Of Press and bums

During a lunch-break I was reading a Hungarian news portal on my phone, when a photo -and a headline- caught my eyes on the main page.

This was the photo

That’s enough. Keep reading.



The headline said: “I am not yet satisfied with my bum”.

Right. So here’s an article about a blond fitness-bimbo who does not like her perfectly shaped bum; moving on.
However… I just came back from a BBSRC founded media-training. It was an incredibly interesting day where science journalists talked about the need of effective communication between scientists and journalists. They also talked about the total lack of understanding from the part of the scientists of what journalism is about. Most of the time researchers feel  that their message was corrupted by the sensationalist media, and do not understand why that message had to be changed the way it was changed for a newspaper.
So I clicked on the article, curious.

(Seriously, man, enough with that photo. Keep reading the bloody post, will you? You can stare at it once you finished reading.)

For those who are not so blessed, the article introduces us to Ms Virag Kiss, who is one of the most successful bikini models in the world. She already won a world championship, and is training for the next. To top it off, not only she is very successful in sports, she is also studying for two university degrees simultaneously; one of these degrees is a law degree. (You can’t even accuse her of taking some lame-ass excuse of a major, like a honorary degree in folk dancing.)

So here’s a girl who is incredibly accomplished in every aspect of her life, has a brutal training regimen and diet, and getting ready for the next big competition, meanwhile working hard to become a lawyer. This is the context the title was taken out of: she identifies the areas -her bum included- which need extra work. Obviously all this somewhat changes our first perception of her (and her bum).

Now you have a different reason to dislike her; suddenly you feel quite inadequate, don’t you? I know did.

Where does the above mentioned media training come into play here? Well, this article gave a perfect excuse to discuss a very novel concept – namely newspapers want readers to read their articles. I know it sounds self-evident, but when you read some stupid, sensationalist title about some scientific break-through from a field you are familiar with, and despair about how they left out all the caveats, details and other stuff you might see in the academic paper discussing the same findings, you don’t think about it from this angle. So if you find that a molecule suppresses cancer growth in a mouse model, that’s fine. Publish it in an academic journal, but do not expect the journalist interviewing you for an article in The Sun to convey the complete message to his or her readers. Nobody would read an article in the Guardian (or Daily Mail) with this title, and nobody would spend hours to understand all the details. All the jargon will be thrown out, most of the details left out, and the title will most likely be: Scientists Are a Step Closer to Cure Cancer. (Or, if it’s the Daily Mail: SCIENTISTS CURED CANCER! ALSO: IMMIGRANTS!)

What the news portal wanted was to prompt people to click on the article and read it. Putting “Smart girl is preparing for her world championship” probably does not sound very interesting for most of the readers. However, if you get an out-of-context sentence, and use it to create a bit of a shock, people will get curious and read it. (After all, we do like to feel superior to successful/famous/beautiful people, especially if we think they are stupid.) Once they clicked on the article, you can give them the truth, but you have to bait them to do click first. And you can do that by making your subject look like an empty-headed blondie saying silly things. Virag probably did not like the headline when she read it, but the thing is: it makes people read the article, which does paint a very positive picture of her – and this is the whole point of it.

And you know what? I used her and her bum to make you read this post, too.

OK, then, here’s your photo again.


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