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Beware the ‘mole’ in your midst

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Mole

Remember that TV commercial when all conversation ground to a halt when it was revealed that a fellow diner was a banker? Well, pretty soon it will be journalists who cause conversations to stop at parties, as fellow guests will be concerned that their casual conversations will show up as ‘news’ on the website of some shoddy media outlet desperate for content.

Of course, professional journalists have standards and a code of ethics that they follow which include ‘use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material’. Problems arise however when non-professional journalists enter the fray, largely in response to the incredible demand for content generated by social media and the 24 hour news cycle.

For a non-professional journalist, the lines between what is acceptable fodder for publication and what is not may be blurred. Such a person may live by the dictum ‘If someone buys my article, it must be okay’.

A person who is not trained in journalism may also feel tempted to distort facts and intrude on the grief or personal privacy of others all in the name of a good story. They may even do this to people who consider them as friends.

Social media has led to many people engaging in social interactions online. We may establish close relationships with others we meet online and consider them to be friends. Membership of a closed Facebook group such as North Shore Mums may give us a feeling of security, that our conversations within the group are private and will remain within the group. This may not be the case.

As with any large parenting group, North Shore Mums attracts members from across the social spectrum and from a range of professionals, including journalists. Those who are professional journalists will happily declare their profession in a conversation about what they do when they are not being a mum. Others however, who might have no training but have aspirations to write professionally may instead sit back and observe social interactions with a view to using these as fodder for their next piece of writing.

As consumers of sensationalist media themselves, these ‘pseudo journalists’ may have a good idea of what sells and gets attention and it may feel tempted to use the private material of others and put a ‘spin’ on it in order to create a ‘story’ that would sell. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if such pieces were confined to private blogs. The problem is when large media outlets, desperate for content and not willing to let facts and sensitivity get in the way of a good story buy and publish such pieces of dross.

Such a situation is particularly galling for real journalists as not only do these pseudo journalists undercut them on price ($50 for a story, anyone?) but they bring the entire profession of journalist into disrepute.

Members of the North Shore Mothers group (a lively and popular ‘closed’ Facebook group comprising over 5000 members) found this out to their peril this week. Members of the group feel free to start posts about anything and everything and be guaranteed of a lively response. It was not surprising therefore that a member started a thread in an attempt to garner interest in an Indian mother’s group she was looking to start up. The thread garnered a lot of interest from Indian and non Indian members alike. This response was overwhelmingly positive and there were many helpful suggestions given. There was only one dissenter voice who suggested that such a group may be seen as exclusionary. This was quickly countered by other members and the member who had made this suggestion apologised. It was then suggested that Indian and non-Indian members alike join forces for a Bollywood style picnic where the Indian women could show off their culture and food and others could dress up in saris and eat and dance! This was a very popular suggestion and the idea quickly gained momentum.

Little did the group know that there was a pseudo journalist in their midst who was selectively cutting and pasting comments and misrepresenting the tone of the discussion in order to prepare a poorly written piece for a major women’s lifestyle and parenting website. To its discredit, this website ran the piece under the sensational byline ‘One mum’s innocent Facebook status sparked a tirade of on-line abuse’.  The article even included a hyperlink to the ‘closed’ North Shore Mums Facebook group. Even after a large number of North Shore Mums members wrote to this website to point out the factual inaccuracies with the story and the hurt it had caused, they not only kept the story up (with no corrections) but continued to promote it on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile members of the North Shore Mums feel an equal amount of disgust both for this website and for the ‘mole’ in their midst, who has still not revealed herself. A number of professional journalists who also happen to be North Shore Mums have spoken up, concerned that they will be targeted as possible sources for the story. If anything good has come out of this, it has been to remind people that even closed groups are not safe places and that ‘pseudo journalists’ lurk in the most unlikely of places.

Members of the group are determined not to let this incident get them down, and may be singing and dancing Bollywood style at a North Shore park near you very shortly.

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