RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge


Guardian staff hit the phones.
Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Guardian
'Oh, hello: I was hoping you'd be Owen Jones'

As seasonal rituals go, the annual Guardian Christmas charity telethon is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. Journalists staff the phones, surrounded by mince pies, mulled wine and nibbles, and readers call in with their contributions.

To your left is Simon Jenkins asking: “Is that Visa or Mastercard?” To your right is Polly Toynbee inquiring: “Could I have your postcode?”. And throughout the day, the journalists-cum-telephonists veer off script, with very English gems like: “What’s the weather like up there?” “Any nice plans for the weekend?” and “Got all your shopping done?”

Having been in America for 12 years, I have only done the telethon twice. And while being in the office on a Saturday is generally not my idea of fun, my experience last weekend proved the appeal is definitely an exception.

First of all there’s the generosity. In 2015, the Guardian asked readers to donate to refugees, and raised a record-breaking £2.5m. This year, with our appeal for child refugees, we look set to beat that total. To hear from hundreds of readers who want to give what they can is not just heartwarming; it makes you proud to think you’re part of a community that cares about the things you think are important.

One caller asked how little he could contribute.

“I think it goes down to a pound,” I told him.

“Well I’ve got £1.34 in my account,” he said. “I’m unemployed and I don’t have much so I’d like to donate £1.33.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Sounds like you could use it.”

“No, it’s OK,” he said. “I’ve got my baccy and my beer and I live with my parents. I’m just sorry I can’t give more.”

Second, there’s the contact. As journalists, we don’t really have much contact with our readers. Indeed, beyond providing an alternative funding model for our journalism, membership is about deepening that relationship. The telethon provides an intensive, immersive experience of engaging with random readers for a few minutes at a time. Those off-script moments – talking about Corbyn, Trump, refugees, The Long Read – gives a real sense of how invested many people are in what we do and what we mean to them.

I wouldn’t want to overstate that point. But like people in most jobs journalists are all trying to get through the day – and so it’s easy to lose sense of what influence our news organisations might bring to bear, or the difference we might make in offering news and views that people don’t find elsewhere.

And finally, it is humbling. Sometimes you pick up the phone and someone says, “Oh I love your work. Thank you for doing what you do.” More often they say: “Oh, I was hoping I’d get Owen Jones. Can you put me on hold?”

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream
book review
“The speech is profoundly and willfully misunderstood,” says King’s longtime friend Vincent Harding.
 follow on twitter
RT @penvlaanderen: Vanaf 29 mei is Brussel drie dagen lang het toneel van het Asmara-Addis Literary Festival - In Exile. Op maandag 30 mei…
RT @sulaimanaddonia: A panel dedicated to writers & journalists around the world, and esp in Eritrea, who are being persecuted for their cr…
RT @PaulLewis: Thrilled to announce that the Guardian’s investigation team is expanding. We’re recruiting several new journalists, includin…
RT @sulaimanaddonia: So thrilled to announce our panels for DAY 1 of the AALFIE. On “radical interpretation of Europe through travel, mig…
Watch this space. @Lanre_Bakare is a real talent. https://t.co/nwbYqf7y7L
RT @guardianlive: Award-winning artist and filmmaker #SteveMcQueen, Tate Director @mbalshaw and sociologist Paul Gilroy will be in conversa…
RT @nyeusi_waasi: For 20 days, 8 African miners have been stranded more than 500 meters deep in a zinc mine operated by a Canadian company…
RT @sulaimanaddonia: Reminder: We have 80 FREE tickets for refugees/working class/Students/artists on low-income to attend our festival tha…
I’ll be talking to Steve McQueen, Paul Gilroy (⁦ @bungatuffie⁩ ) and Maria Balshaw (⁦ @mbalshaw⁩ ) about Year 3 on… https://t.co/urOZe6HFMj
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc