tip off

Scoop swiping back as Sydney tabs rumble over Alan Jones

News Limited and Fairfax are at war over stolen Sunday newspaper scoops. But the practice is hardly new, in both camps.

Sydney’s Sunday newspaper wars — thought to have dwindled after The Sun-Herald effectively vacated the space by posting a record 19% circulation drop — are back raging, this time over the sordid Alan Jones scoop saga.

As Crikey reported yesterday, a swingeing legal letter sent to Fairfax by eagles acting for outgoing Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen accused his rivals of swiping his Jones exclusive, and also detailed a litany of past instances where The Sun-Herald nicked his copy without attribution.

Breen’s beaks cited the lifting of an exclusive Sunday Tele photo from last year’s Queensland floods and, in the same January 16 2011 edition, another story on Matthew Newton that included quotes from a rare interview with Tele gossip queen Ros Reines (alongside an hilarious pic of the booze-addled actor jogging).

Late-night swipes have a long history — they usually arise where a rival obtains the first edition of a competitor masthead (often delivered to their office), combs through it for scoops and then cobbles together a quick and nasty spoiler for the second edition as the clock strikes midnight.

Wire services such as AAP often do the same thing, but the problem arises when the pick-up isn’t attributed with a crow-eating admission such as “according to the Sunday Telegraph”.

As former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie told Crikey last year, even in the age of the internet when exclusives rarely last 10 minutes, “the only way to do a pick up like that ethically is to match the story but credit the organisation”, perhaps using the proprietor’s name (Fairfax, News Limted) rather than the newspaper’s title to soften the blow.

In Sydney, this isn’t helped by The Sunday Tele’s early publication time — the paper can be snaffled as early as 7pm on Saturday in the Sydney CBD (compared to 9pm for The Sun-Herald) and by 11pm the first edition is usually for sale 800 kilometres away in Melbourne where Crikey sometimes picks it up from 7-Eleven.

The dubious tactic’s most virulent exponent was disgraced UK Sun editrix Rebekah Brooks who, during her stint at News of the World in the mid-1990s, famously dressed as a cleaner and hid in the toilets on Piers Morgan’s instructions to snaffle an early edition of the Sunday Times, which was carrying exclusive extracts from Jonathan Dimbleby’s biography of Prince Charles.

And closer to home, The Age and the Herald Sun went toe-to-toe last year after a Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker splash on the Office of Police Integrity’s bugging of former deputy police commissioner Sir Ken Jones’ phone was re-run — without attribution — in the second edition of the Herald Sun.

Then-Age editor Paul Ramadge wrote to his Herald & Weekly Times counterpart Phil Gardner to complain about “plagiarism”, branding it “one of the worst examples of a story being lifted, without attribution, by a competitor newspaper”.

The Hez did not credit the source, although editor Simon Pristel later argued the paper was able to “wake up” police powerbrokers to verify the story individually with its own sources.

At the time, The Age also alleged its higher-selling but physically smaller competitor had lifted photos from a 2010 riot outside an Oakleigh Bob Jane store.

But sometimes a preserved scoop can bring the sweetest revenge. After Antony Catalano defected to The Age from The Sun in 1990, he delivered copies of the screaming exclusive breaking a new element of the “Mr Cruel” case the next day to his former colleagues.

Newly appointed Sun-Herald editor Kate Cox has not responded to Crikey’s request to comment on the spat.

6
  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Dog - eat dog”

  • 2
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Breen’s beaks cited the lifting of an exclusive Sunday Tele photo from last year’s Queensland floods…”. I think someone has commented about this particular use of the expression “beaks” before. The writer appears to be using it as a catch-all for lawyers or solicitors or whatever. The dictionary refers to “a magistrate or schoolmaster”. Certainly in popular TV (especially English) magistrates are referred to as beaks. Are any magistrates involved with this tabloid argy-bargy?

  • 3
    Michael O'Brien
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Agree with previous comment re incorrect usage of beak to mean lawyer. Certainly PG Wodehouse used the term beak to refer to a judge or magistrate.

  • 4
    Andrew Crook
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Yeah, probably more a judge. Although the 3RRR show Lawyers Guns and Money had a great segment called ‘beak of the week’, and the guests were never just magistrates or judges, as this helpful blog post explains. http://lawyerslawyer.net/2007/12/10/why-you-neednt-call-a-solicitor-an-australian-legal-practitioner/

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I think I first came across it with Rumpole (or his lag clients) using it to refer to them - when speaking of “judges” (though not within their earshot)?

  • 6
    Edward James
    Posted Saturday, 6 October 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    The beak sits on the bench Edward james

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