Influential citizen journalist overcomes censorship thanks to online support.
No, this is not a headline from a repressive region, but a description of nine-year-old blogger in Scotland named Martha Payne, who has been allowed to continue a blog in which she photographs and rates her school dinners, after the local council reversed a decision saying that she would no longer be able to take pictures in the dining hall.
Martha, who writes under the name Veg, created a blog named Never Seconds, in which she took pictures of her school dinners every day and rated them according to her own set of criteria.
“- Food-o-meter- Out of 10 a rank of how great my lunch was!
- Mouthfuls- How else can we judge portion size!
- Courses- Starter/main or main/dessert
- Health Rating- Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter?
- Price- Currently £2 I think, its all done on a cashless catering card
- Pieces of hair- It wont happen, will it?”
The blog – which initially showed some pretty unappetising meals – generated a huge following online. Global readers sent in picture of school lunches from around the world, including Germany, California and Spain. Martha was given support by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who tweeted, “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going, Big love from Jamie x."
After the blog had been running for two weeks, children at the school were allowed unlimited bread, fruit and salad with their meals (Wired writes this was “apparently was the policy all along only someone forgot to say so”). At the beginning of June Martha also began using the blog as a platform to raise money for a charity named Mary’s Meals, which organises school dinner programs in some of the world’s poorest areas. As a result of the massive publicity over the past few days, she has now raised £36,565.80 (up from just under £34,000 about half an hour ago) via Just Giving.
Despite the roaring success, the local council Argyll and Bute communicated on Thursday that she would have to stop taking pictures of her meals, after Scottish paper The Daily Record responded to her blog with the headline "Time to fire the dinner ladies." The BBC reports that, after the headline was published, the council said that catering staff at the school had been led to “fear for their jobs.”
Martha responded to the ban on her blog with the post:
“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
“I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.”
The ban caused a wave of protest online (cue another supportive Tweet from Jamie Oliver) and massive media attention. Martha’s final post gained a large number of supportive comments, and her whole blog now registers nearly 3.5 million page views. Wired writes that overnight, Martha garnered:
“-Huge amounts of public support, including from Jamie Oliver (who tweeted “Stay strong, Martha!”) and Neil Gaiman.
-214 news articles worldwide in the past 12 hours.
-Another half-million pageviews at the NeverSeconds blog (and almost 1,000 comments on her Goodbye post, up from about 150 when I posted last night).
-The Guardian proposed that people take pictures of their lunches and tweet them #MyLunchforMartha”
Today the leader of the council Roddy McCuish appeared on BBC radio and said that the decision to stop Martha taking pictures in the dining room had been reversed. "It is a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I have certainly done that," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.
Argyll and Bute Council have also released a longer statement from McCuish, saying “There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council's policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members.”
Victory for citizen journalists or what?
(My favourite part of the blog: Martha’s description of herself: “My dad says I should call myself Veritas Ex Gustu, truth from tasting in Latin but who knows Latin? You can call me Veg.”)