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Culture wars

Jan 8, 2009

Who Killed "Sharon Gould"?

I know it's a journalistic cliche, but for a yarn that is of interest to, perhaps, ten thousand  or so Australians the Sharon Gould hoax has it all. As revealed in the Crikey e-mail to

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I know it’s a journalistic cliche, but for a yarn that is of interest to, perhaps, ten thousand  or so Australians the Sharon Gould hoax has it all. As revealed in the Crikey e-mail today, this story has not only cultural warriors, not only cultural mischief making, but also the extra human interest element of an imminent birth. You wouldn’t read about it. Except you have. Its tragic, funny and serious all at once.

Now. Who outed Sharon Gould? Even as I type these words, there is a great deal of boasting on the blogosphere about who tracked down the Sharon Gould-Katherine Wilson link first. Bloggers, pull your heads in. It wasn’t you.

In fact mainstream media journalists Bernard Lane and Justine Ferrari of The Australian made the connection as early as Tuesday afternoon – within hours of Crikey publishing the “Sharon Gould” material. As I understand it, Lane found a comment on a blog here by Sharon Gould, linking to this article by Katherine Wilson. Ferrari set about trying to contact Wilson, but couldn’t find her (she isn’t easy to find), and didn’t feel an allegation of that sort could be published without confirmation.

Quite impressive.

As soon as I heard that Ferrari was on this trail, I thought it was probably a matter of time before others joined the dots and Wilson was outed.

Yesterday, a number of people joined those dots and others all at the same time, helping each other along the way. Guys, impossible to say which of you waas first, so far as I can see. Tom McLoughlin worked it out and after dropping lots of hints couldn’t restrain himself in comments on “Gould’s” story in yesterday’s Crikey.

Minutes later, Nexus 6 , having previously speculated that Prince Charles was Sharon Gould, hopped in on a Larvatus Prodeo comment thread and said that they had identified the hoaxer.

But another blog contributor, Don Arthur, had in the meantime found Wilson’s email address and sent this message about two hours before McLoughlin was on the case:

Katherine, I’m thinking about writing a blog post about the ‘Sharon Gould’ hoax.I noticed that ‘Sharon’ linked to article of yours in a comment she made on the Age’s Your Say forum. So I thought I might as well ask: Did you write the Quadrant article?

Don Arthur

Arthur wrote this blog post at Club Troppo later in the evening. (Wilson did not reply to his email).

Meanwhile the guys at libertarian Catallaxy were also on to it, identifying Gould first as “weathergirl”, which is a name she used in blog debates some time ago. Catallaxy’s work on the evidentiary trail was spoilt by silly schoolboy abuse of Wilson and me by a couple of their contributors.

Catallaxy tipped off Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko at Skepticlawyer, who updated her previous post on the affair accordingly. Meanwhile Larvatus Prodeo picked up the theme, and Mark Bahnisch disassociated itself from Wilson before saying:

Incidentally, I think this whole affair has brought out both the best and the worst of the blogosphere. But I might wait until some more water has passed under the bridge to expand on that comment.

And I await this with interest.

Meanwhile the debate ran hot on the original LP post.

By now everyone was on to it.  It was on for young and old.

It was clear to me by bedtime last night that Wilson was effectively outed, which had always been a likely outcome in my view.

The question was, would the mainstream media pick up on the story, or would it remain in the blogosphere? And if the latter, how much weight should the blogosphere carry in her decision on whether or not to out herself? Would it still be possible to maintain a veneer of anonymity while only the blogosphere had wind of her identity?

I thought it was only a matter of time before the mainstream media published what was already all over the internet. Crikey was also in a difficult position. If Wilson had held me to my confidentiality undertaking, I would really have had to fall silent on the affair, and that in itself would have likely been taken as confirmation.

I told her this was what I thought, and also that Crikey would at the very least have to report on what the blogosphere was saying.

Meanwhile, since I wrote this morning’s story, I have had fresh news of mainstream media journalists sniffing around the Katherine Wilson name.

Hence the decision Wilson made, and the result you see today.

It has been interesting watching my colleagues cover this story, and try to sniff out my source. I have to say I think the mainstream media has done a good job. All the journos who have rung me have been fair and professional, without necessarily cutting me any slack as I wrestled with the various ethical dilemmas. And they have been hot on the trail of the source. The reporting I have seen has also been fair to both me and the hoaxer, iand for that matter to Windschuttle, in my view.

The blogosphere, on the other hand, has been as you would expect very variable in its fairness, accuracy and capacity for detective work. Much of it okay, but a fair bit of unsubstantiated speculation about me, WIlson, Crikey and even Windschuttle.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the nimbleness and immediacy of online blogging has made the mainstream media look slow. The stuff that has been in the morning newspapers has been known to people following the story online for hours and hours before it goes on the printing press.

So, it would be nice to chalk this story up as a good one for the bloggers, but I’m afraid that, as usual, its more complicated than that.

Journalists are still of some use, after all. It’s the slowness of the medium that holds them back.

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57 thoughts on “Who Killed “Sharon Gould”?

  1. Club Troppo » Who is Sharon Gould?

    […] figured it out first? In her blog Content Makers, Simons reports that "mainstream media journalists Bernard Lane and Justine Ferrari of The […]

  2. skepticlawyer » Bloggers and journalists

    […] broke the hoax story, kicked off a debate about the links between journalism and blogging with her post on the uncovering of Wilson, comparing the approaches of the blogosphere with the journalists from The Australian, and […]

  3. skepticlawyer » Quadrant Demidenkoed. That is all

    […] VIII: Simons fesses up — quite an amusing, lighthearted piece, […]

  4. Chasing the Norm » Blog Archive » Many hands make light work

    […] efforts against Dan Rather in 2004) or is outclassed by the efforts of a few professionals (see the uncovering of the Windschuttle Hoax). Likewise the SETI and Folding @ Home programs havn’t really taken off as their founders […]

  5. Remember Bloggers v Journalists? - The Content Makers

    […] term readers of this blog (and the others that participated) will remember the debate on the ‘Bloggers v Journalists […]

  6. just the facts? « a shiny new coin

    […] discussion going on around the place centres on the hoax on Quadrant by Crikey journo Katherine Wilson. Catch up on the discussion at Skeptic Lawyer, Larvatus Prodeo and John […]

  7. Pro Information Center » Blog Archive » Sunday Snippets - a blogging meander

    […] though, start with this SMH article, The blogs of war: how Quadrant hoaxer was outed. Then go to Who Killed “Sharon Gould”? where Crikey’s Margaret Simons reviews the relative roles of bloggers and mainstream media in […]

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