Why I Won't Be Renewing My Subscription to The Times

I was involved in a very minor spat on Twitter last week. On the day Forest and the Hands Off Our Packs campaign delivered 53,000 letters to Downing Street opposing plain packaging of tobacco, journalist Pat Long tweeted: 

A Guardian journalist, perhaps? A writer for the New Statesman or BMJ? Not a bit of it. One glance at his Twitter profile revealed all and Forest responded accordingly:

Long then retweeted a five day old Hands Off Our Packs tweet, prefacing it with his own partisan comment:

Again, Forest replied in kind:

Within minutes another News UK journalist added her tuppence worth:

Meanwhile Long wasn't finished. His next tweet read:

He followed this with:

At which point a third News UK journalist, who describes herself as an "Award winning journalist (currently on Times sports desk)", tweeted:

Ha ha, very droll.

I now tweeted:

And there it ended. A typical Twitter squall, over in a matter of minutes. Or so I thought.

The following day however Long was back, sounding slightly querulous:

Odd? Not really, Pat. Let me spell it out for you.

I have no problem with anyone having opinions, personal or professional. If they're newspaper columnists or leader writers they're paid to have opinions, which I respect.

But you're not a columnist or leader writer. You're 'Head of News Development' (whatever that is) so I expect a degree of impartiality on issues like this.

You accuse Forest of being "corporate stooges" which implies we're only doing this for the money and we only do what big business tells us to do.

You don't know me or anyone else who works for Forest or what our personal beliefs are.

Nor, unless you are telepathic, do you have the faintest idea what our relationship is with the tobacco companies, apart from the fact that they support Forest with donations.

You and your colleagues work for and are therefore paid by News UK (formally News International), a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corp, one of the largest media companies in the world.

Does that make you a "corporate stooge"? Unlike you I wouldn't dream of making an accusation like that without knowing the facts.

As it happens I'm quite a fan of Rupert Murdoch so you won't find me criticising him or the corporation he owns.

But I do find it strange that with News UK's recent history (yes, I'm talking about phone hacking and the News of the World) you have the cheek to adopt a morally superior position to Forest and the tobacco companies.

Accusing us of being "a tool for big business ruining lives" is pretty rich, don't you think, given some of the allegations against the NOTW and News International.

If you were a columnist paid to provoke a response I would understand it. As 'Head of News Development' you should be above cheap shots.

Last week Forest delivered a message to government from over 150,000 people. That doesn't happen every day.

Instead of making snide comments on social media perhaps your newspapers should have reported that news.

So, Pat, the reason I'm not renewing my subscription to the online Times and Sunday Times when it comes up for renewal this month is simple.

I have no wish to subscribe to newspapers whose 'Head of News Development' is so prejudiced and, frankly, juvenile.

In case you're wondering, cancelling my subscription won't stop me doing my job – which includes monitoring the media for tobacco and nicotine-related stories – because Forest gets all the relevant cuttings from an agency.

I'll still read what I have to read but in future I'll get my general news from other sources – the Mail, Telegraph, Financial Times, even the Guardian.

PS. Just discovered via LinkedIn that Pat was assistant editor of NME from 2002-2008.

In 2012, to mark its 60th birthday, the Guardian asked whether its influence in the music world had waned. It includes this damning appraisal of the music weekly during that period:

"It's a pretty good magazine at the moment," says Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade – a label whose successes, including the Smiths, the Strokes and the Libertines, have been closely identified with the NME.

But there is also a sense that it lost its way under the editorship of [Krissi] Murison's predecessor, Conor McNicholas (2002-2009), during which time it entered a spiral from which some fear it will never recover.

"I do think Conor's editorship seemed to be more about brand sponsorship and selling things that weren't to do with music in a way that probably harmed the integrity of the magazine," Travis says.

"There was too much focus on expanding into some kind of empire while their core thing was being challenged," says Ollie Jacob, co-founder of the Memphis Industries label. "Their core thing should be good writing and finding new bands."

No further comment, m'lud.

Simon Clark is Director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest)


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