"We kiss the paywall now"
Caitlin Moran - Times columnist, author, feminist - woke up Cannes with an electric discussion on advertising, the paywall, social media, cats - and a few other targets
Caitlin Moran talked to Johnny Hornby and answered questions about writing, paywalls, social media and diversity in the creative industries
“The problem with social media, it’s ruled by kids, there aren’t really any tribal elders.”
So said Times columnist, author and broadcaster Caitlin Moran. She was talking to Johnny Hornby aboard the News UK yacht in Cannes one morning, and enjoying waking up the industry audience with energetic observations about fashion, the Spice Girls, politics, the future, the past and anything in between.
She also took on the media. Hornby, founder of The & Partnership, probably started the day expecting a conversation and coffee. Instead, he got called posh and was insulted about his feet.
Moran continued: “When things blow up on social media and everybody is fighting with each other and screaming and shouting and there are death threats, you think: ‘Where are the mummy and daddy of the internet to come along and tell everyone to calm down?
“When social media started, I thought the great thing is it’s just infinite voices and infinite information and infinite opinions. We can all find everything out and know what everyone’s thinking. Then after two years you realise: actually, that’s not what I wanted. I don’t have time to listen to infinite opinions and infinite information. I want to go to people I can trust who can tell me what the hell is going on.”
That, Moran argued, is where newspapers come in: as the parents of information, forming our opinions which we don’t have time to do. It’s a valuable service.
“What I understand now is that we haven’t even begun the social-media revolution.” The world is talking to itself and firing like a brain, she explained.
“But this is a very infant brain. We are only just learning what it is to be able to talk to each other, to be dealing with people who are radically different, with massively different opinions. And so this little toddler brain of the earth is so young and untrained, it is like a baby. Social media is prone to massive rages, screaming and shouting – but then can be soothed with a picture of a cat.
“We are still in the very infancy – we must not write it off just yet. Social media will become a toddler, it will learn to walk, it will have lessons and eventually it will become an adult thing.”
A step forward
Moran discussed recent award-winning work such as “Like a girl” and the Dove “No make-up” campaigns. Did she like them? “Most feminists seem to be really down on things like the Dove campaign: ‘It’s horrific tokenism and who are they to say what a “real woman” is? What a horrible phrase that is.’ But, I am OK with tokenism, it is a step forward. Obviously it is not the ideal, but it’s better than what we had before. So, that’s why I’m fine with tokenism. It just feels like a move in the right direction.”
Moran was also clear about how advertising could improve. “More funny stuff. People know what an ad is, so you can subvert it in such an amusing way. I’m always for the rebellion and the revolt. We know what the tropes are of advertising, so every time someone twists it… that feels exciting. [Ads] are our popular culture, so just make them more fun.”
Fear of the natives
Moran worried the media industry does not pay its editorial contributors well enough – and sometimes not at all. This leads to, as she sees it, the danger of commercial content.
“You get offered ridiculous things and it fucks you up as a writer,” she said. “If you’re not being paid by a newspaper but are having to hustle with blogs, then you either write really click-baity shit that gradually erodes your brand and your voice, because readers will just see you being venal for cash, or you will be offered tie-in sponsorship stuff. I was approached by a company who asked: ‘Caitlin, you’ve got a YouTube channel, it’s very successful. We will pay you £30,000 if you will sit in front of the camera and open a box and react to whatever is in the box.’ Well, I know what’s in the box – it’s my tattered reputation.
“I am lucky enough to be paid by newspapers, so I don’t need to do that, but if I was a blogger, that would probably be the only way I could pay my rent that year. It means that no voice can be trusted. Because everybody has to work away to shill and to sell things. It becomes advertorial.”
The fear of paying
The question of money fired Moran most. She said that the main thing she writes about is equality. How representative is the industry’s recruitment process?
“The first rule to get people represented: bitch gotta pay rent. If people cannot pay their rent they will not enter that industry. What you will get is middle-class kids who are supported by their parents. If you’re a working-class kid and you take that free internship, you are still going to have to work a full-time job to pay rent.
“So, immediately you are going to be exhausted by the time you do get round to writing. Your middle-class rivals are able to write twice as much because they have the time. And immediately, a massive gap has opened up.
“You are going to see half of working-class kids are dropping out. It’s the same all across the creative industries. It is the same in TV, film, theatre, acting. We’re just not seeing working-class voices and kids coming through. We’re just going to make things very boring. Things already are very boring,” she added.
Leaping the divide
Moran admitted News UK’s Times paywall worked for her. “At the beginning we were all quite huffy about the paywall. Then we noticed that loads of our friends at The Guardian were being let go and not having their mortgages paid any more. Then we were very happy about the paywall, which we thought of as the mortgage wall. We kiss that wall now.”
It’s this enthusiasm for the world around her that informs her writing, she explained. “You walk around with this knot of emotion in your stomach and if you’re a writer, what you should be doing is thinking: ‘I will transcribe, I will decode that knot of tension and emotion and I will give you the words to explain it to yourself.’
“We are here for such a short period. There is the void before and the void afterwards. We are here for a tiny little flicker. We should be experiencing as much joy as possible.”
Caitlin Moran soundbites
“Social media will become a toddler, it will learn to walk, it will have lessons and eventually it will become an adult thing.”
“Advertising should have more funny stuff. People know what an ad is so you can subvert it in such an amusing way. I’m always for the rebellion and the revolt.”
“We’re just not seeing working-class voices and kids coming through. We’re just going to make things very boring. Things already are very boring.”