HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY SIR SEAN. A GREAT SCOT. OUR GREATEST MOVIE ACTOR. THE MOST STRANGLED IMITATED VOISH IN HISTORY.

Where did Sean Connery – our biggest Hollywood star – get that famous voice. The tones that have melted millions of women the world over. The most – and worst – imitated accent.

Certainly not Edinburgh, the city of his birth. It’s most definitely not the voice of a working-class milkman. The genuine Edinburgh twang has an insouciant quality, that rise at the end of a sentence that ends in a question, but not a question.

Neither is it the voice of a Scotsman who went to Eton then Tony Blair’s old school Fettes. The back story that James Bond author Ian Fleming gave his famous spy to accommodate casting Sean in the role that defined him.  The upmarket public school boy Scot is altogether more refined, more mellow.

No. Sean’s voice is all his own.  At its best, a deep rich drawl that can carry the threat of violence and then seduction. A man not to be trifled with. His hallmark, used for every role from James Bond to a Russian submariner to Indiana Jones’ dad. It helps that he is uncommonly handsome.

And something the non-Scots ear would ever pick up – almost effeminate in quieter moments.  Listen to him when he is making a point, trying to get his story over. His voice lightens. You need to be local to pick it up.  But it is definitely effeminate.

He is a fantastic man. I killed one of the great scoops he gave me over dinner. I also got him within an ace of writing his autobiography with a friend of mine. His publishers picked another man, the chemistry wasn’t there, it never got done.

The story. It was the week of the Dunblane shooting. Sean was out dining with venerable banker Sir Angus Grossart. The pair joined our table, both in good sorts.  Sean banged the table: “They need to ban handguns in this country right now or we’ll end up like America”.  Jeeso. 007. The spy naked without his Walther PPK.  The man who nailed the man with the golden gun and bevy of Bond beauties.  Now he wants the government to act decisively after the Dunblane tragedy.  

I would have had him up Downing Street with a million signatures and a grateful Prime Minister.  Held the front page and News at Ten for weeks.

Then he warmed to the subject. “And we send the Army into Pilton, line the drug pushers up against the wall and shoot them all”. Aha.

He wanted to do his autobiography and whittled the potential collaborators down to two. A well-known author and a friend of mine James Dalrymple, a spectacular features writer who graced The Independent and The Sunday Times. Same background as Sean. Working class, red Clydeside in Jim’s case, a quick fisted genius whose talent took him to the top. A man’s man. They got on like a house on fire.

Wasn’t to be. And neither was the book. Sean phoned me later apologetically. Jim phoned me ecstatic to have spent time with a hero.

I last saw him in a week they ran one of his old movies Zardos.  He played the hero dressed most of the film in a pair of pink grundies.  “A yes. Shzardosh. That was an interesting wardrobe fitting”. The twinkle suggested it was a good memory. 

So today he turns 90. Our greatest living Scot?  Yes of course, Sir Alex Ferguson up there with him. Men who knew how to keep their guard up. Ask Sean’s caddies if he plays golf for fun. Of course he does – most of all he plays to win.   

If you haven’t heard the Petula Clark story. It’s not true, but it’s bloody funny. Tell you over a drink some time.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

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BORIS IS THE LIFE AND SOUL OF THE PARTY – BUT THE ONLY THING HE CAN LEAD IS A WINE BAR CONGA

There are Boris Johnsons in every newspaper office. The posher the paper, the more extravagant their personalities. Swanning about in features – they could never handle hard news.

Easy to track down to the nearest wine bar, loud and public school, flashing their cash (borrowed), always late with their copy. Trailed by a bevy of exotic women with three names, not great looking but invariably easy with their charms. The Chablis spotted Bojos. Loved by everyone. Totally chaotic.

The last thing on earth you would do is give them any kind of authority over people. Anything that required organisation like working on the newsdesk. Organising a schedule, getting the paper out. These are people who can’t do their expenses on time, thousands behind in advances.

And yet. The prime example of buffoonery – the Prime Minister of the country. No wonder this government lurches from crisis to disaster. Headless, rudderless, clueless. Flattening the sombrero – Bojo won’t need that on his Scottish glamping hols. Holding onto the tent pegs more like.

It all becomes clear. Gove – apparently a former journalist – is at best a number 4 on the newsdesk. The guy who gets to the office early to make up for his lack of talent. More organised than Bojo, but none of the charm. You shudder when he is standing as number 1 on a Sunday. His chance to shine on the proper journalists’ day off. Everyone terrified he will drop it big time.

No wonder Cummings has so much power. He is the decision maker without portfolio because the rest of them are caught in the headlights. He does the job that Johnson should be doing but is clearly incapable. But that can’t work – it isn’t working. Johnson hiding behind his SPAD, reacting to events, not leading them, then getting it disastrously wrong when they try catch-up. Exam results being just the latest farce.

The civil servants – many of whom are first rate born organisers – must be ending themselves. They are too professional to let the whole thing collapse. But they are now all fielding at long stop to keep the score of self-inflicted disasters to manageable levels.

Is it that the government is simply useless and the pandemic has exposed them in a merciless way never seen in “peace time”. Many believe that’s the case. There are many who think that the standard of MPs has to be much higher, the threshold for entry set at higher levels to attract the top brains.

This is a modern professional world which needs leaders of experience and dynamism to lead. Not speech makers with rallying cries and nothing to back them up.

We have 650 MPs, many of them lobby fodder. The “better” ones are sitting as the most talent-free cabinet many can remember. An MP’s basic pay is £81,000. That salary should be doubled and the number of MPs halved.

That way we attract MPs of stature and experience. Then we wouldn’t have a fireplace salesman as Education Secretary. And a feature writer as PM.

Boris may find the midges in Scotland this week a pleasant relief from the sharks waiting for his return.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

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IT WAS NO SURPRISE. BUT THE BBC FAILED DISMALLY TO TELL THE REAL RUPERT MURDOCH STORY

Rupert Murdoch is possibly the greatest media baron of all time. Make that definitely. He is also one of the greatest financiers of the age creating billions of dollars in value. His vision, his risk, his commercial creations, whopping great takeovers, his genius.

RISING SUN: Kelvin MacKenzie with  Murdoch

The BBC decided to trot out a series of no-hopers and has-beens for its 3-part mini-series. A hatchet job – a paper hatchet wielded by amateurs. I couldn’t possibly match the critique by his most successful Editor. Just Google “The real Rupert Murdoch by Kelvin MacKenzie”.  Eviscerating.

For full disclosure (I love that, so woke). I worked as an Editor in varying degrees for The Sun. I had the greatest time, one of the all-time great bollockings, learned more than I can remember.  It was like being a Senator in Caligula’s Rome.  The Murdoch ethos was “we’re in it for the long haul”. They meant it. Just don’t take a third light.

He saved Fleet Street. Of that there is no doubt. Post Wapping, the very newspapers who have since mercilessly attacked him would have been closed. The Guardian for sure. He changed not just the print unions, but the whole iniquity of the arrogant barons strutting up Downing Street with their ruinous demands.

Maybe too far the other way, I grant you. But would you have rather had the miners? The Railwaymen?  The taxi drivers of London who clocked into newspapers for a shift, drove fares for 8 hours, came back to clock out and pick up their disgraceful “earnings”.  Your uncollected bins stacked up 30 feet high.  A shambles of a nation which needed fixing.

People forget how much he was part of that solution.  I don’t remember Tony Blair rushing to undo employment law, secondary picketing, the right to manage – all created by Mrs Thatcher alongside Murdoch’s extraordinary fortitude.

f course he was deeply enmeshed in politics. So was every media I have ever worked for, especially if you were the local paper of the rising politician. As a Mirror Group junior on the Tavistock Times I phoned Michael Heseltine at home on a Wednesday. We spoke to his voters, he made the time. If we had a story to float we got MPs to sign an Early Day Motion. The Mirror used to do the same with Labour until it got tired and flabby. Rupert just did it at a far higher level. With far greater success.

What the programme missed was how the lines between his media empire became blurred in the UK. They thought they could create Camelot. The newspapers keeping pliant politicians in their camp, nodding through Rupert’s ambition to own Manchester United, consume all of SKY. Even put their own man in Number 10. Trouble was his local dealmakers weren’t in his class. They forgot that church and state don’t mix. He couldn’t be everywhere. The phone hacking scandal exposed it all.

Is he a moral man?  “Page 3 Birds” seem terribly tame in these days of shocking online Twitter and Facebook abuse.  All those female Labour MPs frothing at the mouth, denouncing him in The House of Commons.

But the fact is that the Editors of The Sun – first Larry Lamb and then the master Kelvin MacKenzie – would never have existed without Rupert. The Sun paid Elton John £1M and made a huge story out of it.  Piers Morgan was sacked by an inexperienced Mirror CEO for a page 1 story no-one talks about now. Did him a favour. Whatever Rupert did, he was never as dangerous as Facebook, their control over our data and democracy. Hiding behind the excuse of not being a media company.  Compared to them he is a saint. Whatever you want to accuse him of, Murdoch has never shirked it.  The softest thing in his head are his teeth.

But it’s his great deal making that was the biggest miss.  How he won the Times and Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal. Took a failing Sun from a lazy Mirror Group who laughed at him. Pretty soon they were crying. The millions he poured into SKY taking him to the brink of collapse.  How he saved the Times especially, year after year at a cost of many hundreds of millions. I would have loved to get behind the thinking, the strategy. How he plotted his course right round the globe. Any of those deals would been a life changer. He has done it time and again. All in the head of one remarkable man.

So. My bollocking.  Kelvin sent me to be Scottish Editor.  It was a quiet dozy news list one very dozy day. A dozy reporter from The Herald phones me. Rupert is buying Glasgow Rangers, is it true? Parrumph. Of course not, how stupid are they. How stupid am I. “Well done, fine piece of reporting, did you know he is also looking at Partick Thistle as a feeder club?  Great story just don’t quote me”.   Haha. What a jape.

Next day. Page 1 of The Herald. Me quoted full bhuna. Including the Thistle line. Oh crap. I’m for it now. No I’m not. Rupert’s in New York. He will never read some tatty cutting from a low circulation Jock broadsheet.

One month later, on comes Bill O’Neill, his number 2. Aussie man-mountain, not to be trifled with.  “Yeeeeees.  Steve. Hazzz it going. Well we know you’ve been busy. Rupert gets the joke. He just wants to be part of it next time. OK?”. All said dead quiet, menacing. Line dead. Gulp.

The Queen’s detectives arresting two Sun reporters gate crashing her Ghillies’ Ball is another story entirely. We were, of course, completely innocent. Honest Rupert.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

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LOVE THEM OR HATE THEM – WILL THE SCOTS EVER TRUST THE ENGLISH TO RUN THEIR COUNTRY

It’s hard to explain to your average Englishman in the street why the Scots dislike them quite so much. Hate them even. I know. I go amongst them doing missionary work.

Their genuine surprise – hurt even – quickly turns to “stuff the Jocks” when you tell them the simple truth – The Scots don’t trust the English.  Especially now as they see billions flooding north to an ungrateful, uncouth Jocks. Their reasoning goes if you don’t like us, give us our money back and sod off.

Still Boris soldiers on, bumping elbows with crab fishermen in Orkney, flattening sombreros and whacking moles. It’s seen as an inappropriate piece of electioneering.  Nicola Sturgeon plays it brilliantly. She is serious, steadfast – and probably just as guilty as the Westminster crew of getting it shatteringly wrong on Corona.  The Teflon First Minister, in power for years but still presenting the SNP as the party of protest. Everything bad is all the fault of the English. Who go on and on making it easy for her.

Maggie treated Scotland like foreign policy. I was an Editor when she inflicted Poll Tax under obedient Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth.  Cameron couldn’t give a stuff and he had better credentials. Blair couldn’t get his head round it – especially when a previously compliant Daily Record turned on Labour with daily vicious attacks. I was a Director of Record and Sunday Mail.  Didn’t matter that we fired The Editor, the damage was done – to Labour and the paper.

As Editor of The Sun in Scotland I gave space to Jim Sillars, recognising that the SNP had a growing constituency and policies beyond simply independence. The paper went on to fully embrace the SNP to the surprise of Mr Murdoch.

It comes down to trust – trust in someone not to screw it up. Why Major beat Kinnock. Why Cameron beat Miliband. Why Boris beat Corbyn.  Precisely why Nicola remains the overwhelming choice as leader in Scotland. Trust in her policies. Doesn’t matter if she’s right or wrong, she is the only person who will fight for the country. That’s the narrative.

I bet you the average man or woman in any Scottish high street wouldn’t have a clue on the merits of the Barnett Formula. The £4.6B extra Scotland has had in Corona hand-outs is irrelevant – nobody is saying thanks north of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact the opposite – it’s Scotland’s by right, we sent them all that oil.  Seen the price of a barrel recently?

In my view Independence will never come about.  The banking crisis. The great saviour of oil revenues a myth. Corona. You can point all you want towards Eire and Norway. They’re OK, Scotland will be as well. Really? A deep-seated fear of disaster will see off independence. Fear that the future will be as bad as a highland clearance.  Banking would go (what’s left of it), headquarters of the multi-nationals, foreign investment. Scots voices doing business would be heard in London, not Edinburgh or Glasgow. It will be fear. Not anything Boris or the Tories will come up with.

One incident which still makes me laugh. Maggie ventured north one time and astonishingly risked the wrath of an Old Firm game at Ibrox. As the only posh and properly educated person in the welcoming party I was bidden to shepherd Lord Hesketh, the delightful rotund peer in her entourage who famously had an F1 team with James Hunt as his driver.

He was mesmerised by the ocean of red, white and blue. The florid faces of 40,000 loyalists belting their lungs out about a long ago battle and a message for the Bishop of Rome.

I suppose I could have translated. But he was oblivious. Intoxicated. Stonking down two pies in the members’ lounge he said to me breathlessly:” What a sight. Don’t let anyone say that The Union is at peril”.

The English – they don’t get it. They really don’t get it.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

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IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT. BUT THE TIMES – THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

Rupert Murdoch famously bollocked The Sun’s mercurial Editor Kelvin MacKenzie for his “SUN WOT WON IT” General Election headline. Labour leader Neil Kinnock had been trounced finally and completely. He thought Kelvin was grandstanding. He didn’t get it – it’s what Labour themselves thought. But in those days The Sun was generating millions of profit every week, whatever Kelvin did was good for Rupert’s bottom line.

The tabloid cash cow undoubtedly helped save Murdoch from total meltdown over SKY. And definitely propped up The Times which consistently lost tens of millions a year. The roles couldn’t be more reversed.  The Times and Sunday Times are now nicely in the black, The Times with a record number of 350,000 subscribers. The Sun lost £90M in the last financial year.

           

The shape of newspapers is becoming clearer every day – it’s the rise of the broadsheets, it’s subscription.  The Daily Telegraph doing so well it returned furlough money. The Guardian now in profit.

The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday are both brilliant newspapers, the standard bearers since the Leveson phone tapping inquiry. The Mail has overtaken The Sun to be the biggest daily seller – but at a measly 850,000 sales a day. Even allowing for the plague that’s frighteningly low numbers. They are shedding readers each year in double digits. DailyMail+ is a class product. Mailonline generates £140M in revenues. A third of Buzzfeed and with ginormous accumulated losses. There is no comparison with traditional ad values versus online.

The modern media giants – VICE, Buzzfeed, The Athletic – are not immune. They are all shedding jobs. In Buzzfeed’s case the classic “levelling up” from exploding melons to serious news creators has proved as bogus as it sounded. Founder Jonah Peretti is a false profit. (sic)

The scary one is REACH Plc – owners of the Mirror and Express plus a slew of metropolitan media. Put them side by side with the New York Times and it makes sobering reading.

REACH this week dumped 550 jobs – many of them in editorial. The NYT passed 6M total subscribers.  REACH generates £100M from its entire digital. NYT generates $800M – $420M from news subscribers. They added 500,000 new subscribers in the last quarter – more than the Times total.

What REACH does next is a real worry with new CEO Scottish businessman Jim Mullen taking over at a time of intense crisis. Slashing jobs is like eating your foot. You end up hopping round in a circle. The staff who remain feel abandoned on a sinking ship. It’s how the management addresses the underlying revenue issues. They don’t have the subscription option in numbers. The local papers are shredded. Their nationals are read by old people, mainly casual buyers. The rest they give away free on websites.

They apparently have a Director of Inventions. Me neither.  But now’s your time – whoever you are.

One straw in the wind for them to consider. The journalism is not in doubt – top class. The Daily Mirror has 209K followers on Instagram – less than a pastry chef.  The Express – 12,000. The Sun – 320K.  The Guardian – a whopping 3.2M.  The New York Times? 9.6M. As in nearly 10 million. It doesn’t take a Director of Inventions to work that one out.

There’s one thing they could do overnight to drive an engaged 1M audience. An audience they very clearly don’t have, one they could speak with. Not at. Upsell them, add new value. Link them to every one of their websites and newspapers. I doubt they will get it.

There are many new ways to speak to your audience – and the audience who don’t hear you currently. The best media operators are there now. Murdoch will win out – quality journalism will rule. And pay handsomely for itself.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

 

 

 

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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER. HE NEEDS TO GET US OUT OF THIS MESS

“Bring Britain Back”. Now there’s a slogan.  A clear message to the nation – it’s time to come out of lockdown. If you’re English that is. Memorable too – we’re starting the long climb out of darkness. A table thumper.

On the other hand.  “Stay Alert”. Eh?  Thank you Corporal Jones and the Dad’s Army scriptwriters.  I know it’s a short order brief – but that is appalling.  No direct message, no call to action, confused, instantly forgettable. Crap.  As a former Editor told me rather unhelpfully one day:” Stop sending us down your sh*t, we’ve got enough sh*t of our own”.

Right from “flattening the sombrero” to Ministers impersonating Daleks every evening – it all looks shockingly amateur, rushed, ill conceived.

Whoever is running the communications’ strategy needs to go the Alastair Campbell playbook. Tony Blair’s henchman was the consummate pro, ran the media message with a rod of iron. No journalist was under any misunderstanding – if Alastair said it, print it. If anyone leaked he snapped their legs. Including MPs on his own side who were given their lines by bleeper.  The message was unequivocal.

He saved the Monarchy during the Death of Diana. Got The Queen on track. Came up with the epitaph of all time with the “People’s Princess” line for Diana.

This isn’t about being trite. Get this wrong and the government could kill tens of thousands more.  Trite is “flattening the sombrero” – that early Johnson quip. “Don’t worry everyone, matron will be round later with a jolly good dose of prune juice, that’ll do the trick”.  Says the shaggy haired one from University Challenge who boffs a surprising number of lahs.  Per-leese.

The slogans have to be backed up with real actions – Trust The People. The House of Commons was the right place to deliver his new message. This was the equivalent of a mega Budget speech, he should have commandeered the dispatch box, delivered the new direction with gravitas. Instead he blundered with his Sunday broadcast giving pasty faced Sir Kier Starmer the high ground.

The stakes are extreme. One of our leaders is going to be very right or very wrong. Nicola Sturgeon has made her dislike, distrust and political enmity startlingly clear – Boris Johnson is dangerously wrong, a fool. She couldn’t be clearer.

She had better be right, the natives are restless. The emergency mega hospital The Jubilee in Glasgow – capacity 1,000 – has less than 5 patients. Ayrshire has 7 or less in ICU, there are 5 or less in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Forth Valley, Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, Tayside and Western Isles. A total of 75 patients in ICU for the whole of Scotland.  People want to get back to normal. The young especially are prepared to take a chance, believe they will get Corona and recover.

In England less than one per cent of deaths in hospitals have been under the age of 40. The risk of opening schools is even smaller. Just 11 people under the age of 20 have succumbed to the dreaded virus.   The vast majority of deaths have been among people 65 and over. Nearly half of those were 85 and older. Now there’s a clear message – protect our old people. Keep them safe, stay indoors.

The Swedish government never really bothered with lockdown.  They have just apologised for not doing enough to protect old people, most of their deaths among the over 70s. Next worst hit has been migrants. Other than gatherings of over 50 people being banned, their economy has remained open.

Sturgeon’s single career ambition is over.  There will be no “Inde Ref 2” in her lifetime. Or anyone else’s. The Welsh have no clout, neither (happily) do the Northern Irish.

Boris is the single leader who can claim victory. He blustered his way to an extraordinary General Election victory on a simple Brexit message.  Now he needs to sod the scientists and get on the pulse of the people. He has a chance to redeem himself, win the fightback. Drop the crap slogans, trust in the judgement that made him a winner.

Otherwise Corona will kill a lot of people who never caught it.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including The Daily Record and Sunday Mail. 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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GET INFECTED, TOUGH IT OUT, GET BACK TO WORK

Let’s get one thing clear immediately. The virus started in China. I’ll always love Peking Duck, but bat soup? I don’t care what the woke Lord Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says. There is nothing racist about all this. More importantly, the Chinese are now recovering fastest and they will steal a lead on the rest of the world. There is only one solution for the rest of us. Get infected, tough it out, get back to work.

Trillion pound bill for Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak may turn out to be the best Prime Minister we’re yet to have, but not even he can magic up a trillion pounds to sub our wages to Christmas.

Forget Boris’s jaunty “We’ll beat this in 12 weeks”. Batsh*t. The Chancellor’s first monster rescue package was a £330 billion loan – the government only pays if those loans default. The pledge to meet 80 per cent of wages costs an eye-watering £240bn a quarter. The UK is a £2 trillion economy. Unsustainable.

Find a vaccine – yeah, yeah. By 2021. Unless the nation catches coronavirus, survives and gets back to work this will end in anarchy and bankrupt Britain. And trust me – that’s the message the Government really wants to put out.

Instead of setting up testing centres, they should give the young, the fit, the option of going through Infection Centres. Start the #I’VEHADIT movement. One week of hell, a small price to pay.

Get Nike and Adidas to make millions of skip caps and T shirts with what would be the world’s biggest hashtag. #I’VEHADIT – I am disease free and off down the pub. Coronas all round, barman.

You old people – stay out the way because we don’t have the capacity to look after you, no NHS beds. Lock yourself away please, come out of hiding when the rest have had it. Best Mother’s Day advice – don’t kill the old dears with misplaced kindness.

I have the science to back this up – but please consult your own physician, this should not be taken as medical advice. Unless you’re bonkers. I am in contact with a leading surgeon, his hospital is on a war footing, the beds already crammed with corona victims. I have also spoken to a survivor.

The Coronavirus causes the disease Covid 19

In time-honoured fashion I will maintain his anonymity. He is in his early 30s. He returned from Dubai end of last week, felt increasingly poorly. By Sunday he was full on corona. He also infected his wife and one-year-old son.

By Wednesday he was able to join a conference call. Had a dreadful throat, headaches for two days, cramps, no nausea, but all deeply unpleasant. His one-year-old was the least affected. By Friday – one week post Dubai – he was recovering nicely, thankful that to be clear and able to see his near family in complete safety. He is young, healthy – and cured.

If you’re hoarding loo roll, it could be a wise move. The surgeon reports that some victims are suffering serious diarrhoea and nausea. All the rest of the symptoms as well. Especially a weird taste sensation. No-one can quite describe it. Next week all soon-to-be-qualified students – doctors and nurses – are being press ganged onto wards in anticipation of Armageddon.

My solution: There is one. Apart from Rishi Sunak for PM. We need out of this right now, and that means infecting the fittest fastest. The world can’t survive six months of this. Money, food will run out. The rule of law will break down.

I hear a lot from Tim Martin, the rent-a-quote boss of JD Wetherspoon. We are now paying 80 per cent of your staff’s wages. Select the youngest and fittest for a volunteer army, lead them personally to the nearest hospital and sign up to assist. We are risking our young medics – so get your bar staff doing the heavy lifting. Better than sitting at home whining.

And that goes for everyone else in all other supported industries whose markets have collapsed. Get helping, get infected, get in work. Once you’re clear, stick on your #I’VEHADIT T-shirt.

Most of all – go back to work, get the country moving again. The Chancellor’s hero, super economist John Maynard Keynes, said prophetically: “In the long run we are all dead”. A century ago, he didn’t have bat plague in mind.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. 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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STINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

Former Sun Newspaper Executive Steve Sampson on the Philip Schofield gay disclosure that was more soft focus than shocking

For those of you watching in black and white. Much-loved daytime telly star Phillip Schofield revealed in a “shock” statement last Friday that he is gay. He had been wrestling with his sexual identity for years apparently. Now he wanted to get it off his chest.

Who better to be with him live on TV reading out his carefully crafted statement than his longstanding presenting partner Holly Willoughby. Cue a steady stream of stars congratulating Phil on his honesty. Including his wife and kids who knew nothing until the last moment – statement or gayness. Apparently.

Holly Willoughby shows love for Phil after his revelation on their television show

And that’s where social media took the story in a totally different direction from mainstream media. Lurid comments – even beneath The Sun’s soft-focus “exclusive” with Phil – told a different story. Over the weekend other newspapers ran pieces saying it was common knowledge on the various shows fronted by him and Holly that he was gay. Social media went much further. Some referred to it as a seminal moment.

Confused? Sure, even more than Phil after digesting that lot.

Whatever the truth, Schofield had chosen well bringing in PR heavyweight Phil Hall to mastermind his outing. Hall is a longstanding friend of mine. Great Editor of the News of the World, the UK’s top man for a crisis. If anyone knows the value of celebrity and the danger to newspapers of dragging down their heroes it’s Phil Hall.

When Editor he got a tremendous backlash for exposing England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio in a drug sting. Bang to rights, all caught on video. The public didn’t like a hero being laid low – even if he was breaking every rule in the book. When I worked on The Sun we lost readers for attacking Elton John. His flamboyant homosexuality might have shocked the news desk. The readers loved him all the more.

If The Sun has pulled its punches on Schofield, then that’s a highly pragmatic judgement. Last line of their “exclusive” story – he refused to say if he was in a gay relationship. Last line mind. Kind, very kind. Sweet that this was the first weekend of the new lady editor. Nice hand grenade.

Does it matter? Isn’t Phillip Schofield’s sex life a private matter? Of course it is. The public might be interested, but it’s hardly in the public interest. And no modern tabloid editor is going to write the headline PHIL IN GAY SCANDAL. Even if it was remotely true. They would be lashed for it by their readers.

Leave Phillip and his very public private life to one side. The serious issue is who to believe. Who peddles fake news? Or invented news, PR dressed as fact? Who swallows that truth? I mean the journalists, not the just the readers. Do we now learn a version of facts from the Internet completely counter to the established media? Is that the new truth?

The newspapers live or die by their claim that trust belongs with them, the lies live on social media. There’s a big difference between someone’s sex life being news and manipulating the news to suit a PR spin.

I suspect people frankly don’t give much of a damn. Even if Phil had been found reversing out of a camel in Regent Street at 3am. The “story” will die. If it doesn’t – and there’s more to come – then there’s a bigger issue for Good Morning using their airtime, their brands, their presenters to laud “Brave Phil”. Their studios for Phil to give his Sun interview.

Last word to the very funny twitter post which summed up the “revelations”: “I was more amazed when he came out as grey”. Stings ain’t what they used to be.

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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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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