Steve Herrmann, editor, BBC News Online
“I wasn’t sure what to expect…it was most useful to be able to hear first-hand about the challenges and feelings connected with trans issues.”
In one of the more glamorous locations for an interaction, we spent an hour with BBC News Online’s Editor, Steve Herrmann, at the Palm Court restaurant in The Langham Hotel. Our steering group recommended that we arrange an interaction with Steve to make a connection with BBC News Online and get an understanding of how their website works. The Langham Hotel is known for its afternoon tea and ambient setting. A professional pianist played pop tunes for the afternoon – a little cheesy but fun – and we felt this set the atmosphere for a comfortable and relaxed interaction.
Paris Lees and Leng Montgomery volunteered to carry out the interaction and meet Steve. He arrived in between meetings and chose a cup of tea from a selection of 40 options on the menu. Everyone introduced themselves, then Leng and Steve began chatting about new digital technology and the impact of digital media and the web, something which interests both men. Quite soon, the conversation opened up and Steve was genuinely interested in hearing about Paris and Leng’s lives.
As a father, he was moved by Paris’ personal experiences growing up in a former mining town and being bullied at school. Steve was surprised to hear about some of the negativity in the general public’s attitude towards trans people. Leng also shared his experiences, growing up in the same town as Paris, with a supportive mother, and having many trans women as family friends. He made the point that he wasn’t aware of any trans men when he was younger and that this appears to be the case in the media too, where the press mainly report stories that focus on trans women, often meaning that practically nothing is known of non-binary and genderqueer people and trans men.
Having never met a trans person before, Steve was very engaged, respectful and curious. As an editor, he said he was used to having to answer people’s questions and appreciated the opportunity to ask someone else a question and hear about their personal experiences. The conversation briefly touched on the Suzanne Moore – Julie Burchill articles and the reaction amongst the trans community. He said that it wasn’t good when the only time editors hear from a certain community is when they’re angry and that the positive approach of All About Trans, meeting media professionals somewhere casual for a conversation, had much more long-term impact.
Paris Lees, journalist and All About Trans facilitator
“I was really struck when he explained that, often, the only times the newsroom hears from trans people or other marginalised groups is if the newsroom has made a mistake. He pointed out that when people are angry they’re perhaps not in the best place to get their points across, no matter how valid those points may be. It’s so true. It’s kind of like when you are depressed you might not be in the best position to make positive changes in your life.
I think as trans people we need to communicate our passion for good journalism as much as we do bad journalism – drop the news team a note if you see something that’s been covered well and respectfully. I never used to, but I’m getting into the habit. Journalists love getting positive feedback, and it’s a great way to make sure our voices are not only heard when we are hurting and angry.”
Being interested in citizen journalism, he and Paris discussed the potential for bringing more trans stories to the BBC News website, particularly in the Magazine section, where Steve saw a lot of scope for lifestyle stories. Steve was keen to share his experience with the online team and we discussed holding future group interactions with the BBC. We have since shared this with our steering group and we are discussing the potential for holding interactions with both News and Drama departments (after a successful interaction with Kate Phillips, Channel Executive for BBC One and Three) in the near future. In the end, he said he found the informality of the interaction very worthwhile and interesting. Paris and Leng both appreciated his honesty and empathy.
Drinking tea in Palm Court, across the road from the BBC HQ was perfect for someone with a busy schedule and ideal for talking openly and honestly. We have all kept in touch and we expect the relationship to develop. Watch this space!
— Steve Herrmann (@BBCSteveH) June 18, 2013
If you work in the media and are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org and 0207 3244790.