Myleene, the coconut crab… and how the Express came to take its own quotes from the Mail

THE story of Myleene Klass’s stowaway crab, her rat-eating giant crab last seen up a tree on Hampstead Heath, is a great example of journalism descending into a silly round of Chinese whispers. You may question how, or why, the New Journal found a place on the merry-go-round, but the reality is our paper can’t simply be about council chiefs chiefing, horrific stabbings and flower shows. And at least we did something new with this curious tale of a Pacific crab set loose on Hampstead Heath. We pushed the story on, as it’s known in newsrooms, when this game of pass the parcel stopped on us.

The story came from the showbiz pages of the Express, but we did try to contact the singer for more information and then made calls of our own to the Heath’s managers and London Zoo, the latter generously providing an expert to detail what might happen if somebody was silly enough to put a crab into the ponds. It would die. Yes, the article has the celebrity element which drew the breathless attention of the tabloids, but it’s a fair job to investigate what people say they are putting in the water and why there are better ways to help save a creature accidentally flown in from the other side of the world.

Nevertheless, the whole affair, which Myleene’s publicist dismissed as a joke when the story began spreading, shows how a culture of lifty-lifty journalism can swing full circle. For as the crab story chain expired over the weekend, the Express curiously ended up quoting their own quotes from a week earlier… but crediting them to the Mail.

Step 1

Myleene Klass is out promoting her new show, Singin’ In The Rainforest. There are stories about the number of mosquito bites she suffered while on location, and a mention in the Sun about how a ‘live crab’ had ended up in her luggage coming home, gifted to her by the tribespeople. This was a week last Wednesday. 

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Step 2

By Friday, the Daily Express was also reporting on the crab in the case. Now the crab was not just a ‘live crab;, but ‘a giant crab’, a quote from Myleene herself. Here, she takes the story on and says she didn’t know what to do with the crab, and so tried to free it into Hampstead Heath’s ponds.

The following Thursday, the New Journal runs the story with a warning from the Heath’s managers about dumping exotic creatures into the ponds. The article also features the first, and as it turns out the only, assessment about the crab’s likely fate from an expert from London Zoo, obtained by us. 

After the CNJ story – which was pretty prominent with a nice layout on page three –  the Daily Mail took an interest and found a home for it on their pages.

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Step 3

HEAT magazine up the ante… check the headline, and then the Telegraph borrow the quotes from our expert at the zoo. They have a think, and find an archive picture of Myleene holding up a crab claw from an appearance on a cookery television show to go with their version of the article.

And then it’s time for the Sun to get involved again -(remember step one, they were the first to be aware of the stowaway crab in the first place, but are suddenly interested in it again). It’s now a monster crab, and, what da?, they’ve found ‘dog walker Clive Willis’ who thinks it’s been seen up a tree. The expert at the zoo had said as much, that coconut crabs climb trees. The Daily Star meanwhile says ‘numerous wildlife groups’ are furious with Myleene, although ‘numerous’ on this occasion seems to be just the borrowed quotes from the expert from the zoo again.

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Step 4

The story has zipped around here, there and everywhere, and eventually falls back onto the Express newsdesk, the newspaper which had first reported Myleene’s joke/claim about the crab. It is now ‘the world’s largest crab’, even though its identification has relied on a single member of zoo staff suggesting which kind of crab it may have been based solely on location, and not from pictures or seeing it in the flesh. And here’s where Fleet Street turns a full circle. Of course, the website desks of national newspapers are nearly all sectioned away from their print journalists, but it is still a strange business that when the story eventually bounced back to the Express‘s website, Myleene’s original quotes – the quotes which first appeared in the Express seven days earlier – are now credited to their rivals at Mail Online
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