Friday, 16 July 2010


I think I knew I wasn't cut out for broadcast journalism when I stuttered my way through an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson in his backwater days when he had a talk radio show in London.
When I say stuttered, I mean that I paused and muttered "umm" a lot. Afterwards I didn't feel like I had presented a very good image of a professional female journalist, though I was only a cub reporter at the time.
Now that I have experienced some significant - though intermittent - cognitive dysfunction as part of my illness it has led me to reflect more on the speed at which other people's brains individually assess and respond to conversations and situations.

I was listening tonight to the BBC's business editor Robert Peston on the Radio 4 PM programme. Now he is highly regarded as a journalist and has a lot of intelligent insight.
But I was thinking - if he was a woman journalist and he spoke as he did tonight, I believe he would be assumed to be a stuttering incompetent and simply not up to the job.
I have no idea if Robert Peston simply has an idiosyncratic speaking style or genuinely has the same problem as I have; the need to stop for a second, consider what the person has just asked me, recall the information in my brain, then arrange my words in the most helpfully communicated order.

Unfortunately the interview doesn't appear to be on the BBC website for you to listen again, but in this case Peston was not only slow and erratic in his speaking (something he does already get criticised for); he seemed to be thrown by Eddie Mair's initial comments, emitted a strangulated pause and was unable to construct a reply that made sense.
It sounded like he might have been fine if he had simply been able to launch in to the material he had prepared for the interview. But he was interrupted in his thought pattern and had to respond as quickly as he could, which appeared to be incredibly slowly.
But nobody would dare question his intelligence.

Unfortunately women (often professional women) are significantly more likely than men to get a chronic illness, and many include the rarely recorded symptom of cognitive dysfunction. If it is recorded by doctors then it often gets put down as part of anxiety or depression, or simply the catch-all thing that "sometimes happens after you've had children".
But let's face it, we all have unique brains with our own patterns of thinking and recalling information. The speed of recall will also vary, and this should have no bearing on our ability to learn, understand and use information in our work. Yet we sadly do judge people by how they can respond, particularly we females who stumble over our facts, or admit we can't remember the name of something (tut, tut).

I am so glad that I was never tempted to take the radio or TV career path.
I much prefer the written word because I can take... my... time over it.
(And to be fair to Robert Peston, he writes an excellent blog.)


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