You may have remembered a shout-out on social media looking for a young aspiring writer to head up a new column for The Sun. The lazily named Column Idol (why. Why does everything have to be like this) competition saw young people all over the UK vie for the chance to see their words and byline in print. We spoke to ArrayO’Style founder Kheira, 16, about her experience as a finalist, and why tabloid journalism has left a bitter taste in her mouth.
As part of the Media Trust’s Column Idol competition, I featured in The Sun newspaper and received a mentor to help critique and finalise my article. But I’ll be writing about how I felt let down by the whole process.
With credentials as shiny as their glass desks it’s clear to see how fascinating it would be to work for such a prestigious newspaper and how featuring in it would be a dream. However, whilst sitting in a plush, classy conference room with the other competitors I felt weak and insecure.
I was the youngest there, and while that would be classed as an advantage to some, everyone in the room had degrees from the most sought-after universities in the world… and I was sat there anticipating my highest ever level of education, my GCSE results.
After discussions it appeared there were two candidates from Essex, myself and another chap four years older than me. While breaking the ice, which involved stating your location, educational achievements and just general status, it became evident after a few sniggers from the word ‘Essex’ my heart thundered, ferociously and spine shuddered. Was this tokenism, I wondered?
My mentor (a high up editor) was not present on the day, and with only a week to write the article panic struck and it felt like bad luck was going to be accompanying me throughout this journey.
To date I still haven’t met my mentor and have had no telephone communication with her. But to be honest, as we’re both nine to fivers it was obvious we would rarely share words. The organisers knew of our employment commitments prior. We exchanged about four emails of which it was mainly me writing drafts and her reading through them.
She stated she thought my idea, entitled The Perils of the Pretty Faces ‘really captured the reader’s intention and makes them want to read on,’ before mentioning I couldn’t chose which pictures were selected alongside the article. I thought this was a crude decision as I wrote about model apartments – girls sharing with up to eight other models – and needed factual pictures which I gathered for the piece.
The article also mentioned many case studies but no actual model in particular. Nothing else was said before the article went to print.
The features were written and placed online.
Watching the other articles being fiercely retweeted and exposed on Twitter I had a clear list of contacts ready to help publicise the article’s digital copy. During the Column Idol fortnight, the first week of contestants had their digital PDF copies posted on three different Twitter accounts under The Sun’s stable, with total followers topping almost a million. They even had their web link directly placed in those tweets, one of which has over 500,000 followers alone.
In contrast to mine, where I was desperately asking The Sun to retweet. My picture was just a snapshot of the feature in their newspaper. And still no appreciation.
Had I wasted a week of my time writing something even the publisher didn’t want exposed to others?
It was tweeted by one account; late at night, with no digital copy or web link. I had to keep emailing my promoters to wait, it was coming. It came a week and a half later and the model agencies weren’t interested in passing it to their girls for exposure as it wasn’t current.
On press day and feeling like a child at Christmas, I ran to the local corner shop to purchase the copy and see my words in print, words of which I agonised over for too long. Unbeknown to me, the dreaded had happened. Instead of my carefully chosen headline, I saw a different title, ‘Ugly Side to Glam Lifestyle of Top Models.’ It didn’t even make any sense grammatically. A five-year-old could’ve picked that up.
Ok, it captured the reader’s attention and made them want to read on. But I had no mention of Cara Delevingne or Kate Moss, and it seemed only half of the words were mine.
I was heartbroken.
Yes, others were full of praise and recognition. But, it wasn’t mine. Needless to say it was mine originally, but in my opinion it had been manufactured into a mess. Which I would then be judged on. How could so many negative feelings come from such an initially positive experience?
I remained silent then and have done since as the competition isn’t finished. But I just can’t help thinking: was this set-up really meant to be my dream come true?