My hometown of Wollongong has one local newspaper (or note.) Unfortunately, they (the Illawarra Mercury), as many “news” outlets are these days, driven by the dollar – profit and catchy headlines. No matter if you get the name of the star of your article totally wrong. No matter if you misspell the names of the dead.
I recall an article published in 2011 where I was, at the age of 20, referred to as “the man who could have decimated Wollongong’s economy.” That was the front page, open up and I get a whole page stating I am a convicted fraudster (important: I’m not.)
The magistrate in the Local Court made an error, it was quickly and successfully appealed at the District Court, and my curiosity ended up landing me a non-conviction bond to be of good behaviour (referred to as a section 19B, to go with the state-level section 10 dismissal.
Now, the Illawarra Mercury edits this article a year or so after publishing, so nearly a year after I was cleared of any fraud conviction. I think they may have corrected where they called me “Lloyd”, but it certainly wasn’t correcting their blatant incompetence (only other reason I can think of for this mistake is outright lies) – where they said I had been laid off from “Apple Computers”. Firstly: I never worked for Apple, I worked (my first job, at 19) for MAC1, an Apple Retailer and repair shop. Second, I resigned with two weeks notice, I wasn’t laid off – my social anxiety was strangling me. Third: nevermind, it’s a bit too pedantic. Long story short, I was innocent – the more honest of the two detectives that visited when I was 19 essentially sent me off with these words of wisdom: “curiosity killed the cat.”
Anyway, the Mercury ignored emails and calls over the years when I asked them to correct the article to say that I wasn’t convicted – it wasn’t until over ten years later, this years, that I emailed them the court order from the Judge stating that I was not convicted. Should’ve done it earlier.
Thing is, as soon as they saw that, they had solid proof staring them in the face that there were committing civil defamation, and I’m thinking I should’ve taken them to court for the money (shameless here), because that got their attention so quickly that they even requested Google’s caches to have it removed.
Given I also have posted the Judges’ order stating I am not a convicted fraudster, anybody claiming as such is committing, I believe, libel (although I also believe the offensive of “libel” itself has been repealed) – what I know for certain is anybody citing that article to assert I am a convicted fraudster is committing civil defamation, and they may hide behind their keyboards for a while, a few months maybe, but after I’ve asked nicely twice, seriously, you don’t want to have to pay court filing fees, a barristers fees, and our own costs (proving an asshole is an asshole beyond reasonable doubt takes time and attention to detail) – we always win in the end.
So where does free access to local news come into this? Right here: their paywall lets you see the headline, the photo, and the first sentence – then you have to pay for a subscription. Marketing department to the rescue: Make the headline so sensational and (often) misleading that people either have to pay to read the whole story (I find their “facts” to be around 25% accurate), or go and judge that person off a sensationalised sound bite.
I’ve emailed the Mercury twice, including last month, stating that their paywall is broken and a simple command (Mac, Windows, Linux) typed in will grab the entire article. It may not look that pretty (loses formatting), but that’s not what matters.” Besides, it’d be simple to add that to the code.
Legal clarification: we have not disclosed the method for doing this manually, or any code that would allow it. But one day, someone will use a similar method, go a lot deeper, and likely harvest the details of all their subscribers.