Comment and insight on journalism issues from Press Gazette's guest writers

How my 'world changing story' was rejected by newsdesks only to re-emerge as an 'exclusive'

Climate change, carbon emissions and ever-rising fuel prices…faced with these knotty interrelated problems wouldn’t the world benefit from some kind of heap zero-carbon green fuel to replace the oil and diesel in our tanks?

So if you met a man who has helped invent a truly innovative scientific process to create that green fuel – and has proved that it actually works – then that would make a great story, right?

That’s what I thought too when I bumped into millionaire Tony Marmont at a recent university green energy event and he told me that he had used air as a raw material to produce several gallons of synthetic petrol in a 40ft shipping container on an industrial estate.

If produced on a large scale, and using green electricity as a power source to fuel the process, the fuel had the potential to be a truly zero-carbon replacement for the world’s dwindling fossil fuel supplies.

Since this seemed to me to be an amazing, and possibly world-changing story, I went home and sent a 650-word story to several national newspaper newsdesks.

Sadly, not one of them thought it was worth a single column inch…and completely ignored it. Finally, over a fortnight after I had emailed its newsdesk, the Independent got hold of the story from another source and ran it as an exclusive’ page lead and science supplement follow up the next day.

Other papers and broadcasters quickly ran their own versions, usually based on the angle of ‘scientists making petrol out of air’, and the story was repeated on websites around the world.

The best I can say about all this at present is that the eventual attention given to the story at least proved that I wasn’t mad and that my news judgement was intact.

But this is countered by a genuine feeling of despair at the way newsdesks choose to completely ignore a freelance contribution – even when it’s an exciting science exclusive.

In fact, the story wasn’t even the first time I had written about Marmont and his company air Fuel Synthesis.

Both the Leicester Mercury and the Nottingham Post had published articles about him over the past few years and it was the latter newspaper which asked me to interview him for a lengthy business article last year. I specialise in green energy issues and took particular interest in what he told me.

For the past seven years Marmont and his business colleagues have been researching a process called air fuel synthesis (AFS) which aims to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuel using air.

Yes, you read that correctly. The process takes carbon dioxide from plain old air nd combines it with hydrogen from water in a fuel reactor to produce fuel fit for vehicles and aircraft.

A miracle! Well, the world is full of green dreamers – the point was, would AFS actually work?

This was exactly what Marmont confirmed when i met him at the university – and why I sent off a full structured story to the Independent, the Guardian, the Daily telegraph, the Ecologist, Channel Four News and the Sunday times.

There was no response. I tried the Daily Mail. Silence.

I had a little more luck with regional papers. The Northern Echo, in Darlington, ran it as its business supplement lead although without crediting me in the byline.

Since the AFS shipping container is in the North East, I also sent the story to the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette and regional BBC.

A BBC correspondent phoned me and was surprised that I had the temerity to ask for payment for my story while the Gazette only published a story when everyone else had published theirs.

The Independent, I have since learned, picked up its ‘exclusive’ from an institute of mechanical Engineers conference in London devoted to Marmont’s technology on 16 October.

It ran its stories on October 19 and 20. I had sent the Independent’s newsdesk a story that was substantially the same on 5 October.

What are you supposed to do?

Patterson is a freelance journalist who specialises in green energy issues. He was paid for this article.

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