Most of the cases we follow are slightly more serious than the Wagatha Christie saga. Still, some valuable learning points can be drawn from it.
Why is Wagatha Christie such a prominent case?
This might sound obvious, but the fact that we have two celebrities involved here makes this case of particular interest. More importantly, though, it’s got that classic ingredient of a good media story – a confrontation between two prominent individuals.
Conflict or one side fighting against another is always good for media attention. As we point out to the lawyers in our media training courses, much of the content we see in the news is based on this concept. Just think about the situation in Ukraine, a major football match or a big city takeover. They all involve confrontation between two or more parties. This, of course, is the situation in any court case, but Vardy versus Rooney has several other factors.
Vardy vs Rooney – What makes this story so prevalent in the media?
It’s very human. Two strong women locked in mortal combat is the stuff of soap operas and great fiction stories. It’s little wonder then that the mail online and other tabloids are excited about it. Another factor is that we can, in a way, relate to this case – most of us know of the people involved. Gossip, rumours and backbiting don’t just extend to those soaps that I’ve just mentioned – they are, unfortunately, a fact of life for most of us at some point in our lives. Anyone who’s worked in a newsroom, as our media trainers have, can tell you all about that!
The story is also visual. Images of people coming and going from the High Court or the Old Bailey work well for newspapers and TV news. Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy’s glamour, hair and carefully planned wardrobes certainly add to their appeal to news editors. Appearance is so important in the media. That’s why one of the things we cover in our media coaching for lawyers, is what to wear on TV and during panel discussions.
Another reason why this case works so well in news terms is its moniker. You don’t have to create a witty pun like “Wagatha Christie”, but thinking of a buzzy phrase or punchy sound bite always helps with media coverage. We worked with an insurance lawyer who talked about “bent metal cases” when referring to car crashes. You can literally see what he meant, can’t you?
What are the other lessons that lawyers and their Comms teams can learn from this case?
The first is that making issues easy to relate to for the audience is essential. We’ve taught technology lawyers how to translate complex issues into everyday experiences, such as shopping online, and we’ve advised M&A experts how to use simple, punchy phrases that get across their messages effectively. In our media coaching, we advise on how to make intangible concepts and theories into the kind of concrete everyday examples that even business journalists and the trade press appreciate.
What larger issues has this case exposed for media’s part in high profile legal cases?
There are serious issues at play in this glitziest of libel actions. As the Guardian put it, “the case exposed how – 15 years after social media went mainstream – English libel law is still struggling to deal with a world in which everyone is a publisher.” Jim Waterson, the paper’s media editor, went on to talk about the use of evidence in the case and its relevance to legal procedures. “Much was made by Vardy’s lawyers of the fact she did not follow standard journalistic practice in failing to give advance warning to the subject of her story,” he wrote.
“It’s likely that a brief chat with a media lawyer on how to phrase the accusation could have saved Rooney a lot of trouble. But the legal system should consider whether this is realistic for most members of the public, what individuals are expecting when they post material on social media, and whether they should be held to the same standard as major news publishers. Because as things stand, it might not be very long before we get another ‘Wagatha Christie’ case.”
We’d agree with that – and when it happens, we’ll be interested to see how what we can learn from and use in our media training courses for lawyers.
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To read more about the Wagatha Christie story, click here.