On Monday 6 March, the Journalism Society welcomed Sue Douglas. An incredibly successful journalist, Ms Douglas spent the start of her career in South Africa working for the South African Sunday Express and The Rand Daily Mail, as well as spending much time campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela. After her return to the UK in 1981, Ms Douglas joined The News of the World. With a smile, she explained the anecdote which led to her wanting this specific job. She recalled, at her interview, walking into what was known as the ‘Animal Room’, where a host of journalists were frantically conducting calls and engaging in enthusiastic conversations with one another. The intensity of the job, as emphasised by the name of the room, illustrated why she was so keen to take the role.

Ms Douglas went on to talk about the very essence of journalism. After some debate, she summed up her belief in one very concise sentence: ‘It is important to make people choke on their cornflakes in the morning’. This notion of challenging common perceptions is what she believes defines good journalism. 

The talk also covered the topic of modern-day journalism. Ms Douglas mentioned the problem with the introduction of social media into the world, due to what she feels is the detrimental impact this has had on the very concept of journalism. For example, social media challenges the established notion of hearing things for the first time from reading a newspaper or magazine. However, she refused to take a defeatist attitude and proceeded to offer some words of wisdom to the budding writers in the room, highlighting that it’s the responsibility of the innovative, younger generation to revamp the profession as a whole. 

The engaged audience then learnt about some of Ms Douglas’s career highlights. One of these was modernising Lidl’s sales approach, through the introduction of the ‘Lidl Anti-Sugar’ campaign. This was an illustration of the infinite application of the skills and experience any journalist has within their grasp. And it proved to be an enormous success as within two to three months, Lidl decided to limit the availability of sugary products in their stores throughout the UK. Additionally, she worked for national newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Times and the Sunday Express, holding the editor position at the latter. Her know-how also led to the introduction of a number of columnists including the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Melvyn Bragg and Niall Ferguson.

Throughout the talk, Ms Douglas offered both inspirational and thought-provoking pieces of advice. She touched upon how telling stories is ‘human currency’ and that it is a journalist’s role to do so in an eloquent and effective way. She also mentioned that becoming a good journalist involved having a very good grasp of what ‘people care about.’ 

To round off the excellent talk, questions were taken from the floor. During these, she made sure to re-emphasise the importance of telling a thought-provoking story, that will make people stop and take interest.  

We sincerely thank Sue Douglas for taking the time to speak to us and for delivering such an interesting and informative talk.