think too most your chanllenges, as I understand them, are well grounded. Full of sterilising idealism and hysteria.

    In which years did you attend manch uni?

  17. I sent you an email! didnt want to tell my whole life story on my blog.

  18. BenSix says:

    BUt writers like Bidisha make out they suffer inequality due to other people’s privilege. I think this is hypocritical…

    Yeah, people can eat their french fries off my shoulders all they want but I’ll never think of a successful columnist as anything but incredibly privileged. It’s like someone mooching into a school classroom and saying, “You there. You can sleep all day, then wake up and spend five minutes telling the class whatever shite just popped into your head.

  19. Jen says:

    Just wanted to drop by and say I approve of this post. Nothing more really, except

    “I am sorry if I have mildly offended you Echidna. I prefer to either strongly offend or not at all. I will try harder next time.”

    Damn! I’m writing this down to use later.

  20. Jaybelle says:

    A kid I went to school with is now a writer on the Guardian. She went to the local primary and comprehensive secondary. She didn’t go to Oxbridge. What she did do was dedicate herself to journalism from a young age, entering and sometimes winning several competitions and prizes for young journalists.

    Not saying it harms anyone’s career prospects to have an independent school education and good family and peer connections, but that doesn’t mean that we’re doomed if we don’t. Talent, character, intelligence, resourcefulness and resilience are still a brilliant foil to other forms of privilege!

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