After the launches of two ‘national’ news services for Wales, here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the importance in journalism of correct spelling.
Earlier he described how he was helped to break 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.
For any self-respecting journalist correct spelling is vital.
The Eye always use ‘sic’ (a Latin term meaning ‘thus’ to indicate that something incorrectly written is intentionally being left as it was in the original) to denote that any spelling mistake is from the person who said it.
Unfortunately it appears this importance is NOT valued as much by those that work on The National (TN) which was launched earlier this month.
In a report about how political parties compare in the polls, the words ‘fair’ and ‘fare’ were mixed up, and it published “…parties will fair”.
The first means how just or equitable a situation is (and is usually used as a noun), while the second, in the context TN intended, ranks the rate of progress or success and is a verb.
It might have been useful if the journalists there had consulted the definition online: “The words “fair” and “fare” are homophones, meaning they sound alike but have different meanings. One can be used as a noun or an adjective, and the other can be used as a noun or a verb…The verb “fare” means to go, get along, or succeed (as in “fare thee well”)”.
Yet, it seems, “effective English language journalism” (as Dafydd Elis-Thomas, MS, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism put it last week) is lauded in Wales.
Lord Elis-Thomas was speaking to a committee of the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru and the politicians also heard that discussions had been held “at the highest levels” of the Welsh Government (WG) about funding English language journalism with public money.
Accepting this money, however, may be difficult for TN when it comes to publishing stories which highlight complaints about the Labour-controlled WG actions, as The Eye have done in the past, and a-political inquiry is a fundamental basis for independent journalism.
The term “compromising its principles” has been uttered to me by one prominent Welsh journalist who favours a strong media in Wales.
The ‘mission statement’ of TN does, after all, state: “We endeavour to hold all political parties and those in power in Wales to account…”.
But controversy has rarely been far from TN.
The newspaper’s masthead logo declares it is “for all of Wales”, and its ‘mission statement’ stresses the importance of a ‘varied media’, stating: “We believe Wales deserves a strong and varied national and local media and will do our best to be part of and to support this”.
This would, though, appear to be at odds with the response by TN on Twitter to messages from senior figures in the Welsh media sector – they have been blocked!
The paper was first published on Saint David’s Day, yet three days before that The Herald.Wales (HW) had been released online, and having a rival doing, effectively, the same job, could prove problematic for the paper.
It had an inauspicious start, too, with doubts about its long term future expressed to me by senior people in the ‘varied media’ industry. A reader of TN also said: “It looks like the Wrexham Leader from the 1970s”, and those in authority took a pretty dim view as well. A colleague of Lord Elis-Thomas’, the 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, as well, the figure behind New Media Wales (NMW).
The Eye have shown how it is a ‘comedian’, called Huw Marshall, who 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.
Quite apart from the background of its founder, the professionalism of HW could also pose a problem for TNW, with stories in both Welsh and English, yet the figure behind this one has a controversial past too.
In October 2019 Tom Sinclair, who ran the weekly Pembrokeshire Herald, said 24 members of staff had been made redundant, with the closure of three papers in his group. Five months earlier, he admitted he had “made mistakes” after defying court orders to repay £70,000 to creditors, but the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the way journalists, photographers and local communities were treated was “outrageous”.
The situation is extraordinary, and I have never known a time like it during almost 38 years in journalism.
I was put in mind of another unbelievable state of affairs at one time in the UK capital, when newspapers there fought it out to win the hearts and minds of readers in London. After a long absence, the Evening News reappeared for a few months in 1987 when it was launched by the Evening Standard‘s owner Associated Newspapers in order to counter Robert Maxwell’s London Daily News; this sparked a price war, by the end of which the Evening News was being sold at 5p, while copies of the London Daily News were 10p.
So both Mr Sinclair and Mr Marshall have interesting pasts, but that of the latter (who described himself before the launch of TN, on Twitter, as feeling “like an expectant father”), is arguably even more colourful.
He has been dubbed a “chancer” on the social media site, 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 for my journalism. 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”.
The ‘partner’ for TNW, (NMG), is the UK arm of the giant American corporation Gannett Incorporated, a mass media company headquartered in McLean, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. It is the largest US newspaper publisher, and this fact has made many potential supporters uneasy, with its behaviour being highlighted by the NUJ.
One critic said on Twitter “for me it’s important to be owned and run in Wales”. Another declared: “He’s (Mr 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 link-up with NMG/Gannett has come in for furious criticism, as well, on social media more recently. A critic said on Twitter: “Why are we having to use a London based company?”. A different detractor declared: “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”.
Last November it was reported that the NUJ was 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, who is the NUJ’s National Executive Council (NEC) member for Wales.
As NMG, Gannett owns a host of Welsh titles including The South Wales Argus in Newport, but it 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”.
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 so-called ‘jokes’ about rampaging gunman Raoul Moat, and published the abusive remarks to senior politicians on social media.
Two people died and a police officer lost the sight in both eyes when gunman 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”.
Mr Marshall also says he has contacted the police but that there is little they can do as “it is a waste of their precious time”, and “I really pity those who try to undermine my work and reputation”.
But it seems the police HAVE had time to investigate Mr Marshall for alleged harassment. Ironically this is what he accuses me of doing by publishing facts about his controversial background, and he has claimed online that he has spoken to Victim Support about it as well as hoping South Wales Police (SWP) will bring it to an end.
It seems SWP have loomed large in Mr Marshall’s life, because on Twitter he has said he told the police that he intended to make a complaint, however officers responded by informing him that they have a “responsibility to investigate any reports”.
TNW gained lots of free publicity in the coverage of its launch by the mainstream media in Wales, although shots of the inside of Mr Marshall’s house rather left something to be desired.
Yet it is the revelation that 10 jobs have supposedly been created for the HW service, with a further 20 secured, which is, perhaps, most headline-grabbing, because it stands in stark contrast to what is being offered by TNW/NMG, which has 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.
But it isn’t just numbers. It seems that words too are a major problem for TN…
Tomorrow – more disturbing revelations about the group promoting Welsh independence, after The National proclaimed on its ‘mission statement’ that it wanted to “open a frank discussion around independence”.
Phil’s memories of his remarkable decades long award-winning career in journalism (before the advent of The National or the Herald.Wales) 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!