Making headlines
Vol. 18 No 1 | Autumn 2016
Prof Steve Robson

This article is 8 years old and may no longer reflect current clinical practice.

‘If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.’ — Mark Twain

‘Mark Twain’ was the pen name of Samuel Clemens, and few realise that he worked as a typesetter – a dead profession if ever there was one – and newspaper writer before his professional life as a humourist began. Twain was interested and involved in scientific experimentation and technology, and held several patents. At the same time, he campaigned against animal experimentation. Through his wife Olivia Langdon he met and admired activists for women’s rights and social equality.

How far have we come since Twain’s day? Each of us seems to be a ‘typesetter’ these days, with the ability to communicate rapidly and without boundary. News comes to us in a relentless and overwhelming cascade. Yet, as Twain reminds us almost a century-and-a-half later, are we really informed or just misinformed?

I have my own story to tell and it was horrible to go through at the time. When I was the Reproductive Medicine Fellow at the University of Adelaide, in the late 1990s, my then-boss Prof Rob Norman (who has kindly written for us in the issue) asked me to drum up some publicity in an attempt to recruit more sperm donors to replenish our dwindling stocks. At the time, we only had one regular donor and things were looking grim. I managed to land a spot on ABC morning radio. Rob sensed trouble and gave me a stern warning: ‘Don’t say anything stupid!’ He knew me well.

When asked by the interviewer how many active donors we had, my reply was poorly thought through. ‘We have one donor single-handedly providing our sperm supply.’ Prof Norman was less than impressed, and let me know it. The unit was inundated with calls from all of the television networks and newspapers across Australia. It even ended up on the television quiz show, Good News Week, much to my chagrin. It was a bad start to a hoped-for career, but did have a positive – ultimately, the unit was contacted by 300 prospective sperm donors. I had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Just.

The experience made me realise just how powerful and hungry the media is. It is very easy to utter one poorly judged word or phrase and be subject to relentless consequences. In this issue of O&G Magazine, we have revisited media storiesthat have caused a sensation at the time,and followed how they have played out for those involved. Stories in women’s health have the potential to gather widespread media coverage, and this is something we see regularly. The College is constantly receiving calls from media organisations, asking for in-the-moment comment about new studies or reports.

We hope you enjoy reminiscing about some of the great and not-so-great moments when our specialty has hit the headlines. As always, we thank our generous authors for giving their time and experience. The team at O&G Magazine would very much like to hear from you. If you have something you would like to share, or comments you would like to make, please make sure you contact us. Remember the wonderful line from Oscar Wilde, ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.’

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