Thursday, 20 September 2007

Sisters are doing it for themselves

One of the great things about blogging, as I mentioned on Saturday, is that it can be used to counteract misrepresentation in the mainstream media.

When Cate Sevilla, curator of the Cupcate blog, was asked to be in an Observer feature about modern feminism, she felt delighted and honoured to have been selected to represent the new generation of feminists in a national newspaper.

Delight turned to dismay, however, when the resulting feature came out in the Observer Woman supplement a couple of Sundays ago. Cate discovered that her 30-minute interview had been reduced to tiny soundbites, some of them not even things she actually said, and placed on the kind of grid that's usually used for comparing the relative merits of different sorts of makeup.

Cate's frustration - shared by some of her fellow interviewees and Observer readers, if the comments on the Observer Woman Makes Me Spit blog are anything to go by - was compounded by the fact that elsewhere in the same supplement, a whole 3,000 words had been dedicated to exploring the mindset of a supposed new wave of misogynist male bloggers in the US.

In pre-Web 2.0 days, Observer readers would have had no way of telling that Cate had been misquoted and misrepresented, unless she'd written a letter to the editor that had then been selected for publication; a process largely beyond her control.

But fortunately for Cate, she has a much more effective way of setting the record straight - her blog. She relates the whole episode in a blog post, explaining how the interview was conducted and the inaccuracies in the resulting 'article':

But not only were the answers I used for one question, used for another, but the quotes were just like lazy, thrown together regurgitations of what I said. This is even more concerning as my interview lasted at least a half hour, and was bloody tape recorded.

In the ongoing bloggers vs. mainstream media debate, journalists often argue that the professional media are legally obliged to check facts, while bloggers can pretty much write what they like. But factual accuracy is only one aspect of truth - impressions are equally important.

Without delving too deeply into philosophical notions of 'truth' and 'reality', if a newspaper creates an impression of an interviewee that the interviewee knows to be untrue, the newspaper has arguably falsified its article. Now that we have blogs allowing interviewees to set the record straight, the current debate over truth in media is going to get a lot more interesting.

UPDATE: Another OWM interviewee, Jess McCabe, has posted up the full transcript of her interview on her blog.


Valerie said...

Lovely. Observer Woman destroys feminism with sound bites.

I'm starting to believe it's a myth that people won't sit still for more than 20 seconds, or read more than three sentences (as I was just taught in the 'Writing for the Web' class I was forced to take at work). Sure, if it's shite, or advertising, I believe it. But I read awfully lengthy blog entries quite readily, if they're worthwhile. Is it really necessary to remove all the content, insight and truth from a piece of writing in order for people to read it?

Grumble grumble.

Julia Buckley said...

Wow, interesting stuff Fiona. Great post.

Fiona Blamey said...

Valerie: Totally agree. Tim had a great quote on his blog once about how the challenge for a writer shouldn't be to communicate something complicated in 100 words, but to make something interesting enough for people to want to read 10,000 words about it. I definitely agree with that.

Julia: Thank you, and welcome!