Is freedom of speech really free?

This was a popular topic of debate in my journalism lectures at uni. In fact, some people got so wound up in their freedom of speech that the rest of us would spend the best part of these lectures sitting back and watching, as at least two people passionately argued their stance on free speech, or politics, or whatever. I don’t know if the best part was when someone would still be sulking after the lecture about not getting the last word, or when comments beginning “Your mum” were thrown around. Either way, quality entertainment.

What does freedom of speech really mean anyway? I like to think there’s more to it than simply being able to say what you like, but honestly, that is how most people seem to take it. I was musing on this the other day when I read a Facebook post that was nostalgically remembering the good old days when one could make a joke without having to worry about insulting women, racial minorities, LGBT people, etc. Really, it’s so tough being in a generation where everyone has a voice, not just heterosexual white men…

When people make statements online – for whatever cause – conflict in the comments section will inevitably ensue. And you can bet at least one person will defend their viewpoint by using the “free speech, free country” card. But people who try to be “PC” in their use of speech are stigmatised and mocked. Apparently casual racism, or sexism, or whatever, is fine, but trying to show respect and compassion towards other people makes you subject to ridicule.

And none of this answers my question.

The way I see it is this. Freedom in any form isn’t as simple as being able to do whatever you want, with no regards to the consequences. Think about growing up. You spend your childhood being heavily dependent on your parents, then your teen years testing their boundaries and your own limits. You take matters into your own hands, and when you fail, you get angry when your parents still make sure you get your comeuppance just when you thought you were entitled to more privileges.

But your parents don’t give you more freedom because they stop caring what you do. Rather, they do so because they are trying to trust you to make your own decisions without having to be told. At any stage in our lives, we will inevitably abuse our privileges, and the consequences will be no less real.

Make sense? We are free to voice our opinions, but that doesn’t make it any more ok to attack others. No-one is always fully right or fully wrong. Conflict may be unavoidable, but if you manage it by defending your side without tearing down someone else’s, you’re making a step in the right direction.


Moments at uni – the good, the bad, and the manic

Most fun: going on a field trip to the Birmingham BBC studios. Namely, having my picture taken with a dalek, seeing where live morning TV, music and The Archers are recorded and being in a short radio drama about being eaten by a cannibal. (3rd year)


Most embarrassing: reading out a short story I’d written to the class, and the main feedback from a guy going on about how bad it was and how it didn’t fit the requirements given, while punctuating every criticism with “no offence.”* (1st year)

Most stressful: 3rd year group projects, InDesign, no water in the flat…pretty much all of this year!

Weirdest: many moments with certain people on my course present. Ranging from listening to a detailed imitation of sex noises, to everyone’s boobs being given names. Like ‘Ben and Jerry.’ Or ‘Trinny and Susannah.’ Or in my case, ‘Ant and Dec.’ (3rd year)

Stupidest: realising I no longer had my bag of books, not finding it anywhere on campus, reporting to security, then going back to my flat and finding it in my room. I tried to tell security “it had been found”, but they wanted to know where and by whom… (3rd year)

Most annoying: when I was in the DMU choir and I told them I couldn’t make it to a performance, as it clashed with the day I had just told the Derby Telegraph I would be changing to. When I got roped in anyway, the people in charge swore blind they heard me say I could make it… (2nd year)

Funniest: when political debates in Journalism lectures got so heated, many minutes were wasted by two students (not quite, but almost) shouting over each other about freedom of speech, should kids be interested in politics, etc. Meanwhile, the rest of us – lecturer included – would be watching in wide-eyed silence. ‘Twas quality entertainment. Yes, I do think someone should have brought popcorn. (2nd year)

Overall worst: almost missing my only exam (1st year). Or being told I didn’t need to come back for more counselling before I’d explained how low I was, emotionally (2nd year). All in the past.

Overall best: my final marks – 70%, 66%, 66% and 61%, and 66% (a 2:1) overall. Woo!

And on that note, happy graduation to my fellow graduates!




*In his defence, he was autistic. I had this theory that we were put together because we had the same condition, so of course we would work well together.

Entering third year and a possible Facebook page

Here’s a little “expectation-versus-reality” scenario. Imagine your first year at uni – whether past, present or future. Everything is new and scary but so full of possibilities. Perhaps for the first time, you are seriously learning about what you really want to do, and you have three years ahead of you in which to become as well educated as those third years you see in Open Day talks.

Then comes second year – possibly the university equivalent of middle child syndrome. You’re not all fresh and naïve anymore, but hey, you’ve still got time.

Now onto third year. Suddenly you are grappling with the realisation that you have less than a year to achieve your education-based goals before your life is devoid of structure and meaning. It seems that third years today are not as prestigious as the third years of two years ago.

I think I discovered this when I took part in the Journalism News Day last Wednesday during the reading week. Journalism staff and students alike got together to form a mock news desk, and I found myself working with a couple of first years. We were sent out to do a vox pop i.e. pester some unfortunate passers by for their opinions on a certain subject. What was that subject? The tampon tax and the self-explanatory free bleed protest outside Parliament. I’m sorry, but you did ask.

It was through doing this that I realised both how much I’ve learned (about the course and uni overall) and how dumb I still feel. Interviewing strangers about periods isn’t my strong point, as shown by how the girls I was with had to help me with the talking. We got a good handful of quotes, however, and after submitting them, I spent the rest of the day writing an article on the same subject for the News Day’s publication here:

As you can see, finishing uni can be trying. I’m trying to figure out a career, write part of a novel for my dissertation and also get over a sad friendship breakup with a certain ex-housemate. But despite what it sounds like, I’m still happy with my course, and have big dreams for the future.

Which brings me onto my next point. I’m aware that many aspiring professionals in their field of expertise create their own Facebook page to publicise whatever they do. Over this year, I have been wondering whether or not I should get my own page to promote my blog and any other writing I do, in order to increase my chances of a career as an author. I know this is supposed to be good publicity, but I’m a bit sceptical.

For one thing, I feel embarrassed about tooting my own horn too much. For another, how effective would it be anyway? Chances are, the only people who would “like” it, would be existing Facebook friends who are genuinely interested. Although I suppose this would be a relief for those who inwardly groan every time my blog pops up in their News Feed. Also, if I continued to share my writing on my Facebook account as well, then people who are interested would just be getting it twice.

Before anyone advises me, I’m not expecting cries of “Do it, Grace!” so that I can say “No, I couldn’t possibly…oh alright then!” I suppose what I’m asking you all is: do you think this would be a good idea?

A few key changes

Hello readers, it’s been a while. You can thank any lecturer who has given me coursework for that. I’m not really doing a proper blog post here, I’m just explaining how I will be doing things from now on.

I’ve just got back from a Practical Journalism workshop in which we started planning how we are going to blog as part of our course. Having kept this blog for a year and three quarters now (!!!) my Practical Journalism lecturer has said I can continue with this blog, with just a few improvements. At least, I hope they will be improvements!

So I thought I’d try coming up with a particular theme for each month and blogging weekly on a related topic. At this point, can I add that if anyone has an idea for a theme they would particularly like me to cover, could they please speak up? Much appreciated. In the meantime, if anything irrelevant to the theme but still significant to me happens, then I will either save it for a theme it would be suited to, or blog about it outside my weekly blogging day.

One last thing. To save bombarding my Facebook friends with a link to everything I write online that ever gets published, I am going to include said links in my blog posts from now on. Not only do I continue to write at the Derby Telegraph when I have time, I now write regular online articles for Demon Media (DMU news) about Asperger’s/special needs based topics. Starting here:

Happy advent! 10647144_10152858789693814_7103841215039414110_n

Work experience: The Derby Telegraph

Before I begin, I would like to apologise for two things. One, for not getting round to doing this post right after said work experience took place – Freshers Week, as it happened. I have been slowly getting to grips with living independently, having coursework once again and the fact that our washing machine probably hates me. Two, for the huge spider picture which might, assuming the internet will co-operate, be the first thing any readers of this post will see…

What have spiders got to do with work experience? Don’t forget this is Journalism work experience we’re talking about here. I had been advised by my tutor to read the newspaper before working for it – if you haven’t done your research before hand, you might as well pack your bags. So I did my research, and one of the stories I found was about how spiders are soon to be invading our homes while increasing in size and number. I had also been told that if you arrive with a story idea on your first day, you could impress your employers no end. In desperation, I racked my brains for an article idea, and eventually settled for a follow up on the spider article: How to keep spiders out of your home. 10687038_844698658883010_3441144676856458668_n

Now I’d like to say that I had complete confidence in my new and radical idea for an article and that it wasn’t just a desperate last resort to do something vaguely clever. Being (I like to think) a very truthful person, I probably won’t. On the contrary, however, the article not only impressed the people I was working with, it dramatically increased the Derby Telegraph’s online readership. Get in!

I did learn the hard way though, that as a writer not everyone will be impressed by your work, or even remotely respectful. I couldn’t help but be offended by some stupid comment saying, among other things, that I need to “get some help for that phobia” – I was only doing my job, I don’t even kill spiders myself! Luckily, I live with a housemate who thinks that responding to rude comments online is pointless and who reminded me that I normally think the same.

The main difference between working with the Derby Telegraph and the Nottingham Post is that in Derby, they set me easier tasks, and were then way more easily impressed whenever I got to the end of yet another article. I had thought that they would be stricter, what with the firm work experience guidelines they emailed me previously. I didn’t once have to go and badger any hapless passers-by in some remote corner of the county, however. I simply wrote about whatever they wanted and was thoroughly praised for completing each task. Before I knew it, not only did I have five more articles published – four of which went on the website – I was also asked to come back, so agreed that I would every Wednesday.

Whilst I don’t think this post is quite as entertaining as certain previous posts, it does allow me to give a shoutout to the Derby Telegraph for publishing my writing – I’ve been told that there may be more of my work to come in the paper, maybe even including one with my photo in it! Meanwhile if you’re looking for a more intellectual read, have a browse through these following articles of mine. Want to know what a cross between a dachshund and a Chihuahua is? Ever seen a poodle cat? Know the secrets of Iphone headphones? Hoping to take your family on as many Halloween themed half term activities as possible? Read on…

Work experience: The Nottingham Post

My first ever day of work experience ended with my employer telling my parents I’d passed away. I was 15 and school had made it compulsory for all Year Tens to have a week of work experience; in my case, at Charnwood Forest Veterinary Surgery. After 30 minutes of standing in a stuffy, chemical-smelling consulting room, I was suddenly overwhelmed by that dizzy feeling usually associated with standing up too fast. Next thing I knew, I was thinking: why am I on the floor? Not only had I fainted, but on my way down I pulled a nearby microscope onto my head, causing it to break (the microscope, not my head). My parents were in for a shock when the nurses (incorrectly) rang to say I’d had a fit. Just before the (French) vet got “passed out” confused with “passed away”…

Back to present time, I spent last week on work experience with the Nottingham Post, which, despite the odd stressful moment, got off to a slightly better start. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but on instruction from family and friends I managed not to pass away or break any expensive equipment. The thing about journalism is it exposes you to every side of life. Suddenly cases of murder, theft and car accidents become real, and are no longer just stories on the news. A story of a little boy critically injured in a car accident meant I had to ask a witness for a statement. That was far more sobering than just seeing the story on paper or on the internet. On my last day I had to attend a court case about two men who had strangled another man with a belt and crushed his skull. I can still hear the judge coldly recounting how they had “felt the man’s skull crack”. But, I was told, a journalist must maintain a professional air.

There are certain traits of a good journalist that I really need to work on. Assertiveness, charisma etc. My “good journalist” traits, such as they are, were put to the test most days. Sitting at a computer alongside all the fully fledged reporters, editors, etc. meant I had to answer the phone like a proper journalist. I was told to explain to the caller that I was on work experience, and could they please give me their name and number so I could get someone of higher authority to call them back. However, my employers never told me NOT to pretend to understand everything said, get completely tongue-tied or anything like that.

The hardest thing was approaching people on the street. One day I had to get the bus to where the famous Riverside Festival was to be held so I could interview two people in charge and three locals about said festival. I spent the whole morning getting hopelessly lost, not finding anyone willing to talk to me, struggling to quickly write down quotes and generally feeling so stupid I was on the brink of tears. Another day I had to do a vox pop i.e. go out and badger six passers-by about their opinions on social media. I know that in their place, I would hate having some gawky looking student type interrupting my day to ask me questions, and as for getting personal details and a photo? I was out there for a very long time.

But despite all that, the week was pretty successful. I know this partly because I had six items published in the paper and partly because the feedback form people at the Post filled in summarised my achievements and described me as “very enthusiastic”. Yes, I was tired enough to be asleep by 10pm most nights, but I learned a lot, and I liked the people I was with. I had to get out there and do my job regardless of my own feelings and struggles, and I got the feeling that, in that sense, everyone there was just the same.

The dreaded exam

I’ve been debating with myself about whether or not I would be prepared to blog about this. What I am about to blog about has been a serious knock to my confidence. But then blogging has taught me that in order to make your life sound even slightly entertaining you have to be willing to sacrifice a little bit of dignity every now and again. I think my last post in particular proved this to me; people are still laughing about my old soft toys having diaries…Anyway. Main point. My exam. What was so dreaded about it? What could be worse than simply getting low marks? Well what indeed.

For many months, I had been preparing for/panicking about my Journalism Law exam. Journalism Law has been, by far, my worst subject this year. I have said many times that I would have chosen any of my other subjects to do an exam in. A revision workshop with a lecturer saw me leaving more stressed than when I had gone in. Law questions are mostly court/publication based scenarios for which we have to identify the relevant legal issues. At the time, the questions and their model answers made as much sense to me as saying 2 + 2 = bananas, knickers and pterodactyls. A few revision sessions with my stepdad saw my level of understanding going from zero to one. As did revising with the other students on my course, before the long hours of group discussions took their toll on my cognitive ability. Then came the day of the exam.

I had got it into my head from some source or other that the exam would be at ten, on 20th May. I arrived at uni at 9:15 and sat down, very close to the right room, to go through my flashcards…yes, they were still flashcards. Despite everything, I was feeling pretty good. Come 9:45 I went up to the room, and came face-to-face with a pair of stern invigilators.

“You were supposed to be here at nine.”

What? In one moment, my world crumbled to dust around me. Along with my self-esteem.

“Didn’t you hear us shushing everyone else, saying there’s an exam happening?”

How was I supposed to know that wasn’t for another exam? Apparently my tutor had mentioned that the exam times were online. Sadly, Asperger people often don’t take in information given fleetingly, in a busy classroom environment and not face-to-face. Long story short, I had to go and see various members of staff, many of whom sent me to others at different ends of the campus. While unable to hold back tears. Ok, I thought I’d be stupid enough to not pass, but to completely miss the exam? It was one of the most humiliating days of my life.

I spent the days that followed moping, praying for things to look up and reading emails from my parents to the DMU staff about the lack of communication and the blunt treatment I’d been given. And thinking that, what with 20th May being the day Grannie died, it was a good job I don’t believe in luck. Then a couple of days later I was given a deferral form to fill in, basically saying that because I was at a disadvantage I should take the exam without being marked down. When I tried to go to hand it in yesterday, a malfunctioning debit card and an emergency attempt to wash bird poo out of my hair meant I didn’t make it to Loughborough train station in time. It turned out that this was actually in my favour – the staff at DMU emailed shortly after to say: no need for a deferral, I can take the exam on Wednesday! If my prayers weren’t answered in quite the way I would have chosen, I’m not complaining!

As a conclusion I would like to give my sincere thanks to my parents, my mentor, my best friend Hannah, friends from Christian activities and at DMU and everyone who gave sympathetic comments on Facebook for their patience, words of encouragement and any other forms of support. Also Sarah (April and July 2013) for the lengthy uplifting texts on behalf of herself and Mickey. And to whichever DMU staff members who decided I can do the exam on Wednesday. Just saying.