Australia’s The Age, a Melbourne-based daily newspaper, fired freelancer Tara Kenny after learning she faked features for a style column called “Street Seen.” Kenny was supposed to feature random people on the street with interesting fashion styles, but in at least two cases she used friends including Sam Hains, whose hipster profile went viral, as her subjects.
“Kenny has only written about five pieces for The Age (the Street Seens and food stories for Epicure),” The Age‘s editor-in-chief Mark Forbes told iMediaEthics by e-mail. “She has also contributed to advertising supplements and what’s on guides.” The Age intends to retract the Street Seen pieces and “the subsequent stories will remain, with an added note.” Kenny began writing for The Age as a freelancer last year, he said.
Kenny said in a statement that she didn’t mean to trick anyone, but argued that since hers was a fashion column it wasn’t a serious ethical violation, according to The Age.
“While the column is meant to feature real people spotted organically on the street, it is an inherently playful read that is meant to be entertaining – hence I felt comfortable exercising a level of artistic licence,” she is quoted as saying. “I understand that there are journalistic principles of integrity that need to be adhered to, but personally see a rather significant distinction between making up content for hard news stories and exaggerating a character for a street fashion column.”
iMediaEthics asked Kenny for more information about her writing for The Age and the fashion profiles. Kenny responded by e-mail, “It was quite a wild few days! I have issued a statement with my thoughts on the matter and don’t wish to make any further comments.”
In its own news story, The Age‘s editor Alex Lavelle disagreed that Kenny’s actions were OK. “What is not acceptable, however, is that the journalist concocted the plan with her friend and then lied to one of our reporters about her relationship with Mr Hains. Fairfax Media expects all journalists to report truthfully and fairly on all subjects in all sections,” Lavelle said. According to The Age, the newspaper asked her about the Hains interview and she claimed she just saw him on the street.
Forbes told iMediaEthics, “It is absolutely not OK for journalists to lie and deceive in any section of the paper.” He added, “Kenny was asked directly if she knew the street seen subject. She lied, there’s nothing tongue in cheek about that.”
The newspaper “always suspected some of the comments were tongue in cheek” but that it didn’t know Kenny schemed the fakery, Lavelle said in the Age’s news report on the matter, noting that The Age wouldn’t use Kenny as a writer again.
How did the Age Learn of the Problems?
What did Kenny in? Her viral profile of her friend Sam Hains, who used the name Samuel Davide Hains in the profile and wore backwards overalls and a beret. “My style is bucolic socialist with improvised elements (like jazz). Sometimes I just wear something random, like a lab coat,” he is quoted as saying. “I admire the style of Trotsky in leather, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane. I’m not only inspired by people, but places and ideas. I spend a lot of time down at the docks and source inspiration from the architecture.”
In an interview with Vice, Hains admitted that “Samuel Davide is a satirical character” and that Kenny asked him if he was interested in being featured in her column.
“My friend Tara runs the ‘Street Seen’ column [in The Age] and asked me if I wanted to do it. The decision to do it in character was impulsive. I think the impulse to do it in character initially came from wanting to avoid the embarrassment of doing the column sincerely.”
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Kenny suggested some of his outfit, Hains said:
“The clothing choice wasn’t considered—I said yes to everything that was thrown at me. The pink beret was sitting on Tara’s counter; I put the overalls on backwards by mistake, we thought it was funny so we just rolled with it. Tara suggested I needed a bag and grabbed the tote.”
But Hains wasn’t Kenny’s only friend featured in the column. “My other friend Maillie did the same thing,” Hains said. “She dressed up, and I remember thinking her character was better than mine because it was more coherent.” See below her profile under the name Molly Eliza Halleran.
On Instagram, Kenny shared a photo of Halloran’s appearance in her column and called her a “housemate.”
Hains also said News.com.au interviewed Halloran who made up comments about him.”Maillie was interviewed instead, and was able to completely fabricate a story about my childhood with no consent and feed it to the media,” he said. iMediaEthics has written to News Corp. Australia for comment.
Before the fakery was exposed, Kenny continued the ruse, telling The Age in an interview Hains “was so earnest and genuine. I’ve met some real odd bods doing ‘Street Seen’ but he’s certainly in a league of his own. He is however, very warm and kind. I kinda have a crush on him so if he wants to reach out I’m interested.”
In a statement to Mumbrella, Kenny said she asked Hains if he’d appear in her column because of his fashion sense and claimed that he only “agreed on the condition that he would appear as an exaggerated caricature.”
In her statement, Kenny pitched her writing services after commenting “I hope this doesn’t ruin my career, but if it does at least it’s still the funniest and weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.” She also said she only did the column for two weeks as a fill-in writer.
Hat Tip: Daily Mail