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Anorak | How To Write A Feature For The Daily Mail (Like Sophie Walker But Not Anna Bundy)

How To Write A Feature For The Daily Mail (Like Sophie Walker But Not Anna Bundy)

by | 28th, September 2011

ANNA Bundy wants to tell you what it’s like writing a feature for the Daily Mail. Anorak has some experience of this. My friend Sophie Walker once worked at the Mail’s Femail section. Sophie’s own lifestyle and views were so removed from the Mail’s mawkish, reactionary agenda she seemed utterly wrong for the job. But she could write and research very well, and she needed the work:

Anyone who has ever written a feature for the Daily Mail knows what it feels like. You only have to read the features pages to understand that something strange is going on – lots of first person pieces all written in the same style, with the same vocabulary, the same mawkish self-revelatory nature and bizarre turn of phrase. Who are these people who all write exactly alike, suffer bereavements, mental health problems, addictions and family troubles, wear brightly-coloured dresses and too much make-up?

So…

Well, we are the unprincipled writers who will do almost anything for the money. The Mail is the only paper that still pays decent rates and so we email them, call them and go into the office to meet them, desperately hoping that our own first person trauma will take the commissioning editor’s fancy. I drink a lot! My dad died! I’ve had Botox!

I noticed recently that The Mail was running lots of stories about female journalists going off to war though their children begged them not to… My own father was a war correspondent, killed on the job in El Salvador in 1989. I feel sad for the kids left behind by war correspondents, male and female, and I wanted to write about that from the perspective of an anxious child, watching the news, hoping their parent will come home safely. It seemed perfect – a story I actually wanted to write and some decent pay for a change. I emailed Femail at The Daily Mail. The idea was taken to conference and I got a quick reply – they wanted 1800 words focusing on my feelings when my father was away and my feelings now about war correspondents leaving their children…

A few days after filing I got my copy back with massive edits in block capitals throughout the text. ‘HOW DID YOU FEEL?’ ‘HOW DOES YOUR HUSBAND FEEL?’ The capitals were things the person working on my piece wanted me to add.  However, the rest of the text had been heavily cut and rewritten, but the changes were unmarked. If I’d been in a hurry I could easily have missed them. Lines like; ‘I strongly disagree with Janine di Giovanni,’ (I don’t) and ‘That made me sit bolt upright’ (it didn’t) had been inserted.

Bear in mind, this was an emotional first person piece, so to slip in first person additions about feelings this copy editor had obviously not had, and under my name, was distinctly odd…

So, I reworked the piece as requested, hardly noticing that instead of reworking the piece I had written myself, I was now reworking the someone else’s reworking – restructured, heavily cut and angled as an attack on women leaving their children for war… The attack on Janine di Giovanni (a friend and a brilliant journalist who can live her life exactly as she chooses, without any input from me, obviously) kept reappearing and I kept deleting it.

I deleted it a few times too many and the piece I had thought hard about and cared very much about got spiked. I knew it had been spiked because, after a flurry of frantic emails back and forth as deadline approached, The Mail suddenly stopped replying to my messages about the piece…

Of course, the spike meant that I didn’t get to the next phase of feature writing for The Mail –  being styled and photographed. There is a tacit understanding (whether true or false in actuality) that the editor of The Daily Mail doesn’t like women to appear on the pages of the paper wearing either trousers or dark colours. Last time I was styled for them someone came round with a rack of red and purple evening dresses and lots of matching satin shoes. Just have a look at the paper and you’ll see that this is something of a theme.

You can read the full text here.

You can read about Sophie here.



Posted: 28th, September 2011 | In: Reviews Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink