Like most writers, those of us in public relations are prone to vanity. If we can choose between having an op-ed piece in a prestigious newspaper or a column in the local supermarket rag, we choose the former, even if it means far fewer people see our work. So is our professional pride causing us to ignore the power of low-brow publications to change hearts and minds? In particular, should the fur trade be taking the UK tabloids more seriously?
The UK Is a special case for a few reasons, notably:
• Everyone speaks English. There’s no denying the impact of the English language in shaping any debate of international concern, including the fur debate. By all means publish in Russian or Portuguese, but don’t expect a global audience.
• The entire UK is a little smaller than the state of Michigan, so many print tabloids (and of course their affiliated websites) have national circulations. Indeed, two in particular, the Mirror and the Sun, are said to carry more weight in national elections than esteemed broadsheets like the Telegraph and the Guardian.
• The UK is the spiritual home of the animal rights movement. When it comes to activists making life hard for animal industries, only Californians come close.
SEE ALSO: Brexit, fur-trimmed parkas, and trendy vegans in London Town. Truth About Fur.
Check Out the Boots!
Enter the Daily Mail, the country’s most notorious tabloid since the News of the World was forced to close a decade ago. On May 23, the Mail ran a piece on two huge fans of fur, Judi Caldwell and partner Lukasz Dlubek from Northern Ireland, while commissioning Mercury Press to take lots of lovely photos. (We all like photos, but for the tabloids, they are essential, and the more provocative the better. Conveniently, Lukasz looks like a cross between Conor McGregor and a member of Ukraine’s Azov regiment. One look at his boots would send most Russian soldiers running!)
This article was not standard Mail fare, but not unprecedented either. Typically, Mail pieces on fur are negative, and for the last several years have involved recycling old photos from a Scandinavian fox farm, with regurgitated sound bites from animal rights leaders implying they have just concluded an “investigation”.
Sometimes, though, the thoroughly unprincipled Mail will change tack on an issue completely, just to keep readers on their toes. This time it chose to tell us that some people – well, these two anyway – think fur is great.
The headline (if this can be called a “headline”) literally says it all: “Couple who love the ‘classy’ feel of wearing real fur claim they have ‘higher morals’ than the vegans who send them death threats online because it’s more sustainable than fake fabrics.”
Then for good measure, the body reiterates the main points: “The pair believe that not only does wearing real fur make them look incredible, but they also say that it is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than faux alternatives and a lot of vegan products.”
Says Lukasz (of the scary boots): “Real fur lasts for so much longer when it’s cared for correctly whereas fake fur is fast fashion – what do they think happens to all the plastic that is used to make it!”
Judi drives the message home: “Nowadays, there is a lot of ‘green washing’ and a big emphasis on veganism and vegetarianism. We are trying to promote sustainable fashion by wearing fur, but people are quick to jump online and judge us.”
SEE ALSO: Fur is a sustainable natural resource. Truth About Fur.
The point about sustainability is well made, of course, and especially pertinent in the UK where the absurd notion is widely accepted that “vegan fashion” (including clothes and shoes made from plastic) is, almost by definition, more “sustainable” than anything which involves the direct killing of animals.
But as anyone familiar with the Mail knows, it is not in the business of educating people. It just wants outraged readers to go, “Whoa! That’s crazy!” – then share the piece widely and hopefully click on some ads. (If you find this interpretation too cynical, another headline used for the same article by an Indian website tells us exactly what we’re supposed to think: “Bizarre: Couple who wear real fur say they are ‘more sustainable’ than vegans; leaves netizens confused.”)
Then the Mail throws more fuel on the fire by having Judi suggest vegans are psychopaths. “The hate we receive from a lot of vegans online is appalling,” she says, “and I’ve even had messages from someone who was threatening to slit mine and my dog’s throat because we wear fur.”
Since money is the only reason the Mail publishes such stories, and almost no one reads the comments that follow, it makes no sense for the fur trade to bother responding. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get in the game. The reach of these stories is potentially enormous, and frequently far greater than anything published by a reputable media company.
For starters, big UK tabloids like the Mail belong to larger media groups with a slew of other outlets, both in print and on the web, including every popular social media platform. The Mail comes under the umbrella of DMG Media, whose stable includes Metro.co.uk, a tabloid website that also ran a pared-down version of the Judi and Lukasz story. And though we have not confirmed this, it seems highly likely that the story also ran in the print version of Metro. This is the UK’s largest-circulation tabloid (though the fact it’s free must help).
Then there’s life beyond DMG Media. Within days of the Mail publishing its story, it popped up on News India Studio, WST Post, Unilad, Granthshala News, News Dubai, and an ominous-sounding site called Internet Cloning. And these were just the links near the top of our Google search.
Only through serious research could we know which of these recyclers are legitimate and which are simply plagiarists. But that’s the problem of DMG Media’s licensing department.
The fact is, though, that the stuff of UK tabloids is perfect fodder for today’s legions of ad-driven websites employing underpaid rewriters to push trending news stories. In short, a shoddily written story, with no redeeming qualities other than a catchy headline and provocative photos, can reach far more hearts and minds than an op-ed piece in a prestigious broadsheet ever can.
The fur trade has always tried to take the high road when it comes to public relations materials. But maybe we should be taking the low road too. Everyone else is.
If you have a story that you think would be good fodder for the UK tabloids, send it our way and we’ll see if we can get an editor to take the bait! It needs to promote the message that fur is sustainable, and don’t forget the pics. But other than that, anything goes!