13 December 2017

Lessons I learnt from having an article published in The Guardian


A few weeks before Pride in London this year I was interviewed by Hull Trains about my volunteer work for the event. The Guardian wanted to run a similar piece about volunteer roles for Pride in London so I was asked by the Pride team if I’d do this one too.  They wanted someone who’d volunteered for Pride for a number of years and had experience in writing articles so I thought why not.  It’s the first time I’d written anything for a big publication like this and I wasn’t sure what to expect so I thought I’d share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learnt from the experience and how it differs from blogging:


Never read the comments

I’m going to start off with the most obvious one, never read the comments of anything that’s open to public opinion like this.  Especially when the newspaper choose a rather divisive headline (more on that later).  I love getting comments on my blog as it's still fairly rare and I've had less then a handful of bad experiences.  On this article there are hundreds of comments and thankfully by the time I got round to seeing it in the evening the worst comments had been removed by The Guardian. There were a lot of automated ‘this post has been removed for violating the terms of service’ comments which must have meant there was a lot of hate, though whether this was directed at me or the LGBTQ+ community I don’t know.  Did I read the rest of the comments?  Of course I did! I shouldn’t have but I did - it’s human nature.  I just couldn’t look away as people picked over the smallest details of what I’d written and attacked me for the choice or words or a misinterpretation, it was bizarre yet I didn’t actually find it too upsetting, just really strange.  There were of nice comments and people sticking up for me but the whole thing was rather surreal, I chose not to read them again after that first evening. 


People will refer to you by your full name in the comments

I have a strange name with an even stranger spelling, making me a dream if you ever want to find every single thing I’ve ever done online (I see you embarrassing emo Myspace profile from when I was 16).  Hence why this blog initially didn’t have my name anywhere on it for the first few years.  It’s really unusual for me to see my name written down anywhere or on so seeing comments who literally state my full name ‘Kariss blah blah clearly thinks….” etc was really bizarre.  It made the unpleasant comments feel more personal and seemed unnecessary to call someone out by their full name like that.  Thankfully I’ve had no follow up on any of my social media accounts, which with a name so google-able could easily have happened.

They may choose a headline that could change the focus of your whole piece

Let’s be real, there was no real need for my sexuality to be mentioned in this piece at all, however Pride in London needs around 1000 volunteers a year to run the event so it's important to get the word out so we can get as many volunteers as possible.  There is a common misconception that you have to be part of the LGBT community to volunteer for Pride in London, even amongst some of the volunteers themselves.  Speaking with members of Pride we decided to include a line about me being straight, it’s just a small line meant to encourage people of all sexualities to get involved.  However The Guardian then took this and ran with it, giving the article the title "I'm Straight- Here's Why I Volunteer at Pride in London" which changed the focus of the article and let to most of the outrage in the comments.

The time between you writing a piece and it being used can change what people take away from your article

When I write a blog post if something suddenly happens in the world between me finishing it and making it live I can choose not to post or edit it if something in the world effects my writing.  With submitting an article that isn’t going to happen.  In the two or so weeks between me sending my article and it going live there was a fair bit of controversy surrounding Pride and it’s relationship with the straight ‘community’ that changed the tilt of my article.  I’m not qualified to comment on that but not being able to just edit out that one sentence made me feel pretty anxious about the reception it was going to get. 


They can and will edit your writing

Heavily too, the final post was not written in my authentic voice and they even changed some things which made them non-factual (based on their thoughts rather then my facts) which is not something I enjoyed about the experience.  I understand there is a house style to follow and of course they will edit but there were sections of the post that were almost unrecognisable from what I originally wrote.


Short is good, long is bad

I know that these days short and snappy is the way forward for any written work, but the brief specifically said to use short paragraphs and sentences and simple words.  I love a long form blog post on this was a challenge for me, especially to write in a way that doesn't appear like I am being dumbed down. 


They might not deliver on their promises of linking to you

This wasn't my main focus on this occasion as I was doing it for Pride in London but the promise of a link to my blog was defiantly a huge sweetener.  They promised it several times in emails then when I chased it afterwards they said they couldn't link to my blog in the post or the bio as they don't link to personal websites (even though I made it clear in the emails that it was my personal blog and they'd seen it and agreed).  I will admit I am still a bit bitter about this as I am sure you can tell!


You have no idea if your article is going to be used

This is fairly obvious for anyone who has worked as a freelance journalist but as a blogger it was defiantly new.  You do the work, submit it, and the they might just never use it.  I thought this was going to happen to me as I'd written the post, had it edited and approved by them months before it was released and I had to do a fair bit of chasing.  The point of the post was supposed to be to encourage people to sign up to volunteer for Pride and yet it wasn't launched till the day of the event (which was a bit of a shock to come back to after the stressful day I'd had).

I know this sounds negative but actually the experience was mostly positive and as a dyslexic, working class Barnsley girl I am actually really proud of myself for getting this chance, if you want to read the full article you'll find that here.  With that in mind Pride is slowly coming around again so if you are thinking of volunteering sign up here ready for some news in the future and check out my post on 5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer for Pride in London.  It has been a wild ride and I've loved every minute and it's given me opportunities like this I wouldn't have reached otherwise.

Would you submit an article to a major news network?

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