What Georgina Henry taught me about journalism and editing


5:37 pm - February 10th 2014

by Sunny Hundal    


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I would be nowhere without Georgina Henry.

Nearly ten years ago I rang the Guardian’s deputy editor (as she was then) out of the blue, with an idea about running a list of the ’20 most powerful Asians in media’ to increase visibility of non-whites in the British media. I didn’t know who else to pitch it to. She didn’t even know me but she liked the idea and commissioned it. And though it wasn’t ground-breaking (ok, in a way it was) G2 ran our list on the front cover.

Most of you won’t know of Georgina Henry – she stopped playing an active role at the Guardian’s Comment is Free from around 2010 and had been getting treatment for cancer for the last two years. She died last week.

No one has had a bigger influence on my work as a journalist and commentator than Georgina Henry. Over two years later, When Guardian CIF launched in 2006, I was one of the few lucky bloggers she nurtured and helped in the early days. Without that support I doubt I’d be anywhere.

Her way of working and values taught me a few things too.

- Let ideas come to you from everywhere
I wasn’t the only unknown writer who was able to get an idea past Georgina – she was always open to new people and their pitches. She wanted to hear new voices and let the Guardian be the place where new ideas flourished.

As an editor and writer, she taught me to always open yourself to new influences and go outside your comfort-zone. Georgina used to help organise and even attend CIF readers/writers meet-ups – I can’t imagine the deputy editor of any other major newspaper doing that.

- You will get criticism for whatever you do
Any editor of an opinion-site will get criticism from all sides, but the Guardian particularly gets it in the neck. On issues such as Israel-Palestine, race-relations, terrorism, immigration and more – Georgina Henry wasn’t shy of constantly raising these topics despite the barrage of criticism that we knew would come.

But more admirably, she protected her writers and took on the vicious attacks herself. Getting criticism for running controversial articles was part of the job as she saw it, and she didn’t shy away from it. No serious editor should.

- Keep challenging the consensus
When CIF launched, lots of us new writers wanted to challenge the current debates. I wanted a new way of talking about race-relations without the self-appointed ‘community leaders'; Seth Freedman wanted to report on Israel-Palestine differently; Cath Elliott used to get angry by existing articles on feminism; many Muslims wanted to show that progressive voices also existed in the UK.

Georgina gave us the space to say something new and controversial, even if it antagonised Guardian writers. When I launched our manifesto on race-relations with a few others, Georgina happily hosted a week long debate even though it didn’t sit well with some established Guardian writers.

- Take risks
This is the most important thing Georgina taught me through her work. This is relevant not just for taking on new voices or challenging people, but to go outside the boundaries of what you normally do.

She launched CIF without much of an idea of where it would go; whether the chaos and new voices would be too difficult to handle; whether the site would dilute the Guardian brand or not. There were bloggers snarking about CIF and saying the project was doomed everywhere. She ploughed on anyway. She made it work through sheer will.

She commanded our respect like no other person I’ve met, and was a mentor and teacher. I will forever be in her debt.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. douglas clark

I think it is sad that she died. She seemed to have her heart in the right place.

‘public trust in police is at an all time high’

You obviously don’t live in South Yorkshire.

3. douglas clark

Sunny,

I am sorry for going off topic on what is a memorial thread, I have said my piece earlier.

RIP.

_______________________________________________________________
So, off topic as this is and in a thread that ought not to be used in thist way, two points, why is BobB being allowed to use it that way and why is there no ability to comment btl on your previous post about sex selection?

Georgina Hendry would not have approved!

————————————————————

Quite why Bob B now dominates all comment on here is a bit beyond me.

“Quite why Bob B now dominates all comment on here is a bit beyond me.”

I’m not stopping anyone from posting here in open debate. It’s hardly my fault if Douglas Clark is only up to posting personal abuse about me.

As the recent comment of David Davis MP in the Mail has shown, there is widespread public distrust of the police, an issue which commentators in the Guardian have contributed. My posts here – which Sunny has seen fit to delete – are hardly out of keeping with the Guardian spirit. The issue as to who guards the guardians is both important highly topical.

David Davis MP: “The last time public trust in the police was as low as it is today was following the police strikes of 1918, during the First World War. After that dispute the police were granted a pay rise, but were also forbidden membership of a trade union.”
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2557149/DAVID-DAVIS-Greedy-touch-bullies.html

Special message for Douglas Clark: There is hope. I read somewhere that medical researchers have been working on brain transplants.

I’m surprised this site is still running! RIP to Georgina Henry.

Been on CiF for a while now. I discovered Robin Levett’s favourite red mouse on there yesterday – predictably on the 97% consensus thread…

I know I’ve said this many times before Sunny, but I would be nowhere without you. I don’t think Same Difference would exist without Pickled Politics.

Georgina Henry must have done something right because what she taught you, you passed on, to me, for one.

May she RIP and I am very sorry for the loss of such a great influence on your career.

Sunny Hundal has now totally discredited himself.

The posts that he deleted were based on real news reports in mainstream media which can be found on the internet and retrieved. I have kept records of the links so that can be easily accomplished.

Sunny’s shameful action amounts to censorship of news, definitely embarrassing but real news reports about the Metropolitan Police, which the Police would doubtless prefer to be hushed up and forgotten about.

The news reports posted here that Sunny has suppressed were and are entirely in keeping with the historic traditions of Guardian journalism. Indeed, I started by linking to a Guardian video on YouTube showing the killing of Ian Tomlinson.

Sunny has shamed and dishonoured that tradition of journalism.

8. douglas clark

Bob B,

You have a massive inappropriatness of place. We may agree or disagree as we wish on other threads, but this is not the one to do it on.

You are, dare I say, being more than a tad self centred if you think that – at a valedictory – people want to hear someone witter on about news or politics.


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