Publisher stands by decision to attack rival newspaper as editor resigns in protest

The publisher of a Welsh weekly whose editor left after a row over an opinion piece criticising a rival paper has stood by his decision to run the article.

The Pembrokeshire Herald ran the ‘Badger Knows Best’ column last Friday, in which it attacked its local rival, the Western Telegraph, for splashing on a story about a Twitter ‘bot’ retweeting pornographic images to readers.

The comment piece accused Telegraph news editor Lee Day of “canvassing” his followers for “outraged reaction”.

Herald editor Bruce Sinclair pulled the piece just hours before the paper went to press, but it was re-inserted by publisher Tom Sinclair (no relation), prompting the editor's resignation. The editor is understood to have declined an offer from the publisher to carry on in a more junior role.

The publisher has backed his decision, saying he believed the outrage referenced in the story was generated by the paper itself and he added that he would encourage other papers to hold his own title up to the same level of scrutiny.

He said: "I thought it was an important issue to mention, just as I would hope they [the Western Telegraph] would mention it if we did the same thing.

“If our standards slip we would like our rivals to point it out, just as we did to them.”

The comment piece, written by journalist Jon Coles, said:

It is outrage that sells newspapers, it seems.

That would certainly seem to be the case behind this week’s front page headline in the Western Telegraph. It hit almost every button imaginable: there was not only porn, there were ‘hardcore gay images’; there was Twitter; there were outraged members of the public.  It ticked boxes and was clearly and consequently a more important story than that about the numbers hit by the pernicious ‘bedroom tax’, the threat to close a County secondary school, the end of the threat of legal action against members of the Community Health Council, the deaths of two young men in Milford Haven, and anything at all critical of the county council.”

The Western Telegraph, which is published by Newsquest, has declined to comment, although it did run a news story on Bruce’s resignation over the issue, quoting an online statement he issued in which he called the column “a needlessly personal attack”.

The statement said: "We’ve managed to turn out six editions of the county-wide paper to date with an editorial team consisting only of me, a sports reporter and a photographer, together with some input from the publisher.

“The role of editor is to edit, advise and ultimately take responsibility for the content, fairness, and accuracy of stories, as it would be on any other publication I have worked on.

“Matters were brought to a head yesterday by the manner in what I considered a needlessly personal attack was launched on a senior member of the Western Telegraph in the Herald’s Badger Knows Best comment piece. Despite my rejection of the original text and my repeated protests about its tone, I was overruled, with the result that the comment-style article was sent for publication unaltered.

“As a result, I have come to realise the direction The Herald is taking and my role within it as editor are incompatible.”

Day said on Twitter: “The Herald had personal go at me. Uncalled for in my opinion and, obviously, in the editor’s opinion as he decided to resign after."

Tom Sinclair said the incident had brought to a head issues which had been brewing since the Herald launched in July and that the former editor "did not follow the vision of the Pembrokeshire Herald team in terms of what we want to do". He said: “We want to be a campaigning, investigative and hard news-oriented title; we don’t want to be a soft newspaper."

The Herald was launched in July as an offshoot of the monthly Pembrokeshire Best magazine, and has a print run of 20,000 with a 50p cover price.

Last month, the paper hit the news when an advertisement for a car rental company appeared containing a reference to “c***-sucking” in what the publisher said was an act of sabotage. 

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