X Factor winner voted “most influential woman of century”

Leona Lewis beats Pankhurst, Thatcher, Lady Di.

That bastion of quality-free newspapers for Londoners, Metro, has shone an unfortunate light on the average demographic of its readership, with a survey asking them to vote for their most influential female Londoner of the past century. The winner? Leona Lewis, the 25-year-old X Factor winner of 2006.

In a poll to coincide with International Women's Day, Lewis beat some reasonably stiff competition, though it was never going to be a fair fight. How could the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, or even Margaret Thatcher compete with a pop star who's been in the limelight for a solid four years?

To be fair, Leona Lewis is no marketing gimmick. She attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School, the Italia Conti Academy and the BRIT School, where she learned to play the guitar and piano, writing her first song at the age of 12 and releasing her first album at 17. But it was The X Factor and her mentor Simon Cowell who really made her.

With its £1m recording contract prize, The X Factor helped Lewis's debut single, "A Moment Like This", break a world record after it was downloaded 50,000 times in 30 minutes, going on to become the 2006 UK Christmas number-one single, outselling the rest of the Top 40's sales combined. She's since had three successful albums, sold the obligatory perfume and autobiography, and last year unleashed her own fashion label, whose main theme seemed to be a massive pair of lips standing in for some sort of postmodern boob tube.

But let's not forget that voice, of which the Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick said: "Her mezzo-soprano range allows her to take melodies from luxurious low notes to high-flying falsetto, gliding with elegant power and impressive control through all kinds of fluctuations and modulations." A bit like Whitney Houston, then.

Nonetheless, one still wonders just how she came to be voted the most influential female Londoner of the past century. Not the past decade, or past four years – the past century. Besides Pankhurst and Thatcher, Lewis beat, in no particular order, the likes of Diana, Tracey Emin, Martha Lane Fox, Judi Dench, Vivienne Westwood and even – heavens above – the-Krays-are-all-right Barbara Windsor.

But what's this – a fix? It seems that while the headline for the story reads "Leona Lewis wins London's most influential woman vote", the actual poll appears to have asked its readers, "Who is your favourite influential London woman?"

While few outside of what Metro calls its "valuable 18-to-44-year-old, full-time working urbanite audience" would reasonably consider Lewis more influential than the likes of Pankhurst, it's not hard to see why she might be considered more of a "favourite" than Thatcher.

The fact that Leona Lewis left her Hackney home for a million-pound LA pad almost as soon as the ink dried on her lucrative contract failed to deter Metro readers from voting her most influential female Londoner. After all, she has said that while she loves her Stateside mansion, Hackney will always be her true home. Metro reader surveys: what's to criticise?

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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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.