There’s no cure for Going Viral

Last year, I wrote an article on this blog called 10 Things Not to Say to someone from Pakistan. I’d pitched it to a few outlets with no success, so one night I uploaded it on this blog. I shared it once on my Facebook page, checked the stats and saw it had 19 views and went to bed, feeling pleased. That number of views wasn’t too bad for an article I had left up for an hour.

The next morning, my inbox has exploded with emails and my stats had shot to over 1000 views. By the end of three days, they’d reached 30,000, and that one article currently clocks over 80,000 views. It’s consistently the most popular article on this blog. I’d gone viral completely by accident.

It’s a strange feeling, being suddenly thrust into the limelight like that. As the comments poured in, it felt like I’d opened the door to the Internet and there it was, streaming past me. There was the praise, the criticism, the guy calling me a whore, the other guy calling me a slut, someone else saying I was a fake, a spammer telling me how much money their cousin made online WORKING FROM HOME, and everything in between.

It was utterly bizarre. At that point in time I was in the middle of a bad patch with my anxiety and depression, being in the spotlight and especially the voices telling me what a useless human I was were too much for me, so I quite literally went and lay down, and waited for my temporary fame to pass by.

Eventually it did.

The same thing happened to me again last week. Last Wednesday, I was commissioned to write an article from the USA Today. The article had been my idea. I wanted to get an in-depth face to face with Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister. I’d laid the article out in my head. With such articles, I like to set the scene and describe little details. I also noticed that as a regular blogger and user of twitter, Mr Varoufakis often ends up posting corrections to articles or things misinterpreted. I wanted to give an article to the reader in his own words so that they could get to know and learn about the policies of the man with what might just be Europe’s toughest job.

I got on it straight away, trying to track Mr Varoufakis down across Thursday, with little success.

I was still pondering my next move on Friday morning, answering follow up emails from the USA Today asking whether I had managed to get a hold of him yet, when someone posted a story from the New York Times. There was the article, the profile, very much along the same lines as I had planned to write the USA Today article.

I was frustrated. Who could they have possibly contacted that I myself hadn’t tried to reach already? I didn’t get it. I then noticed that Mr Varoufakis had some recent activity on his blog and twitter accounts. Perhaps there was a tiny chance that he’d still be at his computer, so I decided to tweet him. I sent him two tweets, one of which was this:

By the afternoon, I’d received several emails from various Greek TV channels asking to talk to me, and that’s when I realised that I had for some reason become a Greek tabloid story. The journalists that wrote about me had found online pictures from a photo shoot I had done years ago for a friend, Vishy Moghan, and used those in the article.

At first it was funny, and I gave a few telephone interviews hoping the whackiness of my approach might eventually open the door to Mr Varoufakis and the article I wanted to write.

Very quickly, it stopped being funny when I paid closer attention to the context in which I was appearing. Article after article condensed my 10 year career as a journalist, the door knocking, the rejection, the building contacts from zero, the failures, the losing faith in myself, the bloody hard work it has taken for me to get to where I am today, all of this was boiled down by the tabloid press to: “Pretty journalist tries to get an interview with Varoufakis. Fails.”

I hadn’t been contact by anyone beforehand. The articles said that I was American, which I’m not (British, actually, with dual Pakistani nationality). They skipped over the fact that I’m very happily married with two children, and let’s just say given that fact, headlines about me getting on my knees and begging the finance minister for an interview are in extreme poor taste, to say the least.

I then made the time-honoured mistake of reading the comments on the article, and there it all was again. She’s a poser, she’s a fake along with a bunch of racist comments about my ethnicity and how I try to hide it, plus that there seems to be no evidence of me as a journalist.

Now I owe nothing to the trolls, but here goes. To those of you who have been so quick to judge, here is my online portfolio of articles.

Here is my LinkedIn profile that lists my education and qualifications.

And you’re reading my blog, where I have never hidden the fact that I am of Pakistani and Indian origin. Nor have I made it into the be all and end all of who I am, because it’s not relevant to whether I do my job as a journalist well or not. The pictures used in the articles about me were utterly irrelevant to my work as a journalist. They were a casual photo shoot done for a friend, and used without his consent. I speak Greek, not perfectly, it’s a beautiful and complex language that I came to late in life, so I’m bound to make mistakes.

On Friday night I spoke again to the press officer of Mr Varoufakis. Somewhere in our conversation, he asked if I was the person who has made it public on social media what a big fan I am of Mr Varoufakis and how badly I want to meet him.

That’s when I understood that if ever I had a chance of getting my serious interview with Mr Varoufakis for the USA Today, it’s now probably dead in the water. If his own press officer has me in his mind as a fame-hungry social media personality, the chances of him ever agreeing to an interview just dropped like the price on a Greek 5 year bond this week.

I deliberately went into print journalism because I didn’t have any interest in being a broadcast journalist. I love words. I have a passion for writing, I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 11. In the last 6 months, after 10 years of work, that goal has at last come within reach.

On Monday morning, I have agreed to appear on SKAI TV’s ‘Tora’ current affairs programme. If that sounds contradictory, it is.

‘Are you sure?’ my sister in law asked me. The comments about me online had already been less than generous. Did I really want to get on live TV and stumble through a Greek interview. I’ll take my chances. My Greek used to be a lot better, but two small children mean I am usually sleep deprived, and in among work, childcare and the constant worries about my older son’s condition, there’s little room left for correct Greek grammar.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been asked on air, or whether it will just make things worse for my chances of being taken as a serious journalist. Now my only motivation is to try and correct some of the ridiculous things I’ve seen about myself online as this story took on a life of its own, and maybe readdress the balance. I couldn’t pass up the chance of handing a few cards out right in the headquarters of a major news channel, and maybe point out the strangely gendered world of media where I would never have been the story if I had been a man.

Doctors make the worst patients. Journalists make the worst news stories. I’ll be happy when this dies down. I’ll be even happier if I get to write my piece.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “There’s no cure for Going Viral

  1. Dear Omeira,
    There is nothing wrong in coming out and explaining to your fellow journalists where you come from and why you did something the way you did. Don’t worry too much about it. But be very very careful about that SKAI interview. SKAI being the channel it is, there is little chance that they are interested in your side of the story. They just want a bit of fun, and if it embarrasses you or Varoufakis, that won’t stop them from sleeping at night. Just my two cents…

    • Alexandria Philippou

      I agree completely with you on this. SKAI is exactly as you describe it. Moreover, since their operation is not completely legit and the new government has promised to look the status under which they operste , they will do everything in their power to harm it, even if that means to drive over Omeira.

  2. I am really sorry of how this story has evolved for you. I am really frustated for the unprofessional and cliche approach of these supposed to be “colleagues” that threw out all that disgusting commenting and racist approach.
    I didn’t know that you are obliged to explain to them, like you are being interrogated, of your nationality, education and who took these photos of yours. Needless to say that SKAI is the example of low level, “yellowish”, systemic journalism that must only be rejected.
    So keep on your work, and think only of the ones important in your life.

    • I understand that journos have pages to fill, but articles headlined: “Who is the beautiful journalist who got on her knees begging Varoufakis for an interview? PHOTOS!” have destroyed all my credibility. I can forget about being taken seriously now.

  3. Wow what a roller coaster you’ve been on. Serious journalism is getting much harder today with more and more emphasis on celebrity and fluff. Keep doing what you’re doing and being a great mother too.

  4. Pingback: How I became the Only Journalist in Europe to not interview Varoufakis | Omaira Gill

  5. Pingback: How I became the Only Journalist in Europe to not interview Varoufakis | HetPodium

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