Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the problems in launching new newspapers, after the latest Welsh one urged readers to give help in order to hire another journalist.
Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
After a career in journalism of almost 38 years I know better than most people how hard it is to start an entirely new newspaper.
Distribution costs (unlike with purely online ventures) are sky-high, and establishing a fresh brand presents a formidable hurdle to anyone wanting to start one.
For readers, buying a particular newspaper is a habit which is formed over months and years, while for newspaper owners it is enormously expensive getting the product into newsagents and supermarkets, as the iron law of the market prevails.
So unless there is a generous benefactor who will subsidise the newspaper, or it is effectively run as a charity for political purposes and supported by the taxpayer, it will flop.
You only have to look at the UK’s first colour newspaper Today (where the Political Editor was one Alastair Campbell) which closed its doors in 1995 to see the problems in action (although the issue of stamping out competition may also have been a factor).
Its sister publication, the loss-making Sunday Today, fared even less well, shutting a long time before this – and both were stuffed with staff (I know because I worked on the pair).
The London Daily News (which also had a huge number of journalists) only lasted for FIVE MONTHS, before it was scrapped in July 1987.
So the evidence is clear that a lot of money is needed (along with being prepared to lose it for a long time) to start a new newspaper.
These fundamental facts were underlined for me by news that the recently-launched newspaper in Wales (of which, although the main focus is an online version, another print edition is due to be published on April 9), The National (TN), was proclaiming in a headline: “Help us reach 1,000 subscribers and we’ll hire a political correspondent”.
Yet even this paltry figure seems ambitious, as it has been revealed they have a far lower number now.
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”.
The man behind it (controversial ‘comedian’ Huw Marshall) presumably knows the problems they face only too well.
The long-term future for TN does not look good, and headlines from the past are 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: “Well I’ve just bought a copy and think its pretty dull”, which is ironic as he had wished an earlier ‘pilot’ “Best of luck”.
Indeed the reviews generally for TN have not been good, 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 questions about the man described online as the “driving force” for TN by the organisation it has ‘partnered’ with (The Newsquest Media Group [NMG]), and who was, too, the figure behind New Media Wales (NMW).
The Eye have shown how that person, Mr Marshall, had made sick ‘jokes’ about a murdering gunman, used bad language to abuse prominent politicians as well as me online, was placed under police investigation and been reprimanded by a social media company.
Mr Marshall is also thought to be responsible for such ‘pranks’ as having unwanted take-aways delivered to critics’ homes.
Controversies like these from the past of this ‘driving force’ are likely to be highlighted by any competitor.
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 – Mr Marshall 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”.
He 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.
Evidently Mr Marshall does not know his journalist libel law (which is strange for someone involved in a new media service), because he has said on Twitter that I am a ‘liar’ and an “obsessive coward”, linking the insults to an earlier piece I had written about his ‘venture’.
But publishing these phrases to a third person (as he has done) is highly libellous – luckily, though, I know the rules, and so does my libel lawyer.
Mr Marshall has also called me a “self proclaimed journalist”, which may not be libellous but is provably wrong as I trained to be a journalist in 1983 on the best newspaper course in the UK before moving into television, and have won an enormous number of awards.
My long career has mostly been in other organisations (including 23 years with The BBC), and I have taken any number of National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) exams – ones in libel among them.
After I published an earlier factual story about his antics, he said on Twitter, it was “now in the hands of the police” when the facts (unlike Mr Marshall himself) are NOT, actually, a police matter.
I seem to have become something of a thorn in his side, because he has declared that he has a number of different Twitter accounts, but says he reserves one for items which may bother me, stating: “@marshallmedia is where I post Everton related stuff and things that upsets Phil Parry”.
Yet it has not only been me 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”.
Recruiting journalists to investigate these kind of matters is a major issue, because apart from pleading for 1,000 subscribers to “hire a political correspondent” it is clear that the subject of staffing has been a problem before for TN.
It advertised for “Digital reporters (x2), audience and content editor (x1)”, and there are severe doubts about whether a ‘national’ news service can be undertaken with this number.
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.
In 1992 he was PC’s 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…
Tomorrow – our satirical writer Edwin Phillips tries his hand at rugby commentary as pundit Jonathan Davies, who used foul language to abuse publicly a fan, called others “bell ends”, and was filmed spraying a fire extinguisher into the face of a celebrity friend, was dubbed by fans on Twitter during Saturday’s France v Wales game, a “joke”, “boring”, “unbearable”, as well as an “irritant”.
Phil’s memories of his remarkable decades long award-winning career in journalism (before the advent of The National) 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!