How the seven-day Sun could change Sundays forever

If the new venture succeeds, it may become more inviting for others to consider combining daily and

Here it comes, then. In a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Sun is reaching over to reclaim the lost ground for News International and Rupert Murdoch lost by the demise of the toxic, tainted News of the World, and going seven days a week. Hooray for the Sun on Sunday.

I suppose we should be grateful, in the big scheme of things, that print is still alive at all, and there's a demand for the Sun.

Who could not feel sympathy for those people who work at the Sun, who are going to be asked to put out more content, to reach over seven days rather than six. Perhaps they're all going to get massive pay rises and huge bonuses as a result of this new endeavour, but it's tempting to have a hunch that they might not. Those of us with even the faintest experience of "managing change" in the declining industry of newspapers might imagine a mantra of more for less, challenging times, and all that: the bottom line is always that staff get cut and the product suffers, so fewer people buy it, so profits go down, so staff get cut, and so on, and so on, until it falls off a cliff. I can't wish that on anyone, not even the Sun, although as I said recently, I do reserve the right not to be miserably disappointed if the product disappears.

It may be a crisis that accelerated changes that could have happened anyway, or it may be the case that there were no plans to combine Sun and News of the World operations before the Screws became tainted by phone-hacking revelations. Wherever the truth lies, it has become an opportunity to make existing staff more fearful for their jobs than ever, when they've seen so many of their former colleagues sent down the job centre at such short notice. If you didn't have a compliant workforce before, a move like that, whatever the reasons behind it, is going to make them sit up and take notice.

What does it mean for the Sunday newspaper marketplace? It could have implications for other titles, who will no doubt be interested in seeing how the Sun manages a seven-day schedule. It may become more and more inviting for others to consider combining daily and weekly elements, even more than has happened already. Perhaps it might signal the beginning of the end of the Sunday newspaper as an entirely separate entity: if the Sun can do it, why shouldn't everyone else?

What are Sunday newspapers for nowadays, apart from the flogging of hugely expensive stuff that no-one can afford and lifestyles that no-one cares about, in the case of the "quality" press; or tedious revelations about reality television, in the case of the tabloids? Forgive me, if you possibly can, for taking the tediously obtuse tone of the kind of person who snippily leaves a comment under a blogpost to say that I read no further than the first three words before I decided that the author had got everything disastrously wrong, but I don't really get on with Sunday papers anyway. I see them as long reads for people who don't particularly like reading, or childishly cartoonish attempts at kiss-and-tell tedium, but then that might just be me. For many others, the Sunday paper is part of a weekend ritual, and long may it continue for them, I suppose.

Will the Sun change any of this? Will it be brash? Will it just be the same thing as every other day of the week, but without a page 3 (in a similar vein to the Saturday Sun)? We'll have to wait and see. Actually, I won't wait, and I probably won't see, but I do still feel that pang of sympathy for the poor souls in Wapping working harder and harder to keep churning it out. If it succeeds, it could open the floodgates to more mergers, more of the same. And that could change Sundays forever.

 

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.