'Pack of Bastards' fiasco shows small words pack a punch

If you need any convincing about the power of words – even the small ones - and how quickly an issue can whip itself into a frenzy online, look no further than a mix-up this week involving a council meeting and a newspaper reporter.

Having a shot at long-term critics of his Council, the Lord Mayor of Wollongong NSW, Cr Gordon Bradbery, remarked during Monday night’s meeting: ‘‘That percentage or section of our community will never be satisfied and...we’ll always be a pack of bastards.”

That’s not the way the comment was heard by a reporter from the Illawarra Mercury, who filed a story on the paper’s website that quoted Cr Bradbery as saying ‘‘That percentage of our community will never be satisfied and...will always be considered a pack of bastards.’’

Not surprisingly, Wollongong residents who saw the story didn’t take kindly to being called ‘bastards’ by their civic leader, and the website’s comments section erupted.

If you need any convincing about the power of words – even the small ones - and how quickly an issue can whip itself into a frenzy online, look no further than a mix-up this week involving a council meeting and a newspaper reporter.

Having a shot at long-term critics of his Council, the Lord Mayor of Wollongong NSW, Cr Gordon Bradbery, remarked during Monday night’s meeting: ‘‘That percentage or section of our community will never be satisfied and...we’ll always be a pack of bastards.”

That’s not the way the comment was heard by a reporter from the Illawarra Mercury, who filed a story on the paper’s website that quoted Cr Bradbery as saying ‘‘That percentage of our community will never be satisfied and...will always be considered a pack of bastards.’’

Not surprisingly, Wollongong residents who saw the story didn’t take kindly to being called ‘bastards’ by their civic leader, and the website’s comments section erupted.

By the next morning, the Council’s media office had contacted the paper to point out the confusion between “we’ll” and “will”.

The story was taken down and a replacement posted, with the opening line: “Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery was misreported in a story published on the Mercury’s website on Monday night after we misheard his comments in council.”

Meanwhile the incident continued to snowball, with other media outlets reporting on the misreporting. The Mercury’s editor was forced to post a piece about the “simple slip of the ear”, under the headline Misheard vowel at council meeting makes a grand kerfuffle.

Grand kerfuffle indeed – it seems no-one could win from the confusion. Online comments on the Mercury’s correction story still put the boot into the Council:  “I read the original article re Lord Mayor comments at 10.30 pm last night 28th April - and it was shocking - appears WCC spin doctors have gone into overdrive to turn the article around - this is not a good look either.”

The moral of the story? Words matter, and small words may even matter the most. Not everyone writes for a living like a journalist, yet in this digital age we all write material that ends up in the public domain – even if we don’t realise it.

In this reputation-driven economy, in which minor issues can quickly flare into major problems, we can’t take chances on our communication. We must all be superior communicators, appreciating the potential impact of every word.

As one website commenter observed; “ahh the difference a couple of vowels and an apostrophe make....”