I smiled wryly the other day whilst relaxing on my windswept Devil’s Island when I read on Press Gazette that a militia of 80-plus fellow islanders are waging a desperate campaign for Twitter to recognise them with the Blue Tick verification badge.
The skirmish has broken out because these humble freelancers have been rejected, despite Twitter’s grand gesture last May to let more people of “note” into its fancy blue club – including freelance journalists. Golly, the honour.
It was the unabashed neediness underlying the campaign that tickled me most – not least because I could relate to this embarrassing affliction. About six years ago, my faltering ego took me in search of a Blue Tick. I was miffed that certain staff journalists, ones who delivered a fraction of my output for far less high-profile publications, had a hallowed Tick of acceptability. How so? I want one.
I can’t remember exactly how I applied, but I got rejected and I gave up being bothered long ago. Then I read that even lowly freelancers – the Morlocks of the media – might now be allowed out into the sunlight, to step inside beyond the light blue velvet rope. So, I thought I’d try again.
On Tuesday, I faithfully loaded links to recent cuttings – Daily Mail, The Sun, Metro. Not too many to choose from, it has to be said. Foolishly, I also added a scan of my passport (Dammit! Idiot! Oi, Twitter, delete this private document, or at least explain what you are doing with it on your server farm).
About twenty minutes later, I got exactly what I deserved: REJECTION. Ahhh, the freelance’s most consistent companion. Twitter’s pet bot had lovingly emailed a brief, sniffy dismissal:
‘This account will not be verified at this time because the evidence provided did not meet our criteria for notability. As a result, we could not reliably verify that the account associated with the request is a notable person, organisation or brand.’ Try saying that to my mum.
Twitter bot added archly: ‘If you believe the account (that’s my career you’re talking about) may be a good candidate for verification in the future, we encourage you to submit again after 30 days. Thanks, Twitter.’ Now run along and fuck off.
Ha! I immediately updated my Twitter profile (10 years, 20.6k tweets, 2,502 Followers, folks) to celebrate the fact that I am officially not ‘a notable person, organisation or brand’. Proud. And then I did what all self-starting freelance journalists should do: I dusted myself down, spotted an angle for a story, and pitched the idea for what you are reading now. Freelancing is all about turning a negative into a positive. Optimism is oxygen. It leads directly to heating and food.
So, exciting times ahead. I have now got a month to prove my ‘criteria for notability’ and re-apply for a Blue Tick. Maybe I can upload all my cuttings from national newspapers since that first shift on The Sun in October 1986. You see, I actually do have them ALL! Sad, but true. They’re in huge scrapbooks, or paper files, or boxes. I’m leaving this hard-won archive of journalistic genius to the British Library or the V&A – whether they want it or not.
But maybe I can narrow down the area of ‘review’ for Twitter’s bots to a few bite-size chunks of work, like my 400-plus celebrity interviews for the Daily Mail’s Weekend mag from 2011-18, or those easy-peasy long pieces for The Sunday Times Magazine. Or maybe I can just lob in a few hundred spreads with the ‘stars’ of London’s Burning and Bad Girls for the red tops throughout the 1990s.
Nah. Of course I’m not going to re-apply and today I encourage all freelance journalists to do the same. Don’t fall for this vanity badge bauble. It’s just a crass humblebrag to your mates, a little ‘ooh, look at me’ swagger. It is definitely not a calling card of credibility that will secure more work from editors, as one campaigner laughably suggests. No one has ever rejected a feature idea from me because I don’t have a digital blue thingy on Twitter. It was because the idea was not for them.
In fact, I am going one step further – I am launching a rival badge of authenticity, something that will ONLY be awarded to journalists. Comedians, politicians, doctors, lawyers, rappers, candlestick makers and, influencers – especially influencers – need not apply. This will be the journalists-only club. And what could be better or more credible? Staffers are welcome. Freelancers go to the front of the queue.
This badge will be for the people who create the content that becomes the news. I have been freelancing for national newspapers since February 1990 (after I told Kelvin MacKenzie to shove the job) and if I have learnt one thing, it is this: no newspaper, magazine, radio show, or TV bulletin, stands a chance of getting produced if it were not for the loyal army of long-suffering freelance journalists.
So, comrades, hold your heads up high. Kiss goodbye to the silly Blue Tick and say Hello to the ‘Blue-J’. The powers behind Press Gazette are on board and between us, we will authenticate all applications – personally, not robotically. With your support, we hope that this will become the global kitemark of journalistic excellence to be displayed on your social media profiles.
When I started writing this piece, I noticed that my dear showbiz light acquaintance Joan Bakewell was blue badge-less. Now, she’s done a bit of journalism in her time, so I wondered why. I emailed her and she promptly replied:
“Rob, It has never occurred to me to be concerned….or to apply. I don’t even know what the blue tick signifies. People have such fancy notions of themselves! Joan”
Ha! Good on you Joan. I will invite her to be the honorary president of the J-Badge Club and I hereby invite all 80+ of the desperate Blue Tick brigade to apply and become our founding members. Be proud to be part of a group that actually stands for something: journalism.
Email your application here: to firstname.lastname@example.org and, provided you are a published journalist, we will send you a high-resolution version of the Blue-J sitting on Rob’s profile image
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