Blogileaks: Kate Katharina rocked by sell-out scandal

If you want to be rich and famous, you should definitely start a blog. It’s the only way to keep up with the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world.

Katekatharina.com is a case in point.

From the beginning, my sober treatment of issues such as my talent for gibberish, my reputation as a creep and my savant boyfriend left readers crying for more.

I had to purchase extra electronic storage to cope with all the fan mail I was getting. I rejected several offers to write for renowned publications on the principle that Katekatharina.com was a more reputable source than say, The New York Times.

After some time, it became impossible to walk the streets of Dublin without being accosted by an admirer of my prose. The effort of gazing at my feet modestly every time a particularly apt turn of phrase was repeated to me by a stranger became too great. I decided to move to Berlin, where I thought I could descend into relative obscurity and focus on my art.

A rare moment of calm from the crowds as I climb a tower in the early days of my time in Berlin.

A rare moment of calm from the crowds as I climb a tower in the early days of my time in Berlin.

But it was not to be. Here too, passengers on the underground tap me nervously on the shoulder and say “If you don’t mind me saying so, you look really like Kate Katharina from Katekatharina.com. Others are more aggressive, pushing through crowds to thrust a pen and a print-out of my latest post into my hands, crying “Bitte, bitte, ein Autogramm fuer mein krankes Kind.”

Yes, my route to fame and fortune has been paved with widgets and clusters of html.

Or possibly, it’s been a bit more like this:

I’ve written over 200 posts here. Sometimes I spend hours writing a serious piece contemplating the meaning of art, or describing a tiny dead mouse whose death still haunts me, while other times I chronicle my developing relationship with a 93 year-old woman or defend pigeons.

The mouse that haunts me still

The mouse that haunts me still

The effort has paid off. Last summer the embassy of a wealthy middle eastern country offered to pay me to write a piece outlining – among other facts – the wisdom of its ruler and the progress the country has made in the areas of human rights and gender equality. When I replied saying that I did not feel I could write an impartial piece given the requirements, they promptly reassured me that I could be “reasonable and objective,” as if I were simply displaying modesty.

They’d found my contact details through a referral to the blog from an article I’d written for The Journal. That particular article paid me handsomely in… exposure (?) and afforded me the pleasure of trawling through a host of comments, most of which misinterpreted my article to conclude I was a Paparazzi fiend.

A more recent success occurred when the Past Pupils Union of my secondary school read a post I had written reminiscing about audible peeing in the school bathroom. They posted it onto their page and my hits rocketed.

I rejected numerous offers from prestigious publications

I rejected numerous offers from prestigious publications

And then recently, someone working on behalf of the company X contacted me, offering me a modest sum in exchange for linking to their site.

I had a drink with my friend, another freelance journalist in Berlin.

“You’ll be compromising yourself,” she said. “And for €80?”

A niggling part of me thought she was right. “But,” I argued, “They said I could write about anything; I just have to link to their site.. I mean I link to sites all the time, many of them happen to be commercial! And Y is not immoral!”

“And,” I continued, ever more desperate. “Every time I want to watch a video showing death and destruction on the BBC website, I first have to watch a stupid ad telling me to ‘invest in reMARKable Indonesia.'”

“I know,” she sighed. “It’s terrible the Beeb does that.”

So, here I am, “selling out” for the first time. The compensation is €80 (I hope!) which will pay for my monthly transport. For the amount of hours I’ve spent thinking about how NOT to make this read like a sponsored post, it’s pittance.

If I were living in a time when people still paid for writing, I’d have earned a couple of hundred for this 800 odd-word piece.

But I’m not. I was born into the digital revolution.

So, for all the would-be bloggers out there, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to take yourself excessively seriously. Just like me.

Otherwise, the attention from the fans can get too much, and you begin to crave the days when your blog had a small, loyal readership and when you deliberated for days over whether to post a link to a website offering to help people see again.

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Meat

Once upon a time, people thought black people should serve white people, gays should be killed and children should be seen and not heard.

Lots of people who thought that way were kind and charitable too. Among them were devoted husbands, loving wives and generous uncles.

It took hundreds of years for things to change. Now directors make films about Americans quarrelling about slavery, men loving men and sad, lonely children in big houses.

I think in the future, the films will be about charismatic vegans speaking out against factory farms.

Image Source: tmsfoodie.wordpress.com

Image Source: tmsfoodie.wordpress.com

This isn’t really a post about eating animals, but if you’re into that, I’d recommend reading Jonathan Safran Foer.

It’s about suffering caused by ordinary people.

Conditions for animals in farms the world over are so bad that watching a video about what goes on in ordinary farms almost makes me sick.

The suffering is so great you can barely even imagine it.

The animals we eat go through agony. The happiest moment is their death.

Most people know this in principle. They’ve seen the odd video about factory farming, read the occasional rant in favour of veganism and realised they’d feel pretty bad about eating their pet dog.

But they haven’t quite thought about it for long enough. Like me, they’ve turned off the videos when things get too uncomfortable and skimmed the final few paragraphs of those moralistic articles. They’ve conveniently and falsely associated the vegetarian/vegan diet with a hippy lifestyle, which they’re too busy paying taxes to support.

They’ve mistaken the argument against supporting sadistic cruelty with the one against eating meat at all. Some say “well, that’s the order of things” and others wear ironic t-shirts that say “Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.”

Though I don’t eat meat, I’m not against it in principle. Having been a vegetarian for many years, the idea seems very strange to me, but should my health depend on it, I would go back to it. And I would sooner eat road-kill than a cheap burger. It is not the fact of the animal’s death that disgusts me, but the horror of the life it must endure.

The most important thing for me is to avoid contributing to needless, unimaginable suffering.

Living ethically is difficult. I’m no great example. Last week I bought six eggs from a lady with wild, white wiry hair selling her produce from a trailer. I made an omelette. Later when I looked carefully at the stamp on the remaining eggs, I saw that they had the second lowest rating for quality. I’d eaten eggs produced by hens kept in deplorable conditions.

Here in Germany, the “organic” industry is being rocked by a scandal of deception and mislabelling. It turns out that the expensive and well-sold “bio” products are not quite so bio after all.

According to my own principles, I should go vegan. I’ve thought about it and am held back by two factors: the fear that my health would suffer, and the high cost of animal substitutes designed for vegans.

Image source: www.change.org

Image source: http://www.change.org

The world we live in can seem farcical. I can follow the whims of celebrities across the world on Twitter, but I can’t tell you where my yoghurt came from.

I’ve lived in a city all my life. The only foods I’ve sourced have been blackberries from the garden, or the occasional potato at the bottom of the compost heap.

I am ignorant but not naïve. There is another way and it starts with widespread exposure to the horrors of modern farming. Looking away has always been the surest way of supporting what is immoral. Consumers of animal products have a moral obligation to find out about the industry they’re supporting.

The argument that everything is about profit has been brought to an immoral extreme in many industries, but in farming it has been bizarrely accepted.

Part of what makes humans put themselves on a pedestal above other animals is what many identify as a superior capacity for moral reasoning. The irony of that assumption in the context of the conditions allowed for meat production should not be overlooked.

I am no paragon of morality. But education and information have made me change my habits for the better. I’ve still far to go.

I firmly believe that the scale and depth of suffering being inflicted by humans on animals in our time will be the stuff of horror history documentaries in the future.

Our descendants will ask “How did people do nothing for so long?” They will consider us barbaric and sadistic. They will pity us for our immoral economy and greed. They will question how things went on for so long, even in a time of instant, mass communication.

None of that will happen soon. But give it a few hundred years, and people will say that among those who supported these practices were devoted husbands, loving wives, generous uncles, and even passionate pet-owners.

“Reality” Television

I’m a “freelancer” now.

I know, doesn’t it sound exotic?

Actually, it’s a euphemism for “poor” but let’s not allow that get in the way of recording the associated advantages: staying in your pyjamas until all hours of the afternoon, leaving for work at 6 pm, and filling your head and diary with eclectic projects, many of which are yet to come into fruition.

My main job, remarkably, is in television. Would you believe, I translate and write news items, apparently watched by millions. (Don’t worry, there are lots of checks by more experienced people before my words turn into broadcasts).

I’ve only done a few shifts but I am learning rapidly how “news” works.

When I arrive at the office, I sit down at a computer and open a software programme which contains a run-down of all the news items due to be broadcast on the upcoming show.

Reports tend not to last more than about 2 and a half minutes and shorter bulletins are over within 25 seconds. So brevity and clarity are essential.

Kate Katharina reporting from Washington, with foam microphone.

So is understanding exactly what a story is about. It takes an expert to break something down into its barest form.

You have to work quickly. If a story is breaking, you need to sift through the information coming through the wires, distil it, find appropriate pictures and videos to accompany it and finally send it on to somebody who will produce it and fix any technical glitches.

It’s a huge responsibility.

And it’s that responsibility which I have been thinking about.

It’s important to remember how lucky I – and I assume most of my readers – are to live in an area of the world with an independent media and in an era in which information can go global in seconds.

More people have more access to more information than ever before.

As a result of this mass circulation and sharing of information, we can get away with having fewer sources.

And because the media now works like a web, rather than through straight lines as it used to, things can get tangled up more easily.

Since newspapers and television rely in a huge part on “wires” (=news agencies like Reuters and Associated Press) the pressure and responsibility on those reporters to be 100% accurate is enormous.

News agencies are a business. They can’t afford to send their reporters absolutely everywhere in the world, particularly not to every war-torn country with poor infrastructure and hostility to foreigners. So, our news comes from the people who happen to be stationed in certain parts of the world.

The headlines we get are a political, social and economic reflection on western life and values.

And it’s important to remember that we probably miss as many stories as we run.

Having been surrounded by extraordinarily hard-working and intelligent journalists, I’m far from disillusioned by how the media works. But I am becoming more aware of how arbitrary the selection and presentation of news has always been and will remain.

Things are moving in the right direction. Tweets fly off from the obscurest of locations, bloggers are becoming more influential, and technology is advancing in the developing world.

However, manipulation is becoming easier and more sophisticated, and misrepresentations can spread like wildfire.

I’m only starting out in the field and I am young and stupid. My main concern though is a noble one. I want to tell a truthful story well. And if that means staying small-scale and telling you about a a spindly old man and his giant dog, or about the old man who couldn’t stop falling, at least you know that these are things that I have seen with my own eyes, not images which have landed on my screen after rushing through the wires. And no matter how timid a voice I am on the blogosphere, the fact that I have one screams volumes about the democracy which we should never, ever take for granted.

Why our politicians’ private lives matter

At the G20 summit last November, Obama and then French president, Sarkozy, were having a chat. The Israeli Prime Minister came up in conversation.

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar”, said Sarkozy, to which Obama replied, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day!”

The problem with the conversation was that their mikes were on. A couple of journalists heard the whole thing. Instead of rushing to their editor with their enormous scoop, they stayed quiet in the belief that this was a private conversation which would be damaging to report.

Nothing was said for a few days until the French website Arret sur Images published their remarks. As soon as international journalists got wind of the interchange, it went global and the mainstream French media reported it too.

image source: privateinvestigations.blogspot.at

The media treatment of the exchange triggered an important discussion: what matters to the public and what doesn’t and how entwined are the public and private lives of our politicians?

In all walks of life, the idea that our private and professional selves are separate entities is a myth. Our behaviour might differ from one situation to another but our values do not.

Research suggests that people vote for politicians based more on their personalities than on their policies. They do so in the reasonable belief that the two are unlikely to be widely removed from each other.

Political decisions, like any other are made on the spur of the moment, and under the influence of powerful personalities. If your leader is more eager to be liked than to do what’s right, it matters. If they are impulsive or inexpressive or icy, it will affect their governance. Personality counts.

Since it’s the first responsibility of a politician to act on their values, their behaviour outside of work cannot be logically divorced from the decisions they make on the job.

Take for example Dominique Strauss Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund. Notwithstanding the allegations of sexual harassment against him, which have been well-documented by the media, he’s admitted to several affairs and to attending lavish parties featuring naked girls, who may or may not have been prostitutes. Strauss Kahn chose the institution of marriage and failed to live up to its requirements. Assuming that values do not change fundamentally from one situation to the other, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to question his commitment to other institutions, such as the IMF and the state of France, to which he also pledged allegiance.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, the more we learn about the kinds of people our politicians are outside of work, the more sophisticated our interpretations of their motivations and performance become.

While some might suggest that such a hunger for private lives only encourages the cultivation of a “public” personality, to assume that this wasn’t already the case would be naive. Furthermore, the challenge for journalists is to convey the personality of a politician as it is, not necessarily as he or she would like it to be.

The media have a choice to make between objectifying and subjectifying. Objectifying is talking about Hillary Clinton’s bum, while subjectifying is telling us how her mouth twitched when her daughter failed a maths test.

The future of journalism is uncertain: the overwhelming speed at which news now travels has eliminated much of what the job used to entail.

There is a new opportunity though and it requires us to slow down, to reflect and to write with insight rather than haste.

Demanding of our journalists to be emotionally astute as well as politically sharp will lead to a more complex picture of what is anything but a straightforward job: making decisions that affect millions of lives and the future of our planet.

Journalism may sustain its integrity into the future by maintaining a fine balance between the personal and the political. When it comes to reporting from the private realm, it must replace sensationalism with psychological realism.

It’s what’s missing in the constantly updated, hyper-evolving virtual media landscape.

Unless we begin to privilege the mundane everyday, politicians will stay “out of touch” with it, and the public will continue to see them as little more than worn out political machines; inanimate and inept.

So if Enda Kenny announces that he’s turned vegan, Eamonn Gilmore squabbles with his neighbour about the position of a garden fence or Joan Burton runs off with her secretary, I want to hear about it.

“Welcome to life at The Irish Independent” – how Ireland’s best-selling newspaper embraced “L’Ethica dela New of the World”

Print journalists need three things.

First, a passion for the truth, second a concern for people and third a reasonable command of language.

For those that haven’t heard, on Wednesday Ireland’s best-selling daily newspaper The Irish Independent printed an article about a Polish lady living in Ireland.

image source: broadsheet.ie

The source of their piece was the Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, which had been running features about life in recessionary Europe.

In the original article, “Magda” spoke about her life in Ireland and the state benefit she has received since losing her job.

The Irish Independent titled its piece “Welcome to ‘good life’ on welfare: how Polish waitress embraced La Dol-ce Vita”.

In the original Polish article, Magda says of being on benefits: “I don’t want to live off the state, that’s why I treat the benefits as an aid, which will help me to start my own business.”

On budgeting, she says:

“Once every two months I pay for electricity, that’s around 100 euro. I cook at home, I don’t go out to restaurants. I go to the market where I can get local products cheaper than in a shop. I look for special offers in Centra – for example 6 rolls for 1.50 euro. … I buy my clothes in Penney’s … but not too many, because I don’t have the need to glam myself up. My latest buys: yoga sweatpants for a euro, trousers for 7 … I buy my shoes in TK Maxx – max 10 euro per pair. In the autumn I get a winter clothing allowance … I look for books in a charity shop. Look: ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ by C.S. Lewis – all three for 2.50 euro.”

The Independent article reads “A Polish waitress living here has sparked fury after she boasted about living the good life on Irish welfare benefits”

Magda’s welfare benefits entitle her to take courses to increase her skills. According to the original article, “Magda can do a basic massage, a Hawaiian one and a hot stone one that she’s learnt at a free course organised by the social welfare office.”

The Independent’s version reads “‘Magda’ (36), not her real name, described her life on the dole in Donegal as a ‘Hawaiian massage’”. It also claims that she “revealed how she had packed in her job so she could spend her days walking along beaches with her partner” and sometimes sleeps till noon.

The original says ““I always start my days in the same way: I go down to the beach to see the sunrise. It sets me up for the rest of the day. I used to sleep until noon, but now I don’t want to waste my life.”

The Independent quotes Labour senator Jimmy Harte, who describes the claims as “outrageous” and adds that he’d “gladly pay for her flight home”.

Thanks to the John Murray Show on RTE, which commissioned an accurate translation of the text, the Irish Independent has been exposed for falsification and misrepresentation.
Its response today was tragic and even comical:

“YESTERDAY’S story about a Polish woman living on welfare payments in Ireland sparked much discussion and controversy.”

It could have been a parody on its opening from yesterday which claimed that the same story had “sparked fury”.

Its only admission of wrongdoing is the acknowledgement that “Some parts of the original interview, on which the story was based, were inaccurately translated.” It then provides a translation of the original, which it describes as “fuller”, as if its version had been missing body rather than fact.

It may seem obvious but to journalists Greg Harkin and Norma Costello it was not: the function of a newspaper is to offer responses to real events rather than elicit reactions to fabricated ones.

Even more obviously perhaps, newspapers are not storybooks. We expect them to tell the truth.

News reporting is retrospective, not prescient. It cannot claim something before it has happened.

If a Polish lady’s claims have “sparked fury” and “ignited a debate about welfare tourism”, we need evidence beyond the comments of an unfortunate local Senator who has been lied to.

Should Greg Harkin and Norma Costello fall victim to unemployment, they may do readers the courtesy of polishing up on their Polish. Perhaps Magda could recommend a good FÁS course, or better, teach them herself.

When interviewed on the radio this morning she spoke perfect English with a slight hint of a Donegal lilt.