9 August 2013

Market day interaction with Ellen Branagh, Press Association

“It was actually just really useful to meet some young trans people, which was certainly a first for me, and to get the chance to talk frankly, especially about the way stories are covered and the kinds of stories we might be able to work together on.” Ellen Branagh, chief reporter from the Press Association 

We met Ellen for lunch in the popular hang-out for foodies, Borough Market, near London Bridge. On a hot sunny day in July (one of a recent many), we sat down for tapas and juice. CJ, a member of trans youth organisation, Gendered Intelligence, joined journalist and All About Trans facilitator, Paris Lees. Ellen didn’t really know what to expect from the interaction – she told us later she thought it was going to be much more formal. Despite telling media participants that the interactions are a chance to get to know members of the trans community, in an interesting location, without any demands, many arrive with other expectations. However, it doesn’t take long to relax and get into a conversation and this group was no exception.

CJ and Ellen in conversation

CJ and Ellen in conversation

Being trans in the workplace

There were chats about cooking, books, and personal experiences of growing up feeling trans or gender variant and what it means to transition. The group discussed employers and how coming out as trans in the workplace can be a difficult thing to do. Working closely with staff who use incorrect pronouns (referring to someone as “she” when they prefer “they” or “he”) can be problematic, even when senior managers are sympathetic and understanding. The group agreed on the need to be recognised as the person you’re presenting as and how frustrating it can be when people ignore your explanations and carry on regardless. They discussed attitudes nowadays and how it can take time to change preconceptions.

“I really liked allowing them to ask whatever they’ve always wanted to ask without fear of being offensive, even if I didn’t have to answer. I think it made them feel a lot more relaxed. I also really like that we did the interaction over lunch because it made it less tense…I was kind of surprised that Ellen and most of her colleagues had never (knowingly) met a trans* person.” CJ, volunteer

How reporters can be supported to improve their representation of trans people

Ellen expressed to us that she felt like most journalists never intended or wanted to “get it wrong”. She echoed other journalists we’ve met who are of the same opinion that, a short, visual guide with tips on understanding how to write and edit stories involving trans people would be extremely helpful, especially for sub-editors who are responsible for writing headlines. She felt that they could do with the extra support, in an easy-to-read brief document, because they’re also under the similar newsroom pressures as reporters and are more likely to glance at guidelines that are on their desk or hanging on a notice board in the office. She said it often doesn’t matter how accurate your article might be, the sub-editor can destroy all good intentions with one line and this is what often causes the most offence amongst the trans community. We mentioned the Transgender Primer to her (and sent her a copy following the interaction) and we also told her that we’ve been involved in the making of a 1-pager visual guide. (A comprehensive media style guide for journalists was also produced by Trans Media Watch). Considering the time constraints journalists and sub-editors face, she felt a brief, clear and to-the-point guide would be very useful and she offered to help distribute this in the Press Association office.

Reflections

Ellen and CJParis reflected on the awareness of trans issues and negative reporting:

“Ellen said that trans issues have become discussed more and more this year, and that was interesting. Awareness really is being raised, by various people and groups. It was interesting to hear Ellen echo other journalists who’ve told us that of course they never want to get it ‘wrong’ when writing about minorities.

I think because the bad reporting always sticks out, it’s easy to assume that journalists don’t care. I’m sure some don’t. But why would you be writing the news if you didn’t want to do a good job of it?”

After lunch, the group ambled through the market, chatting, tasting cheese, admiring fish, buying meat and vegetables for dinner… At the fish stall, Ellen helped CJ to pluck up the courage to ask about fish prices, unaware that CJ knew a lot more about fish than they let on. After some enquiring and heckling, CJ settled on a thick shark steak…Everyone ate well that evening!

Ellen told us how useful she found the interaction afterwards:

“[What I found most surprising was]…trying to empathise and trying to put myself in the shoes of a young trans person to understand the experiences they have had and how it affects the way certain coverage and stories affect them.

It would be handy to stay in touch, in case there are any future stories you may want to comment on, or have suggestions on who to get comments from, and also for advice on how best to cover things in the future.”

Our learning

This interaction made us realise how important it is for journalists and reporters to know at least one trans person and how much of an impact that can have on problematic reporting. Ellen was keen to spread the word, keep in touch and share the 1-pager guide with her colleagues.

We can also see how a carefully-designed interaction – taking someone out of the office to somewhere new and fresh, volunteers and media participants alike – becomes a memorable afternoon and an experience to share. This kind of meeting can help spread awareness and understanding not only across the media but also amongst friends, family, colleagues and the general public.

 

If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.

Keep following @AllAboutTrans and @OnRoadMedia for updates.

On Road,

Project Manager for On Road.