‘My year ripping off the web for the Daily Mail’, by ex-employee
5th March 2015
A man who claims to be a former Daily Mail employee has written a scathing piece for Gawker about working for its New York digital word factory, My year ripping off the web with the Daily Mail Online.
James King writes: “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.” (See Mail’s response disputing this here).
I cannot verify his identity. However, his description of life working for the Mail’s online division accords with accounts given to me by other staff, and former staff, over the past couple of years.
It appears that King was a soldier in what a veteran Daily Mail writer likes to call “Martin Clarke’s terracotta army”. Clarke is the publisher of Mail Online in Britain and its US outfit, DailyMail.com.
King, who says he worked in the Mail’s New York newsroom from May 2013 until July 2014 as one of its “news writers”, writes:
“In a little more than a year of working in the Mail’s New York newsroom, I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale.
I watched editors at the most highly trafficked English-language online newspaper in the world publish information they knew to be inaccurate”.
He describes a production process in which writers were assigned “stories” taken from other publications “and essentially told to rewrite them” with clickbait headlines. Links and/or attribution to the original were placed “three or four paragraphs in”.
As a contracted freelance, King says he did not usually have a byline over his rewrites. Instead, they appeared under “the anonymous veil of the ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ byline”.
But on six occasions his name was attached to a story. Here’s one example: Private school teen ‘enlisted gang member friends to help beat and kill his father before emptying his bank account and going on a 2-day shopping spree’.
“That’s not the headline I wrote” King writes, claiming that “an editor had dreamed it up after I’d gone home for the day”. He adds:
“It would have been a fine headline — if it had been true. For one thing, the teen had not yet been convicted, despite the certainty of the headline. But so it goes at the Mail, which has all but abandoned the word ‘allegedly’ in favour of putting quotation marks around a paraphrased description of the deed in question.
The phrase in quotation marks never even appeared in the story. The punctuation served merely as a distancing mechanism.
What’s more, the ‘private school teen’ was barely a teen — Matthew Nellessen was a 19-year-old adult — and, other than a three-month stint which resulted in expulsion, he didn’t go to private school.
The Mail says it changed my headline ‘to make it more descriptive’, and that ‘private school’ is appropriate descriptor because Nellessen once attended St. Viator High School — for less than three months, when he was 15”.
King alleges that he told his editors about the inaccuracy but “they kept the headline”.
He goes on to tell of being “summoned to the offices of the New York Post” in January last year for what was supposedly a job interview: “It didn’t take long for it to become humiliatingly clear that the Post wasn’t interested in hiring me. It was interested in mining for information about the Mail’s business model”.
The competition between the Post and the Mail led, says King, to the former serving a cease-and-desist order on the latter over an article it claimed to have been plagiarised from its website. The Mail evidently responded by removing the article without comment or apology.
King says he wasn’t oblivious to the Mail’s reputation before taking up the job. He knew of its “buccaneering approach to accuracy and intellectual property” but thought – illogically – that its “growing popularity” made it more credible.
Instead, he found that DailyMail.com was engaged in disguising plagiarism as aggregation and that it was guilty of inaccuracies.
He points, among others, to an article based on an anonymous source which suggested that pop singer Taylor Swift was a lesbian. After objections, it was “memory-holed”. When approached by Gawker, the Mail declined to provide a reason.
King’s decision to quit in July 2014 followed the publication by Mail Online of a bogus article about actor George Clooney prior to his marriage (see Guardian coverage of that incident here and here).
“It seemed beyond shameless, even by DailyMail.com standards”, writes King. “It was my breaking point… I wrote an email to management letting them know that I was done”. He concludes:
“DailyMail.com will likely write me off as a disgruntled ex-employee with an axe to grind. Fine. But the truth is I was paid a reasonable amount of money to do a relatively mindless job”.