Nepotism in the broadsheets?

Knowing the right people is obviously key to getting your message across and building trust in your brand. The PGC contact book is priceless and to achieve unparalleled levels of success we use it to access the most important journalists and travel editors, providing them with story ideas we know will work.

Over recent years the PGC travel and tourism public relations team has worked with most major media outlets and leading freelance writers. Our personal contact with the leading newspapers, magazines and broadcast media virtually guarantees outstanding results.
So boasts the website of Paul Gogarty Communications, a travel journalism PR company run by Paul Gogarty, freelance travel journalist, former Chief Travel Writer at the Daily Telegraph, former presenter of BBC1's 'Holiday' programme and Cosmopolitan Travel Editor, who himself boasts:
I’ve spent the past 20 years at the top of the travel journalism tree contributing to virtually all the national newspapers, presenting television travel shows and providing travel consultancy on projects at home and abroad. Now I’m harnessing my knowledge, unbeatable contacts and skills with communications professionals - Peter Joyner, Mark Harvey and a backup team of 12 - to provide bespoke PR and Marketing services to travel and tourism businesses.
A big wheel in the travel journalism, it would seem.

Last week, a new travel blog appeared over at the Guardian that seemed at first glance to be an unusually bad idea - 'Max,19, hits the road'. Generic backpacker offers his generic observations on his generic two month trip around South East Asia in his gap year. The gap year backpacker is an almost universal figure of ridicule, from Marcus Brigstocke's Giles Wembley-Hogg, through getting put into Room 101 by Terry Christian when Nick Hancock was presenting, right back to Alex Garland's 'The Beach' and beyond, so the new blog would have to be both innovative and very good to escape ridicule.

Unfortunately, it was neither:
I'm kinda shitting myself about travelling. Well not so much the travelling part. It's India that scares me. The heat, the roads, the snakes, Australian travellers. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited. But shitting myself. And I just know that when I step off that plane and into the maelstrom of Mumbai - well, actually, I don't know how I'll react.
Jesus. Who farted, right?

Unsurprisingly, the commenters wanted to know the answer to that question at the same time as spotting that whoever it was would end up getting a shoeing in the comments. In the fourth comment in, Underachieving asks:
who's son is max then? terrible terrible terrible, shame on you guardian
It turns out that Max is the son of Paul Gogarty - the one whose contact book is priceless for getting travel pieces placed in the media. The one who has had several pieces published by the Guardian, including one about a trip to Thailand that he took Max along to.

Once this was found out, comments went crazy. Some attacked Max personally (most of which were deleted), but most were angry about what they saw as nepotism. Others came up with the idea that such a bad piece of writing ended up in the Guardian was the connection with Channel 4 yoof show 'Skins', which Max had apparently written something for and appeared in the end of the URL ('skins_blog'). Wasn't this just shameless marketing? The story went viral, ending up on several other websites like Holy Moly, Football 365 and BT3a. And then, unusually, comments were closed.

You'd have thought that would have been it. But a strange thing happened. Instead of posting a quick apology, or a forthright defence of giving a blog to a famous travel writer's son, the Travel Editor issued a response that attacked the commenters for being bullies, downplayed the father's position, didn't defend the quality of the original piece and neglected to mention the existence of Paul Gogarty Communications. This is where the whole thing starts linking in with what I blog about here, since this is where the Guardian started to use tehniques to deflect criticism we've come to expect from tabloids.

Remeber how tabloids deliberately misrepresent people's motives in order to create Political Correctness Gone Mad stories? Here, the Travel Editor frames the whole affair as being about nasty bullies making vindictive personal attacks rather than being about a very poor piece of writing that was an incredibly poor idea in the first place ending up in the Guardian because of who the writer's father is.

When he does address the matter of Max's father, The Travel Editor downplays his importance by using the familiar tabloid technique of attacking something someone else has said - a bit like how the Daiy Mail covered the release of a government report that said positive things about immigration by deliberately confusng it with a negative one. He said:
Paul Gogarty may be thrilled (or he may not) to hear that he is now the travel editor of the Guardian website. He is, in fact, a freelance writer who has had the odd piece published in the Guardian, but he also writes for The Telegraph, Sunday Times, Times and Daily Express among others.
Although some of the other websites that picked up the story said Max's father was the Travel Editor, none of the actual commenters on the original piece did. Plus, just compare that 'had the odd piece published in' with the PCG website. Or this, from the London School of Journalism site:
[Paul Gogarty] writes travel journalism for the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times, Times, Daily Express and is travel editor for Cosmopolitan.

For three years he was a regular presenter on BBC 1's Holiday programme and he is also an author (his latest travelogue, The Coast Road - 3000 miles round the edge of England, published in 2004 - is the second of a trilogy on England and Englishness). In 2006 he won an award for the Best TV Travel Show for his 12-part TV adaptation fo this book.
Strangely, commenters weren't very happy with the Travel Editor's response and said so, rather loudly until comments were suspended on the apology too.

No less than five more responses from the Guardian and Observer followed:
'The week that was - football links and other problems' by Guardian Unlimited's Editor in Chief, Emily Bell, which characterised the whole thing as being about buying and neglected to mention Max's father at all.
'Hate mail hell of gap year blogger' by Caroline Davies, which did the same with the bullying and downplayed the role of Max's father by merely saying that commenters had found out they shared a surname, leaving only ealge eyed readers to spot the bit where he's quoted as saying he only occasionally writes for the Guardian (presumably because he's busy writing for everyone else and getting other people's travel artices placed in newspapers and magazines).
'A little blog abuse is worth it for a lot of discourse', also by Emiy Bell, which does the same, only mentioning that 'the accusations included nepotism among other things', without mentioning who Max's father actually is.
'Backpackers, bullies and internet myths', by the former Guardian Online editor, Rafael Behr, which took the bullying charge to spectaculaly stupid new heights by comparing it to the Chinese Cultural Revolution (no, really) and classed the charges of nepotism as mere jealousy. The comments on that one are still going on.
'The Last Post', finally, also by Emiy Bell, which also fails to mention the existence of Max's father, but this time promises to listen.

Not a single one of these replies mentions Gogarty Snr's PR company. Funny that.

What this all exposes is another facet of Nick Davies' 'Flat Earth News' (as if you hadn't guessed already). PR comanies get their fluff reproduced in papers all the time and that's clearly what has happened here and why the Guardian doesn't feel the need to apologise. The Guardian's reluctance to admit to anything wrong and careful avoidance of mentioning Gogarty's PR company only seems to confirm this is the case. The incestuous world of the press is laid open for everyone to see.

One question remains. Was Max going to mention any of his father's clients in his blog?

*UPDATED* Finally, someone at the Graun addresses the problem dead on - 'Media and the mob'. Doesn't mention Paul Gogarty Communications, thogh.


UpThePunx said...

But... but... how could this happen? Surely we live in a meritocratic utopia where the best and most talented become successful through their own endeavours?

I like the accusations that a lot of the anger was due to commenters' feelings of resentment and jealousy. Nice bit of armchair psychology there, always wheeled out by people when they're clutching at straws. No doubt some people are, but maybe the majority actually *are* riled at the blatant nepotism that's going on here.

In a way though I feel a little bit sorry for Gogarty's son - if he's as naive as I suspect he is I doubt he was expecting the level of opprobrium directed his way. But it'll also be an important lesson for him: not everyone is going to genuflect because of who his father is.

I really must get hold of a copy of 'Flat Earth News'.

Anton Vowl said...

I guess Rusbridger has painted himself into a corner by employing his own daughter as someone with a good few more bylines than the average workie, albeit under a different surname to try and disguise how she got the gig.

It was a lovely dam-burst of hatred from the commenters. Everyone had something to be angry about - the nepotism, the annoying berk on a gap year, the rubbishness of the copy.

For me, though, it was the fact that newspapers are constantly cutting back on resources for news about things, while there seems to be an unlimited supply of charmless, dull and often illiterate columnists employed to try and tap into some non-existent 'street cred'. He's worked on Skins, therefore that's great! Er no, it isn't actually.

septicisle said...

I sort of feel sorry for the poor sod, but the whole thing could have been avoided if the Guardian had, horror of horrors, actually employed someone who could write without sounding like the atypical Shoreditch twat, instead of relying on the son of a PR berk. There are plenty of young bloggers out there they could have used, but that would have involved a bit of effort.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

I sort of feel sorry for Max, but don't at the same time. It can't be nice to get such harsh criticism a public fashion. Most of the response wasn't even his fault, it was the Graun staff for blaming it on everyone else and slagging off their own readers.

Still, that so many people in the meeja were prepared to defend Max shows that it won't hurt him too much in the long run. One of Emily Bell's suggestions was even to say that his piece should have been published in an area on the site that doesn't allow comments rather than not at all.

He'll still end up with more opportunity and access to the media than most people, even if he has to use a pseudonym for a while to take advantage of it. And with the story successfully spun into being about cyberbullying rather than his poor first effort, he might even get away with not using one.