Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's not all the Mail's fault

Search for 'anorexia' on the Daily Mail's website and you get sixty pages full of emaciated images and lowest weight headlines pop up on your screen, followed by all the gruesome details of the minuscule calorie intakes of 'death bed' anorexics.

Frustrating, yes. Dangerous, most definitely, but are they the only culprits in the sensationalist media circus that is the reporting of eating disorders. No.

The Mail Online is littered with bad coverage of anoreixia
As a media volunteer for Beat, the UK's Eating Disorder charity, I find myself stumbling across so many bad examples of eating disorders coverage in the press, on what seems like a daily basis. But as a journalist, I find it even more frustrating that my fellow 'media lurvies' aren't changing their extremely bad habits.

We KNOW that sensationalism sells, if it's not anorexia, it's drugs, if it's not drugs, it's booze, if it's not that, it's teenager having 30 children under 3, or some other monstrosity of a 'shock factor' headline.

But what I am starting to catch on to, and this is where I think the REAL problem lies, is that somewhere along the line a vulnerable sufferer's felt pressured to sell their story to a journalist at the paper or magazine itself or more often than not, to a news agency. There's always someone BEHIND the headline.

The last few articles I've come across and flagged up as completely throwing Beat's media guidelines out the window, haven't been written by staff AT the paper or magazine, but by reporters at these 'news' agencies, which then sell copy to a whole host of publications.

"Journalists often think these are shocking when in reality they are
potentially harmful to people affected by eating disorders." (BEAT)

This is even more dangerous.

Why? Because a single writer sits at their computer, hashes out a poor piece of journalism along with skeletal images of someone with anorexia. A commissioning editor at the said paper picks up on it, thinks it sells and pops it online, in the paper, tweets about it, adds links to Facebook and the damage is done.

We all need a few extra pounds in our pockets, right? So why NOT sell our stories of torment and struggle to a pushy writer, why not email over our lowest weights, BMI and how little we ate?

 I'll tell you why, because every person who thinks providing that information is helping raise awareness of eating disorders should. know. better. It doesn't help and never will.

The media is splashed with sensationalism. 
So, solutions? I think more needs to be done to educate people WITH an eating disorder in how to handle journalists. Yes, let's talk about anorexia, let's tell people what it's all about. But please dear God, let's stop handing out images and figures of our darkest days. We know these stories don't cause eating disorders, it's much more serious than that, but we DO how 'triggering' they can be and we CAN say NO. 

I'm fortunate to have friends who work on national newspapers and weekly magazines who are taking note. Having watched me go through my own battle with anorexia, and now my war on the coverage of eating disorders, are kicking up a fuss at work - and subtly (and less so sometimes) suggesting that Beat's guidelines are followed. Every little DOES help.

So yes, the Daily Mail are often rightly the target of my rants, but I do think suffers can do their bit too.

Let's get clued up and STOP selling sensationalist spin on anorexia, they will HAVE to wake up to the message at some point.

What Can YOU do?
If you spot a poor example of eating disorder coverage TELL Beat and flag it up or write to the paper. Journalists often have a by-line and the news agency will be credited too. Recent poor examples of anorexia copy have come from Hot Spot Media and News Team International.

A link to BEAT's Media Guidelines:http://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/media-guidelines/

Journalists PLEASE take time to read through the guidelines. Eating disorders CAN be covered well.

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