The Irish Mail on Sunday has finally responded to complaints about a story it published this week based on the words of a blogging female air traffic controller: “The male chauvinist pigs of air traffic control” (PDF)
“Melanie Schregardus,” the article says, “claims she was forced to endure a torrent of sexist abuse when she and a handful of colleagues first broke into [the] profession”, and the rest of the article continues in the same vein.
The publication of the article understandably caused Melanie some distress. She wrote:
“In the middle of an incredibly trying time for my colleagues, an article has appeared in a Sunday Newspaper that says I feel abused by the people I work with. It gives me opinions that I do not have, and uses words I have never said. It does so to attack my profession, impugn my employers, and portray me as a victim of my friends.
“I feel sick. Any future employer could fairly read what Luke Byrne has written about me and conclude that I am a disloyal, untrustworthy person. The people I work with today could, and probably have, read it and decided that I am not on their side, and that I think that they are sexist, nasty, bullies. None of this is true.
In fact, she deleted her blog, before realising that, without it, there would be no record of her actual words. So she then started a new blog, with the post quoted above. Apart from her complaints about misrepresentation, and that she was never contacted about the story, she also wonders how the newspaper was able to publish a photograph of her without permission (see comments for more on this aspect). And she has complained to the ombudsman. This is where the Irish Mail’s response comes in.
The Irish Mail responds: ‘She was asking for it, mate’
Now at this point The Irish Mail could have protected its brand and claimed this was just one rogue journalist without a sub editor to keep them in check.
Instead, they have decided to dig themselves in deeper, saying:
“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.”
Of course, being in the public domain has no relevance to copyright. A published newspaper is ‘in the public domain’, but that doesn’t mean anyone is free to copy images from it without paying or crediting the copyright holder. You’d think newspapers would know this.
As for not contacting Mrs Schregardus, they provide an insight into the rigorous journalism practised in their newsroom:
“On Thursday, January 21, Luke Byrne [the reporter] 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 here we have the relentless reporter who will leave no stone unturned in his search for… hold on. “Oh, she didn’t tweet back. Well, I guess I’ve done all I could then.”
And finally, the misrepresentation. Incredibly, the newspaper claims
“The Irish Mail on Sunday did not attribute to Mrs Schregardus the view that her colleagues were sexist”
So that line saying that she “claims she was forced to endure a torrent of sexist abuse”?
Or the one that reveals “She went on to say that the representation of women didn’t seem to have changed much”?
Or that “She revealed that she endured one of the most pervasive forms of workplace sexism”.
Silly words. They do have an awful habit of arranging themselves in the most unusual sentences.
Same old story, different context
Of course it’s nothing new for a Sunday newspaper to take quotes out of context. Normally that someone is a public figure, and the journalist can argue that it comes with the territory. In The Irish Mail on Sunday’s response you can detect the same theme: she “published on an internet blog that was open to millions of people around the world to read,” they say.
That’s true, and some will say Mrs Schregardus should have been more cautious. I think that’s expecting a level of cynicism that we wouldn’t like to see in the average air traffic controller, but that’s a conversation for another blog post. In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out (aside from the, you know, ruining-a-person’s-life-for-a-story aspect) the long-term effects of an event like this.
Firstly, there’s the effect on the newspaper brand and journalism as a whole. Schregardus outlines how her own opinion (and now, you would expect, those of her readers) has changed as a result:
“I’m sure this happens to other people all the time. Probably people who are far more famous than me. I’ve probably read and formed opinions of other people based on things that are just not true. I’ve probably talked about other people’s lives based on things I’ve read that were hurtful to them.”
Secondly, there’s the effect on workblogging more broadly. We’ve already seen the prize-winning writings of police blogger Nightjack deleted after he was unmasked by The Times, and it’s fair to say that it’s going to be more helpful to journalists to encourage workblogging than to shop their authors – or misrepresent them – to their employers.
Because when the workblogs have gone what will you do? Pick up the phone? Luke Byrne may struggle with that.