Monday, May 12, 2008

Zoe Williams: Why I should not be doing the job I get paid to do

I don't want to reheat the charred corpse of the Evening Standard vs Guardian London mayoral stuff, but there is a truly astonishing justification in the Guardian for its Boris-bashing.

The basic defence: 'it's a polemic. If you don't like it, tough' - would be reasonable enough (and the additional claim that the articles were intended mainly to reflect how a lot of the readers think is a welcome bit of common sense.) However, the reader's editor then makes the paper look rather wet and disingenuous by floundering around between a defence of vigorous commentary and hang-wringing over whether or not newspapers should try and influence how people vote. (Why not just take the view that they are welcome to try, but should expect to fail unless they unearth something which significantly changes the situation).

However, the jaw-dropping bit comes from Zoe Williams in her defence of her vitriolic attack on Boris Johnson.

"I'm not a reporter," Williams points out. "I write comment. I tell people what to do all the time. I don't expect them to take me seriously."

In other words: I have nothing to say and I will say it loudly. I can see why she might take the money and the ego-boost that being a bully pulpit in a national newspaper offers, but does she never stop and think why she is doing this?

Not that seriousness is, in itself, a virtue. In fact, I'd far rather read something by Craig Brown or Charlie Brooker than something by Simon Heffer or Polly Toynbee, but if somebody is writing 'not serious' pieces about politics then there should be a basic demand that they are funny or entertaining. At the very least they should offer something beyond views that turn out to be commonplace platitudes laced with rather unpleasant personal abuse. As it turns out, Zoe Williams was trying to mix humour and incisive comment. It just transpires that she's useless at both and ends up merely wittering then sneering.

The remarks, at the beginning of the article, about Johnson's hair and cycling were meant to be funny Williams told me. "Maybe I didn't demarcate my tones clearly enough," she said. "I went from joking into quite a trenchant attack."

Does the Guardian never stop and think why it is asking people who, by their own admission, have nothing to offer to fill their pages? (Let me guess, they want a young-ish, modern woman's perspective. And Zoe's the one they've got one to hand; and it's far too much effort to find one who might reasonably expect to be taken seriously.)

Zoe Williams also has a line in churning out light features-type stuff for the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph, possibly a few other publications, so I don't think it's going to throw her on the poor heap if she sticks to that in future and if the Guardian takes her words at face value and stops employing her to do a job she's ill-suited to do.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Personally, I've never had any time for the woman. I think she's utterly without merit - her columns are dull, her opinions facile. I have no idea why she is still employed - there are a myriad of young women whose perspective would be far less mediocre.


1:59 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Astonishingly, there are many people - even a few young women in the media - whose perspective is even more mediocre. And yet they find an outlet for their verbiage.

In these cases and that of Zoe Williams their profile is almost always down to nepotism, cronyism or being intolerably pushy. Usually a combination of the three.

There are plenty of good - or at least okay - people who find it impossible to get on without at least one of these.

I couldn't assert for sure this is what happened in Williams's case. There may be editors who genuinely admire her writing and insight. In which case, they should be fired.

9:38 pm  
Blogger Political Umpire said...

The Phil Space and Phillipa Column / Polly Filler satirical articles in the eye have never been more redundant. And I've noticed Mary Anne Bighead is still churning out the odd bit of sexist crap in the Times ... which also has Jane Shilling, Caitlin Moron, Magnus Linklater and many others on the payroll ...

9:36 am  

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