Stacey Dooley: A Different Approach to Journalism

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On the 12th February, Stacey Dooley, British broadcast journalist and TV personality, graced Leeds Town Hall with a talk on her career, humble beginnings, and upcoming work. The conversation with Joyce Trozzo, a producer who she had worked with previously, explored some of the emotional tolls the work had taken on her, the interests that led Stacey to document the particular stories she had, and finished with a Q&A session where she answered some of the audience’s burning questions. 

Dooley at London Fashion Week, 2009 (Image: Frank Barrett / The Sun)

Although Stacey has had a career that many would kill for, the journey to it was far from normal. Stacey was working at a perfume shop in Luton airport at the age of 19, having left school with no A-levels or vocational qualifications. Her mother, who she credits heavily for her tenacious attitude and inquisitive nature, had picked up a flyer for a BBC documentary which was calling for young fashion lovers to apply. Stacey, herself interested in fashion, applied and eventually went on to travel to India with the BBC in 2008 to experience the working conditions of the children creating the garments she would often buy. This experience became the immensely popular show: ‘Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts’. 

However, her 5 minutes of fame were not up just yet. A BBC producer, who watched the show, took a shine to Stacey’s authenticity throughout the programme, and called her in for a meeting to discuss commissioning a further two short documentaries on child labour, which Stacey would host. At this point in the talk, Stacey told the audience that she was shocked that she had made such an impression, that the BBC were willing to work with her as a presenter. She recalled feeling out of her depth, so much so that she stressed to the producers that she was severely under qualified for the role. The producer that had taken a shine to her told Stacey: “if we wanted a journalist, we’d go to White City and hire one, no hassle, we want you because you are real”. 

From Stacey’s humble beginnings, she has gone on to create 14 documentary-series under the title of Stacey Dooley Investigates, along with various other stand-alone documentaries. Her work focuses on current affairs and social issues, with many of the pieces focusing on feminist issues highlighting marginalised stories from across the world. Some of her best work included travelling to the Iraqi front line, where she documented the all-female Yazidi battalion. She has also looked at the phenomenon arising in Japan, where young girls are sexualised and men pay to meet school girls at bars. Stacey also investigated the selling of children in the Philippines for sex, which attracts a wide base of both UK and US tourism from paedophiles travelling to the Philippines to pay for these illegal shows. 

The talk itself was heavily female orientated, with the intro and outro music being from strong female artists such as; Demi Lovato, Cardi B, Beyonce, Megan Treynor, Dolly Parton, and the Spice Girls. Looking through the audience from a balcony standpoint, the audience was heavily dominated by women and girls of all different ages, showcasing just how much Stacey’s feminist work resonates with a contemporary female audience. 

Throughout the talk Stacey emphasised that the fact that she didn’t fit into the narrow stereotype of the traditional journalist – as she “wasn’t Oxbridge educated and didn’t wear chinos”, is half the reason her career has been so successful. Her empathetic, kind, passionate, yet persistent hunt for the truth have made her more relatable to the British public, compared to the average apathetic, distanced and objective journalist we so often see in the media; these unique qualities to her personality shine through within her work. 

Dooley talking to gang members while investigating the selling of drugs by children online (Image: BBC / Time inc UK Ltd)

She spoke about the lasting relationships she retains with many of the subjects of her series. Stacey told us a story of how one of the families of a Yazidi fighter, named Shireen, had been granted asylum in Germany. However, Shireen decided to stay behind. When asked why, the female fighter responded by explaining that her younger sister had also been taken by ISIS fighters, and she was staying behind to find her. At the time, Stacey felt that this was false hope on the part of Yazidi woman, and believed that the sister was probably dead, having not been seen or heard from for years. This documentary was aired in 2016, and during the talk Stacey explained she had received a text from Shireen, the Yazidi fighter, a text that consisted of just one photo: of the woman and her long-lost sister. 

In addition, Stacey has worked on popular shows such as Glow Up, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and also went on to win Strictly Come Dancing in 2018. The juxtaposition between her hard-hitting and award winning docu-series work, and her entertainment pieces is a great indicator of her versatility as a media presence. Many have commented that her appearances on more light-hearted shows have only added to her image as a relatable figure for many members of the British public. At the end of the talk, an audience member asked her what her most humorous moment had been throughout her career: Stacey responded with a story about an ice box, a traffic jam, a sacred festival and a bad stomach. The rest can be left up to your imagination. 

Stacey Dooley is at the forefront of a new wave of investigators that base their work in emotion, which people at home can emphasise with and learn from, more than many of the more neutral news pieces we see today. She hinted at some new docu-series in the works for 2020, and we cannot wait for them to hit our screens. 

Image: BBC Pictures