News Shopper rewards anti-gay rant with a prize

Suppose you ran a local newspaper, and you were looking for a cogent, witty piece of correspondence to head your letters page with. There’s a nice pen as a prize from Webster’s Pen Shop, so you’d better make it something which really hits the spot. Of all the ones to choose, how about… this?

Yes, that’ll be the one that calls gays “perverted”. That’s worth a prize, isn’t it? I wonder what Webster’s Pen Shop thinks about its products being used to reward such an unpleasant little rant?

It’s someone else’s opinion, but it’s the News Shopper’s choice to reward that opinion with a prize.

What’s the News Shopper’s obsession with homosexuality, anyway? Is its editor hiding something?

Unfortunately, it’s all a game for the News Shopper – they’re clearly hoping people will be so outraged they’ll flock to its website to complain. But alienating a tenth of its readership, and many more besides, is just a childish way of doing it. But when your paper can’t be bothered to do boring things like attend council meetings, whipping up false controversy is a cheap substitute for actually bothering to gather news. This isn’t responsible local journalism, it’s the equivalent of a child taking a dump in the kitchen to get attention.

The Shopper recently had a vacancy for a web editor. As a critic of the paper – but someone with a decade’s experience in online journalism – I thought about going for it because I think its website strategy is all wrong – desperate attempts at interactivity like boring rants that nobody responds to, blog entries from complete loons (and don’t start slagging off places in your circulation area), a blind eye turned to offensive comments placed at the foot of news stories, and a web forum which hardly anybody contributes to. For a paper with a circulation area containing about a million people, that’s a failure.

Any sensible newspaper would sweep this crap away and start again – there’s a whole world of possibilities for local newspapers to interact with their readers, to create a trusted guide to a local community. I even enjoyed putting a few ideas together for it, but in the end decided against applying.

Because the big cross against it was that the News Shopper’s attention-seeking brand of pretend journalism seemed set in stone, and it would be hard to find room to change things. Endorsing an anti-gay rant in its letters pages proves that for me. You might expect something like this in a distant backwoods newspaper with a four-figure circulation, but in a paper distributed to two inner-city London boroughs, which together have the same population as Liverpool, it’s downright stupidity.

Sadly, if it’s going to endorse crap like this, the best place for the News Shopper is in your recycling bin. Alongside Greenwich Time. They deserve each other. And people wonder why local papers are dying?

(Huge thanks to Clay Harris for the tip-off and the scan.)


  1. Jesus, that’s hilarious. I’d never seen Erastus’ offerings before. With so many talented journalists in the area, how do they end up with that?

  2. Most talented journalists won’t work for nothing, basically. “Reader blogs” are just a cheap way to fill a website while you collect the ad revenue.

  3. I’d never heard of “News Shopper” before. Judging by the content of the ‘star letter’, I assumed it was an American publication – until I saw Mrs Fitzsimmons address as “Lewisham”.

    I need not dignify her letter with a response. For now, all I know is that my the time I press ‘submit’ “News Shopper” will have slipped out of my mind again…

  4. Oh, I don’t know. Though the writer is clearly off her rocker, such pieces are intended to generate debate and further comments- as the segment appended to the letter makes clear. As such, surely the paper has succeeded in its goals?

    Homophobia still exists, and sometimes it’s useful to reminded, however depressing. Helps avoid complacency.

  5. Rewarding someone who’s off their rocker with a pen?

    The last thing this woman needs is another pen, frankly.

  6. God that’s really quite shocking. Even the Great Yarmouth Mercury has more integrity than this and it’s been going on about whether Chinese lanterns are UFOs in the letter pages for about 2 months now despite it being proven that Chinese lanterns are .. well Chinese lanterns.

  7. The News Shopper also ran a campaign a few years ago called ‘Shop a yob Bingo’. They printed full pages of images of ‘yobs’ taken from CCTV cameras and invited people to identify them – if you identified four corners or a line you won a digital camera. Nice. And the real kicker was that every face in the paper, and the vast majority of them online, were of Black men.

  8. I don’t object to them posting the letter ( although i find it personally abhorrent), but awarding it a prize? Utterly disgraceful. I’m truly shocked. But, I guess, it’s done the job in that we’re all talking about a paper that has lost its way and has no real relevance anymore.

    I agree with you Darryl that there is a wealth of possibility for the local papers to expand online and change the way they report local stories, but it doesn’t seem the will is there. When they’re rewarding comments like this with prizes I’m glad that they’re not expanding or improving.

    @Adam Smith Want to exchange? I will read about the chinese lanterns/UFO’s if you read about caped crusaders, crows and homophobes.

  9. Their website is appalling. I have complained several times about racist comments on stories, to no avail. It seems they have no interest in comment moderation.

    This letter marks a new low.

  10. I really hope people stop reading it.

    @Deptford Dame I get the impression that they really don’t care

  11. Jocknroll – The News Shopper told a reader who phoned into complain that it did not endorse the contents of the letter. That was all.

  12. I’m glad I saw this Darryl thanks, will make sure I don’t leave a copy of the News Shopper around where kids can read it if that’s the sort of drivel that gets rewarded. The view is certainly representative of a lot of people in the borough, if the number of Old Testaments on my bus to work each day is anything to go by. But what was that ‘Is its Editor hiding something’ comment about? Slightly put me off an otherwise well reasoned piece.

  13. She’s also plagiarising the Bible. Romans 1:24 and onwards. Can’t she be original? I mean, homophobes these days, they just don’t make the effort.

  14. Sorry but how is awarding it a prize not endorsing it?

    If I ran a paper of course I would have published the letter, a bigot has as much right to free speech as anyone else as far as I’m concerned and it’d probably get a bit of a response but I would most certainly not have awarded it “Star letter”. That is endorsement as far as I’m concerned.

  15. I like the fact that when I emailed the editor with regards to this I got an out-of-office reply saying he’d be back on the 23 August. I do wonder if he decided to extend his holiday after he realised what a poor quality rag he oversees.

  16. “Is its editor hiding something?”

    Was this a really necessary part of the post?

  17. Hello Sian – It’s a well-worn joke that people who are obsessed with homosexuality often have something to hide. I don’t care what the editor of the News Shopper does in his private life, but I wonder what his motivations are in rewarding this nonsense.

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