The accidental journalist
by Anni Donaldson, 2013 “Best Article” Winner of the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards
It was a bit of a shock when I was told I had been nominated for Best Article in the first Write to End VAW Awards in 2013. Writing about violence against women seemed like a natural extension of my VAW development work with West Dunbartonshire Council and my academic work in the School of Social Work and Social Policy, CELCIS and the Scottish Oral History Centre at Strathclyde University. I had always felt that the general media coverage was not really dealing with the issues in the way that so many of us working in the field understood it.
The gap between women’s experiences of gender-based violence and public awareness seemed very wide and I wondered if I could do something to address this by writing for a general audience. The Scottish Review and Bella Caledonia accepted some of my early attempts but it was the high profile Bill Walker case which really incensed me. My article about Walker, his conviction and the limitations of Scots law in prosecuting abusers like him proved a winner with last year’s judges and I could not have been more surprised or pleased. The award, granted by a panel of experts from both the VAW field and from journalism, proved to be a tremendous boost to both my journalism and, I hope, to public awareness.
My employer found out and was very keen to publicise my success. Coverage in the staff newspaper Talk led to the local press getting a hold of the story; I was invited to write a monthly column in the Lennox Herald. Called ‘A Woman’s Place’, I have carte blanche and since January this year, have covered a violence against women topics in the news and women’s equality from a local and national perspective. Commissions have followed from print and online publications including The Conversation, Scottish Justice Matters, The Daily Record, Cambelltown Courier, The Herald, The Scottish Review of Books and Scottish Islands Explorer (I branched out to travel writing there). I have become more involved in blogging with my own site Glasgow Anni and have blogged for WithScotland’s TalkWith, Scottish Women’s Aid’s Together We can Stop It, Zero Tolerance.
The media have always been a key player in shaping public attitudes to all forms of violence against women – not all of it positive. Zero Tolerance are to be congratulated for their part in the Write to End VAW Awards and for publishing excellent guidance promoting responsible journalism. The work is still needed sadly as domestic abuse cases, sexual abuse disclosures and high profile perpetrators continue to dominate media platforms. A great deal of reporting remains voyeuristic and exploitative with victims and survivors’ voices screaming to be heard above the clamour often focussed on the male perpetrators and public sympathy for them. Recent critiques of coverage of the trial of Reeva Steenkamp’s killer and the Ched Evans rape case show what we are still up against. Similarly, revelations of high profile celebrity child sexual abuse predators, the systematic and almost industrial scale sexual exploitation of children and young people by large numbers of men in Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale all require our continued vigilance in challenging inadequate reporting, biased journalism and in promoting an ethical alternative.
Scotland has come a very long way since those first Zero Tolerance posters drew the public’s attention to domestic abuse. However we still have a long way to go to create a society where everyone finds all forms of violence against women intolerable and says so. Challenging media portrayals is a key part of the work to be done in Scotland and across the world. I hope other countries will follow the example of the Write to End VAW Awards. I feel privileged to be part of this new and exciting part of the journey. I congratulate all of this year’s nominees; win or lose, your writing is important.
Follow me on twitter: @AnniDonaldson