Sunday, 24 January 2010

Updated with Irish Mail on Sunday response: A sad tale of a deleted blog

UPDATED 28/01/10... see additions in bold, and the statement from Irish Mail on Sunday reproduced in full at the bottom of the original post. See also journalism.co.uk's latest article.
I read a blog post today that made me sa d and angry in equal measures. Blogger Melanie Dawn - an air traffic controller in Ireland - appears to have been comprehensively turned over by the Irish Mail on Sunday. If her story is true - I can't find the relevant article online but there are plenty of Irish tweeters discussing the subject [UPDATED - thanks to Harriet who posted a link to the article in the comments sectioin below] - then it's a horrible example of lazy, selfish, uncaring, ignorant, arrogant journalism.
[UPDATED: A statement from editor Sebastian Hamilton received today 28/01/10 states - "It is simply untrue to say that the paper did not contact Mrs Schregardus before publication. On Thursday, January 21, Luke Byrne attempted to contact Mrs Schregardus by Twitter (the only contact details he had) and asked her for an interview. On Friday, January 22, Mrs Schregardus replied. She informed Mr Byrne that she had sought permission from her trade union to speak to us. He awaited further contact from her, but he did not hear from Mrs Schregardus again. Either she chose not to speak to him or her union refused her permission to do so." >>> So, for me, how does the above statement change things? Looking back to my news editor days, and asking myself what would I have done, I've thought long and hard about it.And I can say, in all honesty, I would not have run the story as it stood at that time. If the reporter told me he hadn't managed to get a comment from the person who originally wrote the blog post I just cannot see a circumstance where I would let it go. I'm sorry if that sounds like I've overdosed on Hindsight but there are some things that are worth taking a chance on, and some that aren't. I've made some howlers in my time but I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being cavalier.  However, even with the blogger not co-operating, it could possibly have used (although obviously not for that week's publication) by the reporter used this post as a springboard to crowdsource the industry and find out if the wider picture. Crowdsourcing is a gamble - you very rarely end up having your pre-crowdsource story being confirmed but it can lead to deeper, better investigations. I'm thinking of David Higgerson's investigation into Flyglobespan's late flights. That ended up being a very different story indeed]



Her blog post begins:
"I deleted my blog this morning. I didn’t know what else to do. I was minding my own business when I got a call from a good friend of mine sympathising with me about the Mail on Sunday article.
“What Mail on Sunday Article?"
What follows is her account of how an archived blog post had formed the basis of an article for the Irish MoS; an article which was published without, she says, her prior knowledge or any apparent attempt to contact her by the journalist responsible. The full post (and there is a growing number of comments too) is here.

She observes "The Mail never told me they were writing a piece about my blog. The journalist who wrote it never sent me an email asking me questions about my blog" and she is seeking legal advice.

Now, I believe that if you're not prepared to have your opinions held up to public scrutiny then don't put them in the public domain. [UPDATE 28/01/10: The MoS statement continues - "...Mrs Schregardus had already put her description of her workplace into the public domain. In this respect, publishing an open blog is little different from giving a TV interview, making a radio broadcast or sending out a handbill: you are airing your opinions for all to hear.
>>>>>>> I agree A blog is absolutely in the public domain (unless you happen to have taken the 'keep private' opinion and if you're writing it then you really do need to keep in mind there is potential for the whole wide world to read it. But circumstances can change, and if a journalist plans on reporting an historic post as a current opinion then they do need to know things have not moved on.]

However,as far as I'm concerned, to simply lift copy from another person's blog post (especially on such a contentious subject) without checking with the writer in any way is shamefully bad journalism. If the MoS has been a party to such an act then it should be working on its public apology right now. You know what? I'm not holding my breath.
[UPDATED 28/01/10: The statement not an apology, it's a rebuttal but it does continue the dialogue and address points Melanie Schregardus (blogger Melanie Dawn) raises in her post. As a blogger (as the disclaimer in my biog says, this is my own blog, not a work one) I'm pleased that the MoS has included included me in the mailout of its statement, which I've reproduced in full below. 

STATEMENT FROM THE IRISH MAIL ON SUNDAY 

The Irish Mail on Sunday has responded to a complaint from Mrs Melanie Schregardus, regarding our article of January 24. We await her reply, if any. In the meantime, however, here are some of the facts surrounding this case:
 
1. Some months ago Mrs Schregardus published a 500-word account of her experiences as a female air traffic controller on an internet blog that was open to millions of people around the world to read. Mrs Schregardus made no effort to restrict the viewing. In the week air traffic controllers staged a four-hour walk-out, it provided a fascinating insight into working conditions in a job that was obviously of major public interest.
2. It is simply untrue to say that the paper did not contact Mrs Schregardus before publication. On Thursday, January 21, Luke Byrne attempted to contact Mrs Schregardus by Twitter (the only contact details he had) and asked her for an interview. On Friday, January 22, Mrs Schregardus replied. She informed Mr Byrne that she had sought permission from her trade union to speak to us. He awaited further contact from her, but he did not hear from Mrs Schregardus again. Either she chose not to speak to him or her union refused her permission to do so.
By this stage Mrs Schregardus had already put her description of her workplace into the public domain. In this respect, publishing an open blog is little different from giving a TV interview, making a radio broadcast or sending out a handbill: you are airing your opinions for all to hear.
3. The Irish Mail on Sunday did not attribute to Mrs Schregardus the view that her colleagues were sexist. Luke Byrne quoted extensively from what she had said about her working environment. His account made clear that some of the sexist behaviour described by Mrs Schregardus (such as refusing to let women sit together) occurred during her early days as an air traffic controller and that conditions have improved since. While the article reported a number of sexist incidents, it does not say she is unhappy: for example, it quotes her as saying: 'I'm well looked after by the guys, they're quite protective of their "girlie".'
Nevertheless, based on the contents of her blog, it is an empirical fact that her workplace is a sexist environment. Mrs Schregardus describes 'banter' between her male colleagues that, in her own view, is 'quite inappropriate' in front of a woman. She adds that that she is forced to pretend that such comments do not bother her.  Furthermore, Mrs Schregardus describe how to this day she is one of very few women employees in air traffic control - and, extraordinarily, that she still expected, 'as the girl', to take on secretarial tasks such as sending birthday cards and organising Christmas parties.
In the eyes of the law, and presumably of most reasonable people , male workers who make such comments and treat female colleagues in this way in a 21st century office would be considered to be behaving in a sexist and discriminatory fashion. Indeed, several of the comments on her original post sympathise with the attitudes of her colleagues or tell similar stories of women being discriminated against in the workplace (one, from a Danish Tweeter, says: 'Come to Denmark, my friend - I do hope we offer some more respect than described here'.)
4. Last week's air traffic controllers' strike, which brought the country to a standtstill, was presented by union leaders as being about fairness for workers. In this context, it was a matter of public interest to tell our readers how some air traffic controllers actually behave towards female colleagues.
5. The photograph of Mrs Schregardus which we published to accompany this article came from Page 36 of this online magazine http://issuu.com/connors-bevalot/docs/publication1_-destress
Like Mrs Schregardus's blog, it had been put into the public domain by Mrs Schregardus herself. 
Sebastian Hamilton
Editor
The Irish Mail on Sunday



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