Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stop the presses

Newspapers are in business to make money, and they do it by trying to be first, but always by being fast. Old news is not news, after all. But Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian has proven slowing down a bit is a good thing.

Yesterday, Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, died unexpectedly. While the paper apparently published some good coverage, for some utterly inexplicable reason, they ran a bizarre obituary that began with this paragraph:
COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
This obviously did not go down well. It led Aussies to take to Twitter writing similarly bizarre obituary lines under the hashtag #myozobituary. Some of them have been downright brilliant. The story went global, as news outlets reported on the obituary itself, along with samples of the sarcastic Tweets.

What the hell was WRONG with The Australian?! According to Crikey, the obituary was written many years ago by a man who is dead. Papers have long pre-written obituaries of famous people in case they’re needed in a hurry. In this case, the editors at the paper apparently didn’t see anything wrong with the opening paragraph. I wonder if the editor responsible for this worked on his C.V. today in anticipation of being fired?

The obituary was breathtaking for its sexism and misogyny, but it was also obvious that the unnamed journalist had a strong personal dislike of McCullough, and seemed to consider her fame undeserved. It was a very bad obituary.

However, the real issue here isn’t the awful writing in the obituary, it’s the crass sexism in it and the fact that the newspaper ran it despite all its many faults. Consider the contrast of the paper's obituary when Bryce Courtney died several years ago:
BRYCE Courtenay was one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, touching the hearts of millions of people around the world with 21 bestselling books including The Power of One.
Comparing and contrasting the two introductory paragraphs, Rebecca Shaw asks in her piece in The Guardian:
Now, what do we learn from this introduction? The fact that she was a best-selling author is quickly tossed aside in order to discuss her looks and her success with men. In the first paragraph. Of her obituary. Which is meant to sum up her entire life. McCullough was a woman who penned The Thorn Birds, still the highest-selling Australian book of all time.
I’d like to think The Australian will learn from their disgrace, but I doubt they will—it IS a Murdoch paper, after all. But maybe other papers will review their own practices for such things, and I bet there will be more careful scrutiny of pre-written obituaries in the future.

Nothing can make up for what The Australian did, though a front-page apology would help. But if editors do learn to be a little more careful, and to slow down just a little bit to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again, that will be a good result.

But The Australian really ought to apologise.

1 comment:

rogerogreen said...

Sexism seems even more pervasive in everyday life than before, or maybe it's our expectations of equality that makes it seem so.