How a simple tentacle became a media star

July 9, 2010

Sometimes I hold seminars about journalism – photo journalism in particular of course. Most of the time I start talking about the journalistic rule number one.

What is rule number one? Journalism works very simply. When a dog bites a man – this is not a story. Dogs bite men. Unless the man is Prince Charles or the President of the United States, nobody is interested. But the opposite case – when a man bites a dog – that’s a story. The story will be even bigger if the man who bites the dog is the U.S. President and the dog belongs to Prince Charles.

However, in the future I must change my seminars and change the picture from the dog to the octopus “Paul” — better known as the “octopus oracle” at the Sea Life Aquarium of Oberhausen, a former coal mining and steel producing city in western Germany.

A two year-old octopus "Paul", the so-called "octopus oracle" predicts Germany's victory in their World Cup last 16 clash against England by choosing a mussel, from a glass box with the German flag instead of a glass box with the England flag, at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen June 25, 2010. "Paul" has so far rightly predicted Germany's first round victories over Ghana and Australia as well as Germany's defeat against Serbia. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The two-and-a-half year-old octopus has become a star all over the world by predicting all six of Germany’s 2010 World Cup games correctly – two defeats and four victories.

With his nine brains it takes him only a few moments to choose between two glass boxes – each filled with a delicious mussel. Each box is decorated with the flags of the respective teams that are scheduled to clash in South Africa. The keepers of the Sea Life Aquarium strictly follow the FIFA regulation: the home team gets the left box and the guest team receives the right box. Then hungry Paul reaches with one of his eight tentacles into one of the boxes to steel the little mussel. When the mussel quickly disappears into his mouth a whole nation is plunged into disbelief or jubilation.

The first time I covered Paul’s prediction for Reuters was before the classic clash between England and Germany. Only a handful of TV cameras – most of them local or domestic TV – were there. Then there were, including myself, four photographers from Germany’s biggest daily and three wire agencies. After Paul predicted the Germany-England match and the following game (Germany vs. Argentina) correctly – the media coverage got completely out of hand.

A two year-old octopus Paul, the so-called "octopus oracle" predicts Germany's victory in their 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against Argentina by choosing a mussel, from a glass box with the German flag instead of a glass box with the Argentinian flag, at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen June 29, 2010. Paul has so far rightly predicted Germany's first and second round victories over Ghana, Australia and England plus Germany's defeat against Serbia. REUTERS/Kirsten Neumann

One cannot imagine how many cameras can fit in a two meter square area in front of Paul’s glass window that is only slightly bigger than the size of an A1 placard. The media scrum for Paul’s next prediction, the semi-final between Germany and Spain, was even bigger. Dozens of semi-professional wanna-be-journalists arrived prior to the match with their (no joking) mobile phone cameras to glimpse Paul’s prediction. The “real” professionals pleaded to the PR-manager of the Sea Life Aquarium to end the “zoo situation” and form a pool and/or give the agencies and newspapers that had come from the very beginning to cover the Paul story the places in the front row. In fact, there is only one row that one can work from.

The respective photographers kneel some 50 cm (20 inches) in between and in front of the tripods of the TV cameras that use the other 50 cm of space in front of Paul’s aquarium window. It’s not fun sometimes to be a photographer – to be squeezed in like cattle while working in temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity that feels to be approaching 100 per cent.

To make sure I got a good spot, I got up early today to talk with the Sea Life management and my colleagues of our competitors and TV stations to arrange dignified working conditions. I was there two hours ahead of the time when Paul was scheduled to pick the winner of the so-called “little final” between Uruguay and Germany. Paul picked Germany. Some 45 minutes later he was hungry again and chose Spain as the 2010 World Cup winners over the Netherlands in Sunday’s final.

Two year-old octopus Paul, the so-called "octopus oracle" predicts Spain's 2010 soccer World Cup final victory over The Netherlands by opening the Spanish side and choosing a mussel, from a glass box decorated with the Spanish national flag instead of a glass box with the Dutch flag, at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen July 9, 2010. The octopus has became a media star after correctly picking all six German World Cup results including their first-round defeat against Serbia and their semi-final defeat against Spain.            REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

All of my colleagues were very grateful with Paul for choosing so fast. It didn’t seem to matter whether he picked Spain or the Netherlands. Kneeling in front of an octopus under these circumstances makes you think how stupid sometimes our job in the media is and how simple journalism works: a story is a story when a man bites a dog — or nowadays when a hungry octopus picks the correct mussel from a glass box.

Media representatives gather in front of Awindow of the aquarium of octopus "Paul" better known as the so-called "octopus oracle" at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen July 9, 2010. The octopus has became a media star after correctly picking all six German World Cup results including their first-round defeat against Serbia and their semi-final defeat against Spain. On Friday "Paul" predicted Spain's World Cup victory over The Netherlands and Germany's victory in their third place match against Uruguay.           REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Germany's so-called oracle octopus Paul, swims in front of a mock soccer World Cup trophy in its tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen July 12, 2010. The two-year-old celebrity octopus, accurately picked the outcome of all six of Germany's 2010 World Cup matches, even the two defeats, and then went on to correctly predict Spain to beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final. The conservative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung paid tribute in its story to the celebrity octopus on Monday  "Paul the oracle octopus in Oberhausen got it right again," the FAZ wrote.      REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

4 comments

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viva octopus

Posted by commandante | Report as abusive

Excellent demarcation between a story and non-story.

Posted by supratikC | Report as abusive

Paul always picked the flag with the most yellow.
Paul like yellow!

Posted by dman2 | Report as abusive

If Paul likes yellow more why did he anticipated Serbia’s victory over Germany correct ? Here is a link to the Serbian flag – which contains definitly less yellow as Germany

http://de.wikiversity.org/wiki/Datei:Fla g_of_Serbia.svg

Unfortunatly I did not shoot this match oracle. By the time Paul picked his second oracle – the Serbia/Germany match – he was not yet a story. And: pulpo’s first pick (Germany’s victory over Australia) was done without the media. I think Paul needed a practice run first to regain and train his skills.
Pulpo Paul is absolutely impartial – or colour blind.

;-)

Posted by wolfgang.rattay | Report as abusive