Notes from down table

The PRs who try to buy off journalists with trinkets

Has Christmas come early for someone in your office? Does your editor or features editor have a nice, new, shiny leather cover on their iPad? Then perhaps you should call the police, just to be on the safe side.

I mention this because last week a PR company emailed me, and therefore presumably every other vaguely senior media bod in the country, offering to send me a nice, new, shiny leather cover for my iPad completely free of charge.

And in return, perhaps I might like to give this wonderful product a small mention in my publication?

It was tempting. We all love something for nothing and even if you’re iPad-free, then it’s an easy tick on the Christmas present list for your wife or partner – a range of colours are available for you to choose from. And your tracks could easily be covered. At this time of year there are plenty of gift guides knocking about into which a small pic and a few words could be discretely slipped without anyone noticing.

But it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong; you know it’s wrong. We feel it in the pit of our stomachs. These people are trying to buy us with trinkets; to sway our judgement; essentially to corrupt us, however minor the incentive. And yes, I know all about the culture of free meals offered to hacks in unspoken expectation of a positive restaurant review. (We don’t do that either.)

We do accept occasional travel freebies as I take the view that it’s a chance to reward a hard-working reporter with a break they could never afford, and at least the resultant article will interest some of our readers and might even attract a bit of revenue. So we can’t claim to be the squeaky clean moral guardians of my imagination.

But for some reason this offer just rankled with me. It’s not a box of cupcakes delivered to the office for all to enjoy. It’s not a book sent in for review that might eventually make it into your brother’s Christmas stocking. It’s just too blatant. I have no idea if such a transaction falls foul of the Bribery Act 2010, but if I had a nice, new, shiny leather cover on my iPad, I might be tempted to check.

FOR some bizarre reason, BBC Radio Stoke took to the airwaves last week to announce the closure of that fine regional newspaper, The Sentinel. I suspect that they confused the previously announced closure of the company’s on-site press hall with the acquisition of Northcliffe’s regional titles by Local World and ended up with the biggest load of claptrap possible.

What grieves me most about this isn’t the fact that whoever wrote this ‘story’ didn’t make one simple phone call to check it out, but that no one at the BBC thought that the closure of a major local newspaper with a 158-year history which still sells over 50,000 copies day wasn’t a significant and seismic enough shift in the local media landscape for them to develop the ‘story’ properly with quotes, background and some industry context.

Who’s in charge if the clattering train? The fucking tea boy?

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