Words and quotations are tricky things.
But for journalists they are sacrosanct.
If an interviewee gets his or her words muddled up then the quotation should stand – the alternatives; writing them down wrongly or even changing a direct quotation, are unthinkable.
Yet it seems that is exactly what WalesOnline has done.
A piece about the former Cardiff North MP Craig Williams on the ‘news’ website differs profoundly from a report yesterday in The South Wales Echo.
In both, Mr Williams appears to criticise his Conservative leader in Wales Andrew RT Davies for attacking the election campaign.
But they are markedly different.
In The South Wales Echo he is quoted as saying: “I am on the side that you SHOULDN’T (our capitals) wash your dirty laundry in private.”
Yet in WalesOnline an alternative quotation appears: “I am on the side that you SHOULD (our capitals) wash your dirty laundry in private.”
The latter, which is almost certainly right, comes from a widely-used phrase meaning you should not discuss sensitive issues in public.
NOT washing your dirty laundry in private, means it should be done in public and is the complete opposite.
You can also say “wash your dirty linen in public” and in America people use “air your dirty laundry/linen in public”.
For all journalists a direct quotation is set in stone and should never be altered.
Changing what an interviewee says (it’s known as ‘tidying up’ in the business) is highly controversial.
But WalesOnline and its print versions are no strangers to controversy.
They are firmly wedded to ‘reports’ about the opening of bars, their own readers have accused them of ‘clickbait’ journalism, and the Editor of WalesOnline, Paul Rowland (who threatened to sue us following a satirical article) has recommended compiling lists of food available in Wales as a way of getting into journalism.
Their unhappy reporters have complained to us about the ‘stories’ they are expected to write.
One said: “we do stories about the opening of bars, celebrities, the weather and rugby”.
Last year WalesOnline published 17 ‘stories’ about the ‘Coyote Ugly’ bar on St Mary Street in Cardiff, which features women dancing for largely male customers.
One ‘report’ was headlined: “Watch the Coyote Ugly Cardiff girls practise their moves ahead of opening night”.
An item about the opening of a sports bar was the Page Three lead ‘story’ in the Echo, widely regarded as one of the most important spots after the front and back pages, and headlined: “Bale and Brains team up to open sports bar”.
Apart from its ‘reporting’ of the Bale sports bar, the Echo remains unabashed about its support for the ‘Coyote Ugly’ bar too.
In the paper’s ‘Mother’s Day’ feature, it offered a list of things to do to “spoil” mum.
At number one was to “Dance on the Coyote Ugly bar” where she can “show off her moves”.
But a senior executive at the publishing house appears to be highly litigious, threatening legal action against people who draw attention to this.
Mr Rowland threatened to sue the Editor of The Eye Phil Parry, before Christmas over a satirical piece which focused on the ‘reports’, and said: “I am placing it (the satirical article) in the hands of our lawyers”.
Copying from press releases is, like changing direct quotations, also a total no-no.
But it appears WalesOnline is not averse to this practice either.
In October 2015 a report on the website and its Western Mail print version, about problems with the electrification of the mainline railway in South Wales bore a striking similarity to the same story in The Sunday Times.
The business section of The Sunday Times called it a “fiasco” and The Western Mail said a train passengers group called it a “shambles”, but there it seems the differences ended.
This is the line in The Western Mail: “But industry sources said turmoil at Network Rail, the owned company that maintains Britain’s train tracks, means the government may have to amend the order to avoid the embarrassment of buying trains it cannot run”.
This is the line in The Sunday Times: “But industry sources said turmoil at Network Rail, the state-owned company that maintains Britain’s train tracks, means the Government may have to amend the order to avoid the embarrassment of buying trains it cannot use”.
This is the line in The Western Mail: “The hybrid models are due to start arriving in May 2017”.
This is the line in The Sunday Times: “Hybrid models are due to start arriving in May 2017”.
The sexism of WalesOnline has also come under fire.
Journalists promoted a beauty contest on the eve of international women’s day, and ‘reported’ on the “gorgeous” wives and girlfriends of Welsh rugby stars.
We heard complaints from reporters that the website is stuck in the 1970s.
Sexism and copying from press releases is appalling in modern journalism.
Like changing direct quotations they are unthinkable.
Tomorrow contentious Welsh university official defends her expenses-paid trips around the world.
Try our interactive quiz: