Every press release is sacred

The Independent, The Mail, Metro, Sky News, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, TIME, Newsweek and The Hindustan Times, among many others, have all carried in the past few days some variant on the following:

[A] dating site with a strict ban on ugly people, has launched a virtual sperm and egg bank for people who want to have beautiful babies.

By “an online sperm and egg bank”, what they actually mean is a forum on their site to let people exchange details and get in contact with donation clinics. Now, as you can probably imagine, there are a whole host of ethical, legal and logistical difficulties behind this, and you’d think this would make some interesting copy. How can a public forum respect donor anonymity laws? What prevents people from passing off other people’s gametes as their own? What stops people from using the service to send sperm directly from donor to recipient, which carries with it all kinds of disease risks?

And more to the point, what’s new? Solicited gamete donation has been around for decades (just ask the LGBT community), and most countries with legal donation frameworks permit the recipients to choose based, to a greater or lesser extent, on the donor’s appearance. So why is every news outlet reporting this as some sort of groundbreaking news?

Well, there was a press release.*

Some articles rewrite the press release to greater extent than others (The Mail‘s coverage, by that great scribe Daily Mail Reporter, in particular consists of simply copy-pasting the press release and then running it through a thesaurus – compare the above quote, from the press release, with The Mail‘s “A controversial dating website which only allows beautiful members has launched an online sperm and egg bank for people desperate to have attractive children.“) but the running theme of the coverage is that there is no criticism or analysis of the news beyond that taken from the press release itself.

The one exception is Sky News, who have managed to find an even more odious quote source than the press release: a “group” (which apparently only has one active member) called Human Genetics Alert (don’t bother with their website, by the way – it hasn’t updated in 2 years and seems to consist mostly of cartoons scanned out of Private Eye), which seems to think that the only problem with this idea is that it gives people too much choice:

It’s the symptom of a very dangerous tendency in our society [...] that says we can take control of everything to do with reproduction and have it exactly the way we want it.

That is the closest that any of these articles get to actual journalism (though providing links to actual reputable donation services was a nice touch from The Independent).

The dating site in question, by the way, is BeautifulPeople.com. Does that name sound familiar? Well, it should. Back in January, it hit the news when it expelled 5,000 members for festive weight gain. A few days before, it got into The Sun by releasing a pin-up calendar, and a couple of months before that, it was in the papers claiming British people were among the ugliest in the world (incidentally, its list of ugly/attractive nationalities was long enough to ensure plenty of reportage around the world).

BeautifulPeople.com seems have hit on a winning formula here – write a press release, put a nice sensationalist spin on it and send it to onto the wires, and score worldwide advertising for probably less than the price of a single half-page ad. In fact, given that I certainly can’t remember ever seeing a banner or a billboard for BeautifulPeople.com, even despite the omnipresence of dating site ads online; at this point, I’d be willing to bet that this is the bulk of their marketing strategy.

For immediate release

BeautifulPeople.com, the dating site with a strict ban on ugly people, has launched a virtual press release bank for newspapers who want to have beautiful articles.

Managing director Greg Hodge certainly never said: “BeautifulPeople.com has launched a press release introduction service to help journalists and non-journalists alike create articles with the minimum of effort.  There are loads of financial benefits for us in doing so – we are simply responding to a demand for pointless fluff to fill column inches in the Christmas and summer silly seasons.  Every newspaper would like their article to be blessed with many fine attributes, an excuse to print photos of attractive women being one of the most sought after.  For a site with easily accessible photos of members who resemble Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie you can imagine the demand.”

Atomic Spin, lazy blogger said:

“BeautifulPeople.com is doing what the press are doing anyway, which is securing what they believe to be the highest level of printable press release material they can, to ensure the best chance of success for their papers.

“This service makes it easier for those who subscribe to the same ideal of beauty as those of ‘Beautiful People’ to find photos which they perceive to supply appropriate titillation material.”

Already, over 600 beautiful articles have been copied to newspapers who met the site through Newswire, a fact which is attracting the attention of other dating sites.

* Incidentally, you should read that press release right to the bottom. The last paragraph is a doozy. Apparently, members enjoy:

  • Glamorous parties and a jet set global network
  • Access to the most beautiful people locally and from around the world
  • Approaches by film and TV companies
  • Potential contracts from modeling agencies
  • Extended professional networks, through BeautifulPeople.com and leading businesses

And here I was thinking it was just a dating site. I can’t imagine what company would be able to run “extended professional networks” through BeautifulPeople, except of course for Renholm Industries.

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