News Shopper’s anti-gay reward: The repercussions

Wow. I knew the News Shopper deciding to reward the writer of a letter branding gay people as “perverted” with a star letter prize would create a stir – but I was taken aback by the strength of feeling it generated. Naturally, it was picked up by the gay and lesbian media (G3, Pink News, So So Gay), but it also hit media trade site and Londonist.

After letters page sponsor Webster’s Pen Shops distanced itself from the letter, it’d be natural to expect the News Shopper to adopt a more concilliatory approach to the avalanche of criticism it faced. Instead, it tried to capitalise on the row by publishing the letter on its website and inviting readers to comment there.

Over on Twitter, despite its sponsor having to disassociate itself from the letter, News Shopper web editor Simon Bull seemed proud to have angered a chunk of its readers. Here’s a few exchanges.

So it’s a thank you for upsetting readers? Keep on digging, Simon… sadly, that exchange was with the Greenwich Conservative councillor who’s led that party’s attack on council propaganda paper Greenwich Time, somebody the newspaper might like to keep on side. Whoops.

But people don’t ask to receive the News Shopper. It comes through people’s doors. People might not want to get this crap pushed through their letterboxes. Highlighting that intolerance is still out there? You don’t need to reward it with a nice pen from Webster’s. I came across some National Front graffiti in Deptford a couple of weeks ago. Did I laud it as an expression of free speech? No, I got Lewisham Council to paint it over.

So the gays are an acceptable target, then? Oh dear.

The problem here is that the News Shopper, a local paper, thinks it is starting a debate about morals. What it actually got was a debate about its own conduct – and when it realised the game wasn’t going its way, it responded with insults and sarcasm.

Yet nobody woke up on Thursday or Friday and thought – “let’s pick a fight with the News Shopper”. Even I don’t want to completely fall out with the paper, despite my criticisms, I’ve tried to maintain a cordial tone – after all, local papers can come in handy, whatever their shortcomings. Yet it seems determined to burn its bridges with a load of its readers – especially ones who know what they’re talking about.

Many of those taking part in the debate were media professionals themselves – other journalists, PR people, web experts – with experience of these issues. They weren’t there because they wanted to pick a fight, they were there because they were horrified at what the News Shopper had done. Brockley Kate, herself an ex-national newspaper journalist, had a similar Twitter run-in with the paper last month over its reporting of the Tidemill School story. She hit the nail on the head in a comment on this site:

What I find amazing about both cases was that News Shopper was, primarily, being criticised by other journalists, many of them very experienced. And yet whoever runs the News Shopper Twitter feed either didn’t realise or didn’t care that they were being roundly trashed by their peers. Not by the ill-informed, unpredictable consumers who all journos moan about from time to time – but other hacks. And yet they were totally unwilling to even engage.

What hope is there for a local paper which doesn’t have the respect of journalists in its area, for heaven’s sake? Hug The Mercury close, it’s all we’ve got.

Still, the News Shopper was defended by Lewisham Labour councillor Mike Harris, who seemed to completely misunderstand the questions being asked.

The paper also boasted of having this endorsement from someone called Andy Dedman, who tweeted: “Hilarious letter from a religious nutcase. Quite rt 2 publish it! How ppl cnt get when yr tongue is in yr cheek is beyond me!” [sic]

Hilarious, eh? In the real world, encouraged by seeing views like the ones rewarded by the News Shopper, people are attacked for their sexuality. That’s people who might even read the News Shopper, or whose family, friends and loved ones might read it. A handful, sadly, have been killed because of it. Two years ago, a man who lived in the street behind mine was killed after a barrage of homophobic abuse.

Still, homophobia’s hilarious, eh? Shame on you, News Shopper.

(UPDATE 10:45AM – I added the Twitter message at the top of the page to illustrate my point a little bit further. The Guardian’s Ben Goldacre joined the row last night.)


  1. I had seen the comments on this on Twitter, but hadn’t read the letter. I have now and I can’t believe it was actually printed! Well done you for highlighting it!

  2. As a magazine editor myself (and particularly as an editor of a magazine for lesbian and bi women), I’ve thought long and hard about this. I can safely say that if I received a letter like this and printed it as our star letter, I’d probably lose most of my readership. That’s not to say I’ve never awarded star letter status to something I didn’t agree with. I’ve definitely put things on top of g3’s Mailbag page that were controversial. But I’ve never put anything up there that wasn’t at least an attempt at a reasoned argument. Giving a prize to that stream of deranged, aggressive wittering throws News Shopper’s judgement into question on a number of fronts – and not just a moral one. Fine, tell me being gay is wrong. But tell me why in a way that means I can pick up the argument and have a coherent debate with you. Don’t just babble passages from the bible at me.

  3. Cheers for quoting me, Darryl, I feel all important now 😀

    Here’s a further thought which I’ve been pondering: we’ve all seen some hilariously bad social-media efforts from big corporations, in which corp-speak got in the way of their message and the interactive nature of the medium made them look like tits as a result (eg. Nestle on Facebook). This situation is a really great example of what happens when you go too far the other way, and allow one individual to shape your brand’s social media voice in an unprofessional manner. The guy running NewsShopper’s Twitter feed (and commenting on their website, too, I think) is really doing the paper no favours. If I was the editor, I’d be furious, frankly. At least half of this controversy is over how NS has handled the situation, rather than the actual editorial decisions themselves, which, as we’ve seen in the heated Twitter debate, CAN be defended vaguely intelligently if one tries (Evan Harris springs to mind – he’s wrong, mind, but at least he’s trying).

  4. I guess that if you insist on giving a stand to bigoted religious rants the least you can do is offer a rational argument to counterbalance the hate speak. making the rant a ‘star letter’ undoubtedly highlights this bigoted view point. It seems that when there is no news to report its always fun to stick the boot in to the gay community. Hope the News Shopper prints a full apology or at least makes it clear that they are now open to all forms of hate speech in their drive to start some heated debate

  5. Given that News Shopper is owned by Newsquest, whose parent is Gannett Company Inc, the largest newspaper publisher as measured by total daily circulation in the United States, it should surely be no surprise if the newspaper puts forward the Christian viewpoint as “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, should it?

    Our so-called “local” newspapers are nothing of the sort. They are merely megaphones for multinational corporations with their own agenda.

  6. The holy trinity? oh no, not another catholic

    obviously trying to butter her bread in advance of Pope Bene’s visit.

    and a bit of stale bread it is too. and you know what, she’s welcome to it. a bitter aul bag trying to win sympathy by down-trodding others – how christian is that!

  7. Yes, what a bad contrast these Christians make with Jesus, who was more concerned with real problems like the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Maybe they should read their bibles a bit more carefully!

    You don’t have to be catholic to fear and hate homosexuality. It’s one of the things that Ian Paisley and the Pope can agree on, along with abortion. These people are sex obsessed.

  8. Thank you for printing my tweet but your translation of it is utterly outrageous. You have chosen to take the context and twist it to your own means in a quite a pathetic show of righteousness.

    Of course I don’t think homophobia is hilarious. The fact you have used my tweet as an example of something which endorses homophobic attacks is completely offensive.

    Getting your point across in 140 characters is quite challenging but it is prety obvious to all but the most narrow minded what the meaning of it was. I am actually saying that this woman is a joke, her views are totally ridiculous and the News Shopper was spot on to publish the letter to warn us all that there are nutters like this out there whose views on the link between religion and homosexuality are bordering on the insane.

    As far as I can see, the News Shopper made a brave and right decision to publish this. It does not mean that they agree with the view, repeating what somebody says doesn’t mean you share the opinion. What the News Shopper did wrong is the fact tht they endorsed it as the Star Letter with a free pen, that’s the offensive part of this. Charlotte Dingles take on this above is totally correct.

    Get off your high horse, accept that people like this exist and debate with them and put across your point of view. Find out why they think like this. Don’t name call and accuse anybody who dares to have a different opinion from yourself of siding with this misguided woman.

  9. Andy – before you accuse anyone else of being on a high horse…

    1) Nowhere have I said you endorsed the sentiments in the letter. You endorsed the descison to publish, and referred to the letter as “hilarious”.

    2) The News Shopper was on very sticky ground using your tweet that the letter was “hilarious” as a justification for rewarding the author with a prize.

    3) This whole discussion has been about the paper rewarding bigotry with a prize. Not about publication. You’re imagining a different argument, I fear.

  10. Darryl –

    You have used the word ‘Hilarious’, a blatant reference to my Tweet, to begin a paragraph referring to the attacks and murder of homosexuals. You’ve then ended the piece with ‘Still, homophobia’s hilarious, eh?’. Don’t tell me you aren’t accusing me of endorsing the sentiments in the letter.

    Yes I do endorse the decision to publish. I agree with free speech and open debate. You obviously do not agree with the decision to publish, I don’t agree with you but accept your opinion on the matter.

    I found the letter funny as I would find any use of religion to justify hatred and persecution funny. Not funny or hilarious in a ha ha way, but funny or hilarious in a disbelief kind of way.

    Just retweeting 2 lines of text doesn’t really say to me that the News Shopper was using my tweet as an endorsement to reward the letter writer with a free pen. How on earth do you come to that conclusion? That’s quite a back story you’ve developed.

    Can I say here that though I agree with publishing the letter I 100% do not agree with it receiving a free gift. If the News Shopper thinks otherwise then they are seriously misguided. It is you who has used my tweet in the context as someone who not only condones the award made to the writer of the letter, but as someone who supports homophobic attacks. Something which the letter itself doesn’t even endorse.

    You are correct that the discussion SHOULD be about rewarding bigotry with a prize, but it’s not. The links you have referenced above and some of the comments are about the decision to publish I’m afraid.

    Can I just sum up my opinions on this here before you decide to out me as a hater for anything else?

    I agree with the decision to publish, I do not agree with the endorsement as a Star Letter, I think the News Shopper tweeter was totally naive in their reaction in the subsequent debate but any suggestion that they actually personally endorse the letter is absurd.

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