The Rebel effect

13 Oct

If you were, say, an ambitious anglophone news operation with sites in the UK, the US and Australia, and you wanted to test how well those operations were gelling, here’s one subject you could start with: Rebel Wilson.

Australian, US-domiciled, tabloid-friendly and popular everywhere, she regularly seems to present a test to the three-newsroom model. We have already seen the Mail and the Guardian stumble over the subject of her $4.5m libel win three years ago (Australian dollars? US dollars? Not sure!). Now she’s dieting furiously on Instagram, and inadvertently creating another weights and measures problem.

She announced* last week that she was only three kilos away from her goal, kilos being the measure that Australians commonly use for body weight.

In the article, even though it was produced by Daily Mail Australia, this is translated in the opening paragraph to 6.5 pounds, presumably with a northern-hemisphere audience in mind. On the UK homepage, the stories briefly appeared next to each other on Tuesday: one in the celebrity highlights box, the other in the Sidebar of Shame, one with the kilos measurement, one with the pounds.

At the end of the first paragraph of text, a British-friendly conversion into stones and pounds is added in brackets, for the full suite of anglosphere measures,

but further down, in a picture caption, a (presumably Australian?) sub-editor has fallen back into the system they know best (with the conversions given slightly different priorities).

Does it matter? These are just details: as we have discussed before, it doesn’t stop you understanding the heart of the story. Rebel’s diet is going well; Kylie is being generous; Big Lizzie has arrived in New York. But weights and measures are always redolently local and surprisingly resistant to change. And while small things like this remain so difficult to marshal for an international audience, readers are still being left with the subconscious impression that they’re reading a story meant for somebody else.

*Or, in Mail-speak, “flaunted”

5 Responses to “The Rebel effect”

  1. Picky October 14, 2020 at 8:56 am #

    And, curiously, none of the three works for me — a number of stones with a decimal fraction (assuming that’s what it is) looks quite alien. For me 11.8st is 11st 11oz.

    • edlatham October 14, 2020 at 10:30 am #

      Agreed, yes – not 11st 8lbs, which is always how I tend to read it

  2. Picky October 14, 2020 at 11:09 am #

    Yep, I’m so confused I’ve got my ounces and pounds mixed. It’s at times like this that a sub is needed.

  3. the ridger October 14, 2020 at 12:08 pm #

    One problem is that “I’m 3 kilos away” sounds excited, but “I’m 6.5 pounds away” sounds obsessive and desperate. I really think an approximate whole number would be better.

    • edlatham October 14, 2020 at 12:42 pm #

      Yes! The classic “20,000 Leagues (69,040 Miles) Under The Sea” problem

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