TABLOIDS AND CHILL. OR WHY PRINCE HARRY SHOULD DOWNLOAD CALM. AND STOP LISTENING TO ELTON JOHN

Newspaper Executive and Media Investor Steve Sampson on the Royal Rift with the Press, revelations of the rich and famous and where that leaves our best-selling newspapers

I bet you Harry has been listening to Elton John. He famously took The Sun for £1M when it meant something. The paper alleged that the singer had been cavorting with a variety of young men – a story that seems fantastically passé 30 years on.

Mick Jagger told Elton to reverse away from it like an Italian tank. He didn’t know the paper was keen to pay. It has been wrong – more importantly the campaign was costing readers. Sun readers loved Elton, didn’t mind if he was a flamboyant homosexual. In fact, they rather liked it.

Newspapers used to lose readers for two reasons. You offended them or they died. Today it’s Apple Wot Won It. Apple news is on every kid’s iPhone for free. They don’t buy papers, they don’t even read them if they’re lying around.

People don’t want to see their heroes destroyed. I’m not sure they ever really did. Editors expect a huge backlash now on social. Recent examples have made the news – in every sense.

The Sun and Ben Stokes. Britain’s biggest tabloid recalls a horror family shoot-out from before Ben was even born. True story but caused massive upset to hero Ben and outcry amongst fans and the general public. Kiss goodbye to any co-operation from the England Cricket Team.
My Verdict: Out for a rosy. Unless Stokes was prepared to tell the story himself as part of a series or a buy-up, running it when he was the hero of the summer was bound to spark a backlash. Maybe OK a generation ago when the paper splashed on its top cricket columnist Ian Botham, a West Indies tour and a broken bed. And still expected his piece for tomorrow’s sports pages. But not today. This man is an icon. Make him your friend. Now he is an implacable enemy.

The Sunday Mirror and Gareth Thomas. Britain’s first gay rugby star and now leading gay rights campaigner reveals he has HIV in The Sunday Mirror. More than that, he was blackmailed into the revelation. But not by the Sunday Mirror. He chose the softer focus Sunday tabloid because he knew and trusted their staff and Editor. A genuine exclusive which led the agenda for more than just publication day. Wily coyote – Editor Peter Willis – knows the power of celebrity clout in a positive story.
My Verdict: Spot on, big story, nothing wrong with a sympathetic treatment on P1. All-round win.

The Mail On Sunday and Prince Harry. Oo-err. This is going to end in a tear tsunami. Harry has carpet-bombed the UK Press with writs and legals for all manner of crimes – imagined and real – going back 15 years. The present-day Mail on Sunday has incurred his wrath for running a letter from Meghan to her dad. Breach of copyright, data protection, downright theft. You tabloid b*stards. You name it.

The MoS Editor – relatively new and the former number 2 at The Daily Mail – has come out swinging. This is a fight to the death. If it ever gets that far. Two huge beachmaster elephant seals slugging it out for supremacy over a piece of sand. It will end up with both of them bloodied and battered. Especially Duchess Meghan, the ultimate loser.

Harry is poorly advised. Maybe he won’t take advice. Except from Elton when picking up the keys to the jet. Whose new book makes liberal mention of Harry’s mum.

This isn’t just about those slimy Fleet Street hacks and their low tactics. This is about how two young Princes who deserved the love and understanding of the country, who seem to have lost their path. Topless pool in Vegas – makes us love you even more Harry. Bollocking a SKY reporter on the latest tour for asking a reasonable question (you even know her name) makes you look more than a trifle tightly wrapped, sir. And rude.

But the Press can be right and still lose the battle for readers, hearts and minds. We can go on battering Harry and Meghan. Who wins that one. I have no doubt they are already planning to emigrate, immerse themselves in Hollywood and charity. Kiss goodbye the UK and our Press. Markle -v- Markle. Chewed up, spat out. What a shame. Hmm.

My verdict: Genuine sadness. If I were still doing it, I would make a special case for those two Princes. That’s not going soft. The Mail on Sunday will defend their actions all day long. This is not a gross act of tabloid invasion. But is that right in the court of public opinion. The readership.

My Summary: There are a lot less reasons to buy a newspaper. It’s a pastime for old people. The broadsheets are making headway through subscription. The Times with 300K+ subs. The Guardian is profitable after decades of red ink. They also have 2.1M followers on Instagram. They speak to their readers. The Sun lost £90M+ last year. They have 265K followers on IG. A tenth of a paper we used to laugh at. Not now. None of them will ever – repeat never – be the commercial force, attract a new young readership. Certainly not to dead trees. Mailonline is huge, reviled, a fantastic piece of work, William will be king before it makes a return.

The world has never been able to communicate so easily. We seem to be even further apart. A Minster loses his job for touching a woman’s knee. A Prime Minister allegedly squeezes a woman’s thigh 20 years ago and it’s a story. A President… (take in PA).

There are days you read the Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and marvel at the quality of journalism, the investment. Post the Leveson inquiry they were the standard bearers. Who else will hold power to account if not newspapers like those.

Harry’s legal confetti will go nowhere. Bigger issue for our popular Press is where do they.

Steve Sampson journalist is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail and Business Insider. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser

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GARY LINEKER WON’T MAKE ME CHANGE MY VOTE. BUT HOLLY WOULD MAKE ME BUY A DRESS. JUST HOW INFLUENCED ARE WE BY BIG STAR NAMES AND BIG MEDIA?

Newspaper Executive and Media Investor Steve Sampson on the rise of influencers who encourage us to spend on the latest brands – whether we want to or not.

BBC boss Lord Hall gave Match of the Day host Gary Lineker carte blanche to keep tweeting on politics. Well, why not. He couldn’t say anything else could he. If he banned him he was stamping on free speech. Then he would have to rule on 101 other BBC staffers from pets to cooking programmes who think Brexit is Satan.

Strict BBC impartiality? Nah, Gary’s just an old sweetie. So what if he bitch slaps Peter Shilton and Chris Waddle for being pro-Brexit?

Me? I like it. Gary will never change my views or my vote. He’s not trying to. He has a point of view and a big audience and a sharp wit. It’s as much entertainment as serious politicking. No. The real influence lies on social media with people you’ve never heard of.

Kinn-May-Holl

Sun: Did it swing votes? Mirror: Mrs May still won Holly: You would. Vote for her

The kind of political clout wielded by the high and mighty went out with The Sun’s brilliant Kinnock lightbulb Page One. A piss-take which made the undecideds pause and think on Election Day – then go and vote Major, the fools. The best educated electorate ever won’t fall for that. As Brexit showed. (#ironybutton)

My old colleague Piers Morgan has more opinions than both Houses of Parliament and is a former Editor of the Daily Mirror. The ultimate megaphone who doesn’t give a rats. He knows he’ll win nothing by being vanilla but he didn’t change votes then and he won’t now. Or win gun control. But he’s compulsive viewing.

Andrew Neil is probably the most feared TV interviewer – a roasting from him would swing votes. No wonder many politicians simply refuse to be skewered by Neil. He is an influencer.

Holly Willoughby and fashion. Whole different issue. Holly’s true magic is that she looks down-to-earth and approachable, glamourous and aspirational all at once. Women like her, men want her. But ordinary she ain’t. That “act” is down to her sheer professionalism, a lot of hard work behind the scenes and a sharp mind. She doesn’t even look as though she is actually selling you anything, yet her Marks & Spencer promotion instantly sold out lines she was wearing. So Holly is a true influencer – she changes markets. She needs to keep that “ordinary” quality, the next TV project crucial. Ignore pushy agent speak.

Which is why Lewis Hamilton punches way below his mark as an influencer. He is a phoney. In an F1 record-breaking year he is beaten into second place at BBC’s SPOTY by a cyclist, then makes a totally phoney speech. He has won only once, cyclists have won four times in 10 years. Andy Murray has won it three times – because he is genuine. Those tears tug a nation’s heart, they are real and so is he.

Ham-Royal-Jamie

Football presenters Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are influencers. Not simply on football matches but on the issues. Their SKY discussion on racism post the Raheem Sterling treatment by Chelsea fans was informative and truthful. And SKY trusted them with the air time. As a result it was played many times across social media. Not the least to their millions of followers. Mainly white? Surely a good thing – because mainly white people are racist.

Jamie Oliver is top for food and nutrition and a genuine influencer because he is bloody good at it. He and Gordon Ramsay (in a different way) have propelled the healthy eating/healthy homestyle genre to the top of public conscious. Where Jamie is head and shoulders the top is in book sales at way over 100M copies sold. All the rest put together and he is still out ahead. His new book is storming it, his Southend Pier programme just the latest in a long line of hits. (I got thrown out of his St Paul’s restaurant after a well pissy lunch. Well, it was 7pm, no offence taken).

Top of the pile though are The Royals. They can influence everything from fashion and animal welfare to mental health. They clear shelves of product. More importantly they have pushed mental welfare to the top of the issues’ pile. That has come from a startling honesty never before seen by a family not known for its inter-personal warmth.

Their influence comes with steel strings attached. They have been born into influence, they need the public’s approval at all times. The death of Diana showed an out of touch Royal Family how quickly the public mood could swing. The two Princes are keenly aware of where to tread and where to stay well clear. Shame they can’t fix politics.

Couple

But for pure influencer clout 2018 was the Year of Social. Not just the headliners like KSI and Logan Paul with tens of millions of followers. But the micro influencers with small, hugely engaged networks. How do you think the megas like LadBible and Unilad do it. They turn in billions of video views from an engaged global audience – and if they’re short on a brand deal they use an enormous longtail of influencer/interest groups to deliver views. The biggest change in brand spend for 2019 will be away from legacy media to targeted audiences through influencer networks.

My personal favourite is Joe Suggs. Dismissed as a lightweight, out week one, never going to get the glamour bird, just some guy off the internet. Anything but, he showed why millions of users follow him, nearly won the damn thing – and waltzed off with his hotter than hot partner Dianne Buswell. What a man. That’s influence.
UK’s Top Influencers:
The Royals – a new generation of young stars, attractive and interesting
Holly Willoughby – the influencer sensation of 2018
KSI/Joe Suggs – rise of the internet, the real market movers
Brave Bison/LadBible/Unilad – UK-based, top Facebook channels, millions of engaged users 24/7
Jamie Oliver (food/health) – 120M+ book sales don’t lie. Genius in a kitchen with a healthy message
Gary Neville/Jamie Carragher – more than just football analysis, thought provokers
Andrew Neil – miles the top political interviewer, politicians avoid him and rightly so

Steve Sampson journalist is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail as well as Business Insider. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

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IT WON’T BE THE SUN WOT WINS IT THIS TIME – BUT IT MIGHT BE TWITTER (part 2)

Nicola Sturgeon Telegraph TweetNicola Sturgeon just dropped the first tactical nuclear weapon of the Election. Not in a speech or an interview on TV – she bypassed traditional media to slam the Daily Telegraph in capital letters on her Twitter account as soon as the first editions dropped. And she didn’t miss them.

She might want to scrap Trident but the redoubtable Nicola let loose at the Tory paper for claiming she wanted Cameron to win the Election. A view she apparently expressed in a private conversation with the French ambassador in February, one that she entirely denies.

BOOM – “@Telegraph don’t you think you should update this story with the statements from both myself and the French Ambassador that it’s untrue?” she blasted.

BANG – Too late. The Daily Mail has jumped all over it and splashed in Scotland: “NICOLA: I WANT TORIES TO WIN” and for good measure their English readers are served the headline that she is the “MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN BRITAIN”.

WHAM – this is going to get dirty and social media is the new attack weapon. Forget cuddly focus group messages and soothing words for the voters. Twitter is now the blunt force weapon of choice. Who needs a phalanx of advisors and PR men when you can drop the enemy right in the goolies in 140 characters?

In my view, the battlefield just got levelled. When I was Editor of the Scottish Sun I was “advised” to drop a tub load on Malcolm Rifkind when was a Tory Minister. Maggie had decided he was disloyal. Not “one of us”. Same with Heseltine. In a later election, the paper undoubtedly libelled a senior non-Tory threat to Maggie by running a patently untrue item of scandal. Maggie won, he got paid out tax-free. Cheap at half the price.

None of that will wash this time round. Nicola will most certainly have you if you try it on.

  • At the start of the week, I wrote about Hobbit actor Martin Freeman launching a Labour supporting video on YouTube. He must have known he would cop a tsunami from one or other of the newspapers. The Daily Mail grants his wish today in a double page spread under the headline “Red Ed’s Hypocrite Hobbit is a Tax Avoider”. I’m sure the loyalty-gong will sooth the pain if Ed gets the keys.

Steve Sampson is the former Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun and also served as a Director of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail as well as Business Insider. He now leads a series of digital initiatives and investments.

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FORMER EDITOR OF THE SCOTTISH SUN STEVE SAMPSON ON SNP LEADER NICOLA STURGEON AND SEX

Nicola SturgeonNicola Sturgeon isn’t a sex symbol – but the newspapers are obsessed with her sex. The Tories launched a poster campaign with Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket – old hat. The Daily Mail’s cartoonist had poor Ed stuffed between Nicola’s breasts.

If that wasn’t subtle enough for their readers, they went even further and revealed in a long, long piece the story behind her nickname “gnasher”. Apparently for inflicting painful retribution during an intimate sex act on a boyfriend who had annoyed her. (The Mail must be pretty sure that its Scottish readers don’t vote SNP).

When I was Editor of the Scottish Sun, I signed SNP heavyweight Jim Sillars as a columnist and advisor. We had to be different. My former papers The Daily Record and Sunday Mail, run by Tories, slavishly followed Labour. My sense was that the Scottish people didn’t want full independence, but they most definitely wanted to be governed a hell of a lot better, not by a London-centric elite who treated anything north of the border as foreign policy.

The voters wanted politicians prepared to scrap tooth and nail for a better Scotland. Labour were tired, predictable and failing to provide the answer. No change there then.

The appeal of the SNP was that they were tied to no one and a had big point to make – you couldn’t trust the so-called “big” parties to deliver and they were going to make damn sure they were held to account every second of every day.

For the first time – through The Scottish Sun – the SNP had access to the pages of a national newspaper on a regular basis and the opportunity to move from a party of rebellion to genuine contenders. If not forming a government, certainly creating an influence for change.

Labour couldn’t work us out – and interestingly they never tried, instead standing just out of arm’s length. And that’s where they have stayed since, ahead of the biggest single political stuffing coming their way in a few short weeks’ time.

The Scottish Sun subsequently fully embraced the SNP. Easy to see why – Salmond and Sturgeon are the best politicians by a country mile. Nicola showed that in the leaders’ TV debate.  She has got that magic touch, even the English voters admire her. She is right in your face, but too warm a person to suffer from the Maggie finger-wagging lecturing mode. And too smart.

Jim Murphy by contrast is a cold fish, has that feel of being parachuted in by London – too little, too late, trying to save the second raters on the Labour benches in Edinburgh.

Nicola is the real thing, always has been. She is heading for a massive landslide. And the newspapers will attack her hair, her dress and use her sex against her. That would be a mistake – it will only make the voters love her more.

+  As someone who has a LinkedIn profile picture taken some years ago, I make no apology for the Nicola picture above. It’s how I think of her.

Steve Sampson – Media ■ Innovator ■ Journalist ■ Broadcaster ■ Venturist ■ Founder and CEO Various Digital Companies

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IT WON’T BE THE SUN WOT WINS IT – BUT YOUTUBE MIGHT

Rupert Murdoch famously bollocked Kelvin MacKenzie for the Sun’s searing headline “It was the Sun what won it”.  As with many things to do with Kelvin, Rupert completely misunderstood his mercurial Editor’s thought process. The headline caught the mood of the nation, other people were saying it, not Kelvin.

What the Sun had done so brilliantly was smash Neil Kinnock with ridicule right on the eve of the election with the headline “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” It was stunning, he came up with it before he left home. He phoned me to ask my opinion.

If Kinnock wins today will the last person

However, that was then. This is the first UK Election that can be said to be truly fought primarily on social media. It will be the power of Twitter and Facebook – the soundbites and lobbying – that is more likely to swing an electorate than the millions of words written by our newspapers.

The spin-doctors and media experts in each camp have poured over the Obama 2012 campaign. When he announced his candidacy in 2007, Twitter had only just started and there wasn’t even an iPhone. Facebook was the preserve of needy, over-sharers.

Four years later the media landscape looked a lot different. The number of social media tools has exploded as has the user base across all demographics. Obama nailed it.

Young people who are politically active online are twice more likely to vote than those who are not.

If JFK was the first President who really understood television, Obama was the first social media politician. In 2012, he not only had the expertise on his team, he had an established digital media machine up and running. Building relationships, building connections.

No sooner had David Cameron been to see The Queen, Martin “Bilbo Baggins” Freeman fired the first online shot with a Labour supporting video on YouTube. Within 24 hours, it got 80,000 hits, complete with the killer line “The Tories will offer you sod all.”

And that’s where this election will play out. Online, soundbites stars of all shades lining up their video message for their Party. Will it alter our opinion or how we vote? I very much doubt it.

Steve Sampson – Media ■ Innovator ■ Journalist ■ Broadcaster ■ Venturist ■ Founder and CEO Various Digital Companies

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JEREMY CLARKSON THREW THE FIRST PUNCH BUT HE WAS KNOCKED OUT BY THE ULTIMATE BBC HEAVYWEIGHT

Embed from Getty Images

Jeremy Clarkson clearly fancies himself as a bit of a heavyweight posh ruffian, not afraid to use his fists if the occasion merits. A BBC producer, even my friend Piers Morgan, have felt the force of his flying fists.

But the moment I saw that my one-time late night drinking pal Ken McQuarrie, the witch finder general and BBC Scotland Controller, had been put in charge of the inquiry, Clarkson was out for the count.

Safe pair of hands? McQuarrie is the quiet assassin. He was never marked for greatness but has achieved immense power and standing in the BBC. They rolled him out over the Savile/Newsnight debacle. His interim report on Clarkson nailed the presenter on the accusation of violent conduct. It is a classic of HR correctness. From that moment on Clarkson was a dead presenter walking.

The days of “creative brawling” in the media are long gone. A sports sub on one of the nationals I worked on kept a brick in his bottom draw. Just in case. Another Editor consorted with prostitutes and would regularly drunkenly snooze through his own evening conference. Fine while the figures were heading north.  These days the talent had better conform. Just ask Chris Evans.

Clarkson is one of those rare presenters who could host Jackanory and pop up later on election special. He hasn’t lost his SUN column or The Sunday Times. He will walk into a brand new series next year in a new wholly owned private venture. He will make even more money than before.

The only thing that will stop cigarette-devouring Jeremy is the mother of all heart attacks. Doubtless Ken MacQuarrie will have seen that coming as well.

Steve Sampson – Media ■ Innovator ■ Journalist ■ Broadcaster ■ Venturist ■ Founder and CEO Various Digital Companies

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NO SUN REPORTER WILL EVER BREAK THE LAW – EVEN TO SAVE THE WORLD


Every Sun reporter lives for a Page 1 by-line. But Nick Parker’s name on the Alps Suicide Plane story has an especially bittersweet taste.

Nick was arrested three years ago in the hacking scandal frenzy. A tout came into The Sun news desk with Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh’s mobile phone. It turned out to have been stolen.

The reporter did the obvious, doubtless operating under instruction. He checked the messages, saw nothing in the story, and dumped it.

Just before Christmas, he was cleared at the Old Bailey of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office but convicted of handling Ms McDonagh’s stolen phone and given a suspended jail sentence.

A charge that should never have been pressed. The whole pursuit of Sun reporters has been a complete shambles as yet more of The Sun editorial heavyweights have been cleared of trumped up accusations.

I hired Nick Parker when I was Scottish Editor of the Sun. He was probably the most gifted natural story-getter I have seen. Send him anywhere, anytime, he would always deliver. Utterly ruthless, probably not entirely moral, great reporter.

My Editor Kelvin McKenzie watched the by-line, asked me if Nick was ready for London. I told him given time and my gentle guidance he would turn into the real thing. That was the Wednesday. Monday morning he started in Wapping.

Nick Parker is no saint. I don’t remember us hiring any angels either.

So, a reader phones the news desk one Thursday morning. He has found what is clearly an SAS man’s terrorist handbook from Northern Ireland. Every IRA/UVF suspect, complete details, pictures. Intelligence notes, background reports, observations and covert movements. One thick volume of dynamite, found dropped in the street. I am a Regional Editor of the Sun, my news editor brings me the book.

We go through it in detail, it’s the Splash across all editions. I get a call from the Sunday Times deputy editor, one of our sister papers, asking if it’s true. Sharp intake of breath at the magnitude of what we’ve got. In every sense, we handle this information at face value with no regard for its source. Our only thought is the authenticity, size of the story and the impact – and what to do with the book.

I have arranged that rarest of things on The Sun – a pissy lunch with two cops. One is the Head of the Murder Squad, the other Number 3 in the Serious Crime Squad. Connections made over 20 years of football, betting and boozing. And stories.

Lunch is cut to one drink as they scan the SAS book and hightail it back to headquarters. An MI5 man I know calls seeking assurance that we hadn’t photocopied it. Of course we hadn’t. But the balloon was well and truly airborne. They bugged my home phone for the next three months. Just to be sure.  I know that from a contact whose covert department bugged the major drug dealers and topline criminals.  That was OK, I would have been surprised if they hadn’t.

What would Nick Parker do today if he got the same call? What would Steve Sampson journalist do? Take the reader’s story at face value, that he found an SAS man’s book on the street, crammed with terrorists? Not for one moment did we pause then to consider that he might have been a car thief, smashed a window, and got awfully lucky. Asked for us for a few grand.

Amazingly, our ordinary reader was just that. A stand-up member of the public whose first thought was to phone our news desk. Not to go to the police or his MP. He went to the place he trusted to get it sorted – The Sun. He never asked for as much as his petrol money.

Would the reader do that now? Would the Sun take his phone call? Newspapers have always operated at the margins. It’s what sets them apart, even without regard to the law on occasions. It has always been a question of editorial judgement.

I’ll concede the point that in recent times that responsibility has been treated at best in a cavalier fashion. But who do you trust to stand up to the crooks, bullies and politicians on the make.

The definition of a democracy has always been an established free Press. I’m uncomfortable if that freedom of the Press means raking round the lives of someone like Hugh Grant. But I would hate to think that those freedoms would be lost because of him.

Nick Parker is innocent, OK?

Steve Sampson – Media ■ Innovator ■ Journalist ■ Broadcaster ■ Venturist ■ Founder and CEO Various Digital Companies

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