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 statesIt 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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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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7 Responses to Updated with Irish Mail on Sunday response: A sad tale of a deleted blog

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Harriet says:

    this is the article and her rebuttel plus an online petition if you feel as outraged as most of us in Ireland do of the total disregard of mrs. shregardus'privacy and the utter ignorance of this gutter journalist who if you see his staff photo looks like he could do with a bit of exerise maybe some legwork for change? instead of the lazy practice of breaking into private conversations.
    http://bit.ly/6AULjZhttp://twitpic.com/zka77/full
    http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/schregardus/

    Harriet Walet Galway Ireland

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  3. Anonymous says:

    This affair just keeps rumbling on, doesn't it? Yes, this blogger got turned over – but I think the two key things to consider are this:

    * She was offered the chance to comment. She either snubbed it or thought it wasn't important. Big, big, big mistake.

    * She wrote about her colleagues on a public website in a less than complimentary manner. Big, big, big mistake.

    So what have we learned? If a Sunday newspaper asks you to comment on a controversial blog you've written, you take them up on the offer. If you're writing a blog, how about you keep it professional and not be critical of colleagues – unless you're happy for these comments to be received by a wider audience including future employers. If you want to whistlebow, there are plenty of other means to do it in ways that will secure your anonymity.

    The above is just plain commonsense. Snubbing a busy newsdesk probably turned that article from 'woman air traffic controller lifts lid on how sexist control tower staff have changed their ways' to 'my chauvinistic pig hell'. Big, big, big mistake. It doesn't help that the Daily Mail group is union-agnoistic.

    It's unfortunate this blogger has been turned over in that the tone of the article was quite sharp, but it could have been avoided with a little common sense. Would the blogger have read out her piece in the staff canteen to everyone? No? Then why publish it on her blog? What privacy was invaded by lifting from a public blog – which happens a lot more than you'd imagine, Matthew.

    Alison wrote that she would have not run the story; I doubt a regional paper that's well connected with its localised populace and generally not interested in turning over one of its own residents would run the story in its published form. I know of some regionals that would have probably condensed it down into a gossip column NIB, with the identity of the blogger disguised perhaps. A regional backbench would be more worried about libelling a control tower staff of a dozen or fewer workers.

    But a national? A national Sunday as cut-throat as the Mail-on-Sunday? No, it's perfectly fine for them, as their editor articulately explains…

    PS: I am a working print journalist who has been involved in a few turnovers and yes I am anonymous because I'd rather not face a twitter hatemob.

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  4. Alison Gow says:

    Thanks Anonymous for the very well-argued comment. I do wonder if some people think blogging/Twitter/Facebook et al are some sort of private space that the outside world isn't interested in and doesn't take any notice of. There are so many cases where people find out that's not the case (although it usually involves an employer, not a national newspaper!)
    I do take your point about regional press being less likely to turn over people than nationals and I think it's one of the reasons journalists are held in low regard. Our reputation as a profession is pretty tarnished, and things like this are always likely to be remembered long after the glow created by Haiti fundriaising drives have faded.
    When I was a reporter out on the doorknock I frequently used to weigh up who I was more scared of – the person I was fronting up, or the news editor. The news editor usually won.

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  5. Harriet says:

    So not so anonymous,
    If people you're planning to “do a hatchet job 'on don't talk to you, you all throw your toys out of the pram and twist things even more?
    Do you really think that an obviously intelligent woman like Mrs Schregardus would ,after all her years of obvious loyal service to the Irish Aviation Authority and obvious good friendships formed with colleagues would risk her personal and professional career to say such things? Please ….
    Finally get it through to you ,she wrote a blog about women in ATC in response to friends asking how she got into that line of work. She wrote about how things were 12 years ago!!!!!! did you even read what she really wrote??
    Its a lesson in History, What she described happened in every male dominated work place at that time..and how everything has moved on so much since then.How she loves her work and her colleagues!!! Of course as a blogger you're aware others can access you. doh…
    You and I know how her words were rearranged ,taken out of context and twisted to fit the perverse act of getting readers at any cost. Sensationalism at its worst.. Gutter journalists who are afraid to print their own name , and close all their social sites because they don't want to endure a hatemob of twitters? who hang innocent people out to dry at the mercy of a potentially even bigger hatemob the public, at a time when her work is in dispute proceedings? and dont hesitate to print not only her name but a large photo lifted from her site without her permission?
    just in case she won''t be recognised on the street..?'what was the next article discussed.? young woman attacked by angry mob? young woman fired after years of serving the public? please…
    If you are not man/woman enough to sign your name to a comment you cant expect to be taken
    seriously. Maybe it might have helped if the piece of fiction printed had at least been from an anonymous source.. it wouldn't have made it true, but might have spared this young woman a devastating ordeal.

    PS I've done a bit of investigating myself.. The air traffic controllers dont work in the tower at her place of work . This information is available with one phone call.and you don''t even have to be a journalist.!
    I wonder what else in the article is fiction hmm……
    Harriet Walet.

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  6. robinbrown says:

    Have to say, I don't have much time for Anonymous' ( why are they always anonymous?) suggestion that if you're being turned over by a tabloid and don't cooperate with them you essentially deserve a much more ruthless character assassination.

    I don't really see any moral justification for this piece, which totally misrepresents the original blog, and the only journalistic justification seems to be the 'bums-on seats' line.

    It's damaging to the profession, discouraging to bloggers and raises some worrying questions about how far nationals will be prepared to go in rooting around in quasi-grey areas of social media.

    All of this smacks of the Mail weighing up multiple legal risks and deciding that a lowly blogger was worth taking a punt at.

    Not an expose of law-breaking, corruption or scandal – but a lazy rewrite of an ancient blog to create a bogus impression of so-called sexist behaviour at an airport.

    If any news eds think that's a worthwhile reason for comprehensively bumming someone they need to get a grip.

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