Guy Adams' Media Diary
How to get yourself a scoop (not)
Monday 07 August 2006
We begin with an object lesson in the art of tabloid scoop-getting, courtesy of the Daily Mail rain-maker Neil Sears. On 27 March, Sears was instructed to track down Farah Damji, a former magazine editor who - as we reported last week - had escaped from prison, where she was serving three and a half years for theft and deception.
Following an all-too-brief mobile phone conversation, he pinged an e-mail to her. "Good to speak to you at last, albeit briefly," it begins. "Let's do it at more length today for my news piece I'm already writing. Ideally we'd do an exclusive live picture of you at your hideout - it would mean my piece would have a great exclusive line, and would guarantee a good show in the paper ("Mail tracks down absconded prisoner"). If necessary, our photographer could be blindfolded and put in the boot of a car to get to you if you don't trust us to keep your location secret."
Sears neglected to sign off with hugs and kisses. All the same, Alan Partridge himself couldn't have managed a better turn of phrase.
Thus it was that Sears submitted a second e-mail to the elusive Damji. "I am gagging to hear about prisoners' rights and what it's really like for women in prison," he said. "Am particularly interested in the women in prison stuff, as you are after all a woman who's been in prison. You are the sort of woman who should not be in prison, but instead should be in position being aspired to by Mail readers. You're the perfect way in to stuff about women in prison for the Daily Mail. Let's just chat and you tell me what you want to tell me. I can't put words into your mouth and am offering you a wider platform than you got in The Independent and Times. A pic would really make the whole piece too... so please call me fast - Neil." Say what you like about his breathless pitch, you can't accuse Sears of not trying.
Sears's request for an exclusive interview was eventually successful. However, no sooner had he arrived at Damji's seaside hideout, than Her Majesty's police also appeared. The big interview has yet to be published. Meanwhile Damji believes - quite wrongly, I'm sure - that Sears "dobbed her in" to the cops. Either way, she's back behind bars.
* The same can, sadly, not be said of Rupert Murdoch, who neglected to make sure that the Sun's new political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, attended his annual shindig at Palm Beach. Others in P-W's position would feel at the thought of Trevor Kavanagh, the man he waited many years to replace, sipping cocktails at Rupert's luxury hotel.
Pascoe is a man of simple tastes, though. Earlier this year, he purchased a caravan to provide a weekend "love nest" to share with his girlfriend. Mischievous colleagues enrolled the happy couple in the Caravan Club of Great Britain. Sadly, they submitted Pascoe's application under the (possibly racist) pseudonym "George Pikey".
* From one Pascoe to another: Adam Pasco, editor of the BBC's Gardeners' World magazine, has taken a bold step: from now on, his magazine's masthead will carry the date it hits the newsagent's shelf. Green-fingered readers have been confused by the trend for giving glossies a cover date several months into the future. "It's all about seasons," says a colleague. "Articles about digging up potatoes should appear in a magazine that's dated to match the spud harvesting season. Otherwise, it's the equivalent of FHM having a bikini supplement in mid-December."
* At the risk of upsetting the delicate flowers that preside over both Telegraph titles, I am concerned by reports of a staffing crisis on the daily's gossip column, Spy. Louise Hannah, the column's star news-hound, has left for the choppy waters of The Mail on Sunday, after being headhunted by that title's gossip-in-residence, Katie Nicholl.
Celia Walden, the Spy editrice, intends to offer her position to a promising, pin-striped freelancer, Chris Lamb. But one cloud mars her horizon: Lamb's appointment is yet to be approved by the powers-that-be. Although this must be a formality, the delay is worrying. Without Lamb, Spy's staffing levels will fall to two. Before the Barclay regime took charge, the column boasted five, plus one part time reporter.
* Speaking of The Mail on Sunday, there is fascinating "background" to its recent kiss'n'tell with an ex-girlfriend of Noel Edmonds. The yarn was originally the property of The People. But when the bearded buffoon's former squeeze, Marjan Simmons, started demanding money, The People found its coffers empty. Its solution was to contact the MoS, offering to "go halves" on the story. There's a moral buried in this unlikely tale of co-operation somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is.
* Congratulations are to the London financial free-sheet City AM for revealing a shock takeover bid for the jewellery retailer Signet. It would have done the Financial Times no harm to have broken this little scoop. Failing that, it might have run a follow-up report. But coverage came there none. Some hacks on City AM suspect a policy at the Pink'un of ignoring its irritatingly successful rival. Others blame incompetence. Either way, it's one for FT editor Lionel Barber's in tray.
* In another newspaper last week, media sage Kim Fletcher looked into the issue of "freebies," in relation to journalistic ethics. "If I were writing a holiday piece, would the sands of Elba become more golden if I had come as a guest of a holiday company?"
A good question. But why did Fletcher need to canvass the opinions of his readers? His wife, Sarah Sands, recently enjoyed a Caribbean vacation courtesy of Virgin Holidays. Her report will no doubt inform readers about the golden hue of Jamaican beaches.
* Simon Heffer was spotted strolling around Lord's recently wearing his standard workplace uniform: a Garrick Club tie. I am sad to report that this constitutes a severe breach of clubland protocol. As a proud member of MCC, the Essex-born gingernut and Telegraph grandee should have been wearing that club's garish "bacon and egg" stripes. At the home of cricket, they take this sort of thing very seriously. "Heffer wouldn't commit this sort of faux pas if he'd actually been to public school," I'm told.
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