Unsettling details of the giant American media corporation and its shareholder, behind Wales’ new ‘national’ newspaper can now be revealed by The Eye.
They put centre stage information divulged by our journalists, about racks of The National (TN) lying unsold in retail outlets days after it was released, readers complaining of problems in buying a copy, the enormous difficulties facing new publications, as well as how the ‘comedian’ backing it had made sick ‘jokes’ concerning a murdering gunman, and been investigated by the police.
The company providing the financial muscle for TN is the Newsquest Media Group (NMG), which is the UK arm of Gannett, and also owns a number of Welsh newspapers including The Leader in Wrexham, and the South Wales Argus in Newport.
Following an in-depth investigation over several months, we can disclose that the media baron Henry K. Faure Walker is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NMG, and in August 2018 it was reported that he owned more than 337 units of Gannett stock. In 2015 his total renumeration was nearly one million pounds. He has 157 appointments as director listed in the UK’s Companies House, with many now redundant, and the correspondence address for NMG is given as Loudwater Mill, Station Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, along with all of his other companies, such as Cumbrian Newspapers Limited, which has been dissolved.
The Buckinghamshire address appears to be an industrial estate which is a possible mail drop. Mr Walker’s big break seems to have been joining Johnston Press in Scotland, and he looks to have huge holes in his published career which are unexplained.
Yet even before this disturbing information is made public by The Eye there has been growing unease about TN linking up with NMG, and through it Gannett. One critic said on Twitter “for me it’s important to be owned and run in Wales”. Another declared: “He’s (the ‘comedian’ responsible for TN, Huw Marshall) been saying for a while that there is a “Partner” on board……I assumed that it was a local, welsh business……but it does indeed look like it is News quest! !”.
The association with NMG/Gannett has also come in for furious criticism on social media more recently. Another detractor said on Twitter: “Why are we having to use a London based company?”. A different grievance was: “Gotta be honest, a London-headquarterd media outlet is not at all what I thought I was supporting, purported editorial freedom or nay. I have some reasonably major reservations”.
The way staff have been treated has, too, been controversial. Last November it was reported that the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) were celebrating union recognition of local democracy reporters with the organisation, and this came hard on the heels of other alarming headlines. In July it was published that the NMG furlough scheme was a “waiting room for redundancy” with at least 38 journalism jobs at risk, and in March of the previous year the NUJ criticised plans to cut staff in Brighton, South London and North Wales, which was to lead to an overall headcount reduction of six. The worrying nature of this ‘partnership’ has also been highlighted by David Nicholson on Twitter. He is the NUJ’s National Executive Council (NEC) member for Wales.
The firm has often made the news for all the wrong reasons. In May 2019 under the headline “NUJ speaks up for Newsquest journalists at Gannett AGM” details were released that “…the union remains seriously concerned by Gannett’s stewardship of Newsquest, its relentless job cutting programme, a looming hostile takeover bid and the dire conditions facing journalists who work for the UK company”.
But it is not just this background which has worried many people. One journalist said to The Eye about TN asking for help from readers to subscribe in order to hire another key member of staff: “This is a complete nonsense. We all know how difficult it is starting a new newspaper, but asking for money from your readers to hire a reporter?! I ask you!”. Another told us: “I give it six months. It’s like the Daily News or Today (two defunct newspapers) all over again”.
Several unsold editions of TN were found at different locations around South Wales, and the discovery of them came long after it was published. A journalist on The Eye also contacted several newsagents’ shops in North Wales to ask whether TN was stocked. The answer was always the same – the product was being pushed, but there was little interest and the newsagents had few copies, although there were many returns. The cost of the newspaper had also been cut (a possible sign of problems), and the front page ‘splash’ of a recent edition about a “BUSINESS’ TAX BOOST” has been described to us as “incredibly dreary”. One reader told The Eye: “The price has been reduced from £1.10 to £1. The front page looks deadly dull and isn’t remotely eye-catching”.
There also appeared to be an issue with actually buying TN in certain outlets around Wales. One reader said on Twitter it had to be taken off the shelves at Tesco in Merthyr Tydfil, while another in Cardiff declared: “Odd. In Tesco Western Avenue, Cardiff the checkout girl had to scan the barcode using her iphone…”.
The facts that there are scenes of unsold copies of TN at shops around Wales, along with details of the company backing it, and difficulties with pricing being publicised on social media, could prove embarrassing for those in charge.
The man responsible for TN, controversial ‘comedian’ Mr Marshall, has a number of times urged people to become subscribers, and on the latest occasion he has proclaimed on Twitter: “Every penny of your subscription goes towards staffing costs…” These disturbing details underline the apparent crisis in recruitment, which was perhaps alluded to by Mr Marshall. His newspaper has baldly announced in a headline: “Help us reach 1,000 subscribers and we’ll hire a political correspondent”.
Yet even this paltry figure seemed ambitious, as it has been revealed TN had a far lower number days before. The ‘editorial leader’ as he has been described, Gavin Thompson (who also edits The Argus in Newport), said: “Our journalism is funded by our digital subscribers. At time of writing, 430 of you had signed up to become subscribers, many taking out an annual subscription”.
Just before the launch of TN it advertised for “Digital reporters (x2), audience and content editor (x1)”, but there were severe doubts about whether a ‘national’ news service could be undertaken with this small number. Comments on Twitter from Mr Marshall, emphasise the difficulties in getting staff at the new Welsh newspaper, which was published both online and in a printed version. He initially stated: “If just 500 people subscribed to The National Wales they’d employ a business and economy editor…”. But four minutes later he tweeted: “Approaching 1,000 subscribers for the @nationalwales. When that target is met a dedicated political correspondent will be added to the team.”.
Even set against this bizarre background, there has been mounting concern, and the long-term future for TN does not look good, with headlines from the past likely to continue to dog it in the weeks and months to come.
A reader of the paper’s first edition (on St David’s Day) said: “It looks like the Wrexham Leader from the 1970s”, and those in authority took a pretty dim view as well. The Welsh Government (WG) minister Lee Waters (a former producer on the BBC Cymru Wales [BBC CW] radio programme Good Morning Wales (GMW)) stated on Facebook (FB): “Well I’ve just bought a copy and think its pretty dull”, which was ironic as he had wished an earlier ‘pilot’ “Best of luck”.
Indeed the reviews generally for TN have not been positive, and the neutrality of its output has been questioned, when this is an important tenet of news journalism. This was the published comment by one writer online: “It (TN) starts with worthy statements about how we deserve better fearless, independent and unintimidated media in Wales and should be happy to pay for it then gives us a timid, third rate product filled mainly with political comment from compromised sources who wouldn’t know a truth if it whacked them over the head with a cricket bat. The dreadful headlines persist throughout (try “Uncertainty follows end of overseas study scheme” for size! If I ever wrote that headline I think I would have decapitated myself immediately)…”
There are also major issues about the man who first had the idea for TN, Mr Marshall, who has been described online as the “driving force” for it by the organisation it has ‘partnered’ with (NMG, part of Gannett inc.), and who was, too, the figure behind New Media Wales (NMW).
The Eye have shown how Mr Marshall had made sick ‘jokes’ about a murdering gunman, used bad language to abuse prominent politicians as well as our Editor Phil Parry online, was placed under police investigation and been reprimanded by a social media company. He is also thought to be responsible for such ‘pranks’ as having unwanted takeaways delivered to critics’ homes.
The background to Mr Marshall, though, is even more worrying than just sending takeaways to people’s houses. Two people died and a police officer lost the sight in both eyes when rampaging gunman Raoul Moat shot them, yet despite this on July 8, 2010 – with him trying to escape from armed police – he published a message on his Facebook (FB) site, reading: “Hi I’m a sexy 19 year old blond (sic) from the North East of England looking for some fun. My Mr Right should be a big strong ginger man with a fiery temper and a jealous nature, who also enjoys camping and writing long letters. Another post read: “Moat reward… if he isn’t caught by next Wednesday, the rewards (sic) being doubled. It’s going to be a Raul (sic) over”.
Even in the last few months, Mr Marshall has been dubbed a “chancer” on social media, and his ‘stories’ have been accused of being “cut and pasted” from other publications by the UK satirical and investigative magazine Private Eye.
The major questions he, and TN, are facing have even become the subject of satire.
Evidently Mr Marshall does not know his journalist libel law (which is strange for someone involved in a new media service), because Mr Marshall has said on Twitter that Mr Parry is a ‘liar’ and an “obsessive coward”, linking the insults to an earlier piece he had written about the ‘venture’. Yet publishing these phrases to a third person (as he has done) is highly libellous – but Mr Parry’s libel lawyer knows the rules.
Mr Marshall has also called Mr Parry a “self proclaimed journalist”, which may not be libellous but is provably wrong as he trained to be a journalist in 1983 on the best newspaper course in the UK before moving into television, and has won an enormous number of awards. His long career has mostly been in other organisations (including 23 years with The BBC), and he has taken a large number of National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) exams – ones in libel among them. After Mr Parry published an earlier factual story about his antics, Mr Marshall said on Twitter, it was “now in the hands of the police” when the facts (unlike Mr Marshall himself) were NOT, actually, a police matter.
Mr Parry seems to have become something of a thorn in the side of Mr Marshall, because he has declared that he has a number of different Twitter accounts, but says he reserves one for items which may bother him, stating: “@marshallmedia is where I post Everton related stuff and things that upsets Phil Parry”.
Yet it has not only been Mr Parry to have irritated Mr Marshall in the past.
In 2013, it was disclosed that he had made extremely offensive remarks to senior politicians on Twitter, and complaints after further comments led to reprimands by the social media company.
One insult eight years ago, was directed at the Labour MS and minister Ken Skates, with another hurled at the former Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black. After Mr Skates tweeted in celebration of a one-vote council by-election victory over Plaid Cymru (PC) in Ruabon, Mr Marshall referred to him in his own tweet as a “gloating t**t”, and he described Mr Black as a “humourless (sic) t..t”as well as a “dull, tedious t..t”.
It seems the police have loomed large in Mr Marshall’s life, because on Twitter he has said he told them that he intended to make a complaint, however officers responded by informing him that they have a “responsibility to investigate any reports”.
Meanwhile, the basic plank of news journalism to be entirely neutral (because many potential readers may vote for parties other than the one you support), could be difficult for Mr Marshall, as he has been a candidate for one particular political party in the past.
He was parliamentary candidate in Cardiff Central, coming fourth with just 748 votes, however his plans to stand for election as a councillor were scuppered when it emerged that he had posted the so-called ‘jokes’ about Moat , and published the abusive remarks to senior politicians on social media.
But the problems facing TN are no joke – and this ‘comedian’ behind it who made sick ‘jokes’ about a murdering gunman, as well as foully abusing senior politicians, will be very familiar with them.
It’s also unlikely that today’s revelations by The Eye about the company behind TN will be turned into a joke.
You never know though…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (before the advent of TN) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!