Dave Lordan came across the article about his cousin Elaine, published by the Mail Online over the weekend, through a Google alert.
“I knew straight away what it was,” said Lordan, a poet and teacher here in Dublin. They’ve had several articles about her over the years, he said.
This piece in the “TV & Showbiz” section leads with the statement that the former actress “has prompted fresh concern for her welfare after she was seen openly drinking on a public street during an appearance in London”.
Several paparazzi photos show a woman in the street, drinking from small wine bottles she appears to pull out from a shopping bag. The captions and the article detail her history of drinking, and also her family tragedies.
To Lordan, it looks like a publication profiting from somebody else’s misery and illness.
And that is, indeed, what is happening. After all, the Mail Online is selling advertising space next to the article and photos, which had 20,000 shares on Tuesday.
“What they’re doing is the equivalent of going into a cancer hospice and photographing people bleeding from open wounds,” said Dave Lordan. “It’s the same as chasing an ambulance.”
Elaine lost her sister just weeks back, Lordan said – the latest of several family losses, including her father, her mother, and her child in infancy.
“It’s just snuff journalism,” Lordan said. “Of course they should take it down. They should allow human beings to suffer in dignity.”
“I don’t really expect the [Mail Online] to change,” he said. “The one thing I would like is for people not to buy it.”
The problem here is, of course, that the Mail Online isn’t the same as the print edition of the Daily Mail. It’s a free-to-access website.
What readers could do, though, is call on companies whose advertisements appear next to this “snuff journalism” – on Tuesday, that included Centra and Three.ie – to pull them from the website.
Even if the people running the Mail Online have no hearts and no ethics, perhaps they might understand the language of cash.
After all, over in the United Kingdom, the Stop Funding Hate campaign has managed to get Lego and Body Shop and a few other companies to pull advertising from the Daily Mail. Might some companies here listen too?
Why Run It?
I was curious to hear the Mail Online’s justification for running the article. But it didn’t respond to queries on Tuesday.
However, David Taylor, the CEO of the celebrity photo agency Backgrid, which provided the photos, said he thought the pictures were justified.
“I don’t think it’s exploiting somebody that’s ill, I actually think if anything it could help somebody that’s ill,” he said. “You know, if they haven’t got a lot of people around them, then it sort of brings people together.”
Backgrid’s business is taking picture of celebrities or ex-celebrities, Taylor said. “If it’s in a public place and it’s taken legally, then, you know, that’s what we do. Be it morally right, or not morally right, you know what paparazzi agencies are like, I’m sure.”
However, Taylor said that there were lines he wouldn’t cross, if for example, the photos had been taken on private property or were against the law, or if there had been children involved. “We’re not stepping on any illegal ground here,” he said.
“But if it’s someone who’s been in the light, if it’s a celebrity or an ex-celebrity who’s been … you know … who sets a precedent,” he said. “[…] At the end of it, [the Mail Online] syndicated it. If they published them, they obviously think it’s right.”
Eunan McKinney, who is head of communications and advocacy for Alcohol Action Ireland, said that he didn’t know the specifics of this case, and that there seemed to be broader issues of privacy at play. But he also pointed to problems around media coverage of alcohol misuse.
The wider issue is that, as he sees it, the media, “on a regular enough basis, seek to demonstrate a sort of whole-of-population problem with alcohol in a very narrow way, defined around the extremities”, he said.
There are also gender considerations around reporting and alcohol, said McKinney. An article in BMJ Open looked at 308 articles in UK newspapers in 2012 and 2013.
It found there is a disproportionate focus on women’s “binge” drinking. Harmful gender stereotypes mean men are shown as violent and disorderly. Meanwhile, women are shown as “out of control, putting themselves in danger, harming their physical appearance, and burdening men”.
Articles about women also were often moralistic about their clothing and appearance, it found – as was the Mail Online piece.
Several rotating adverts appeared next to the article the Mail Online on Tuesday. Among them, a wraparound advert for Centra’s “Live Well” campaign, and another for Three.ie.
Dave Lordan says that advertisers seem to be more aware these days of the potential for their campaigns to appear next to articles that would run counter to their ethos.
He said he hopes that people in Centra would recognise that this “snuff journalism” runs counter to any idea of healthy living, he said. “I’m going to say that, snuff journalism, as many times as I can because I want to drive that home, that’s what it actually is.”
Centra didn’t respond to several queries about the campaign and advertising with the Mail Online. A spokesperson for Three said: “As an advertiser, Three does not have any control over the editorial content”.
Aidan Coughlan, the founder of the creative-content marketing agency, Far From Avocados, said that speaking in a general sense – because he didn’t know the specifics of this case – brands often wouldn’t have control over where adverts appear.
Programmatic adverts are served to readers based on “what you’ve browsed in the past, what your search history is – more granular than just location”, he said.
These days, because articles are going up all the time, advertisers have less control over what specific stories they are associated with on a website.
But they do have the power to stop advertising on entire publications such as the Mail Online, and other websites that publish trash like this exploitation of Elaine Lordan’s difficulties for profit.
If Lego, and Body Shop, and others have done it, why can’t brands here?