The Guardian didn’t do a shitty thing; they did a shitty job.
Fleeing from journalistic intelligence, skill and artfulness, they saw the kernel of a legitimate news story, wrapped it in cultural conformity and late afternoon testosterone, then dropped that obzocky boulder into dirty water. The splatter soiled; the shame spread.
The intense blow-back was satisfying. News media serve the public interest so when the public says we happy or we vex, well, that’s the damn thing self, I uh-hummed. But estimable media ally Dr Emir Crowne wrote the words “no countervailing journalistic purpose,” and the deep love I have for this vocation—in good times and bad—chook me.
At the core of the Guardian fail was a valid news story: Michelle-Lee Ahye not only won us gold on the Gold Coast but did so with near-perfect execution. She ran the race of her career on the same day Justice Devindra Rampersad upended the golden-apple cart.
In the thick, hateful backlash, people were evicted, spat upon, verbally and physically abused, threatened with violence. With Ahye fresh on the mind, someone outed her by circulating a photo of her with her significant other. Another aspect of ugly attacks on LGBT people; now they outing them with the intention to shame, diminish their selfhood and national contribution, and draw a bullseye on their backs.
That’s a story there.
Ahye’s painstaking preparation for her races, however, was not replicated by the reporter. His execution was previous and indolent. To write a story about rain, one has to determine whether readers know it is raining. If they do not, the writer has to prove the existence of rain.
The story lacked that vital element: proof of leak (private Instagram setting is inadequate), smear as motivation for presumed leak and evidence of the smearing itself. Basic journalistic industry would have removed the antitheses betrayed in “an apparent” and “apparently.”
Alternatively, track developments over a couple days, allowing public time to feel the wetting for themselves.
Inside that lazy bit of reporting was an attempt at sensitivity placed in a question to Ahye’s manager: do you think malice aforethought motivated release of photos? The manager waffled. She is speaking on behalf of a gold medallist on a topic she perhaps never spoke of before, plus is a reporter on the other end. Sweat!
The journalist’s sensitivity was unequally distributed. There’s a reason media does not ordinarily cover divorce cases, even those involving public figures. That eh the public business!
Public figures are fair game most times but not their families and friends. So how is Ahye’s partner part of this story again? How she reach inside this boom bye bye blocko?
Any editor reading that story should have known to casually guide the reporter to fill out the parts, link the items, remove the story’s self-doubt and its irrelevant facts. Easy call: suppress her gf, push harder at the reprisal angle.
That done, time for contemplation. How do we represent this story, bai? Things out there thick like bad gravy and remember we didn’t use the girl on the front page when she win de medal. Okay, lewwe use that winning photograph with this story: it will set up the contrast nicely.
Instead, instincts clashed. The story wanting to go one way, the presentation of the story decidedly heading in another: we have photos, man; use them! Crop the gf? Nah, man. She smoking!
The editor always wins.
The country loses. This time.
Ahye flies two flags in one monumental cultural moment.
PS: Training is always helpful; but basic duty of care on the job is often sufficient to avoid reputational damage.