Paul Sims, The Sun and the battle of the byline…
It must be hard to get a job on a national newspaper and then worry that you are not getting enough stories in to show the bosses…
Not so long ago former editor David Dinsmore was embarrassed when a freelancer kicked up a fuss about another Sun journalist cowboying her story and sticking her name on it. Then Mr Dinsmore put out a statement saying that from now on unless someone had actually added something to a story, their name would not appear on it.
There is now a new editor at The Sun but from this experience I would worry the same old problem seems to be occurring. That is Sun journalists fretting they are not bringing enough stories in – and desperate for a byline, putting their name on it instead.
After all, who cares – it’s just a freelancer whereas they are the big journo aren’t they with the staff job at The Sun! The reasoning goes something like this: The little freelancer won’t mind and if she does – tough – after all she will be too worried about complaining to such a big national newspaper and it will be her name on the cheque…
Trouble is – I do mind. I am the sort of journalist who does everything by the book (that’s why editors buy stories from me because they know I am trustworthy, copy will be checked, properly written, supplied on time and so on…) Problem is I expect others to work in the same transparent, honest and up front way as I do.
I also feel byline banditry is something that should be stamped out in our industry – the name of the person who wrote the story should always be on the copy – and I think it is good practice to out offenders.
Paul Sims was clearly worried when an interviewee who went directly to The Sun to sell a story suddenly got cold feet.
Luckily he managed to claw the story back when the interviewee told Mr Sims he’d come to Featureworld. Mr Sims was emailing and on the phone to me straightaway asking me not to send the story to another paper – but to come to him at The Sun.
I took Paul Sims at his word. He seemed a nice guy and actually I felt The Sun was a great place for this chap’s story to go. But as the interviewee did not want to speak with Mr Sims, it was left to me to do the interview, write the copy, sort the photos and supply the collects. All of this I did in good faith.
So you can imagine my shock when I saw not only had Paul Sims put his name on my copy but also ensured Featureworld wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the photos (which is illegal as they were supplied and are the property of the licensee which is Featureworld.)
Credit where it is due – once alerted the super efficient Sun Online team quickly changed the copyright notices on the photos and added my name to the copy.
The next day I asked Mr Sims for an explanation. He said: “For the record your name was on the story, as agreed. It was removed by the subs. I’m afraid I have no control over that.”
Ah yes, that old chestnut. Blame it on the mystery subs – the very people I generally find are sticklers for accuracy and checking facts.
Meanwhile his news editor, Ben O’Driscoll, rather than apologising, took exception to me calling Sims a byline bandit and butter fingers for allowing the story to slip away in the first place. But why be unpleasant to freelancer who provided a story in good faith and is treated like this? I simply believe in sticking up for fairness and good practice in this industry for all freelancers – it is the only way standards will continue to improve.
I do feel sorry for Paul Sims – you have to be pretty desperate to stick your name on someone else’s copy (in 30 years of journalism I have never ever done it.) There does appear to be a lot of pressure on staffers to bring stories in – I have no idea if byline counts are routine on papers but they might be. However, it’s still no excuse.
UPDATE: When I submitted my invoice for this story Mr Sims said he could not deal with it and it had to be sent to Ben O’Driscoll – the intimidating inference being that I might not get paid because I have complained. All I can say is it seems a bizarre way to treat any journalist.
I am an ethical journalist. What you see is what you get. I am proud to be a good, old fashioned, honest journalist promoting a higher standard of journalism.
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