The Hull Daily Mail’s article accusing a hyperlocal competitor of having a ‘porn business’ has been misfiring spectacularly over the past 24 hours.
The article ‘reveals’ that the founder of HU17.net has designed sites for the porn industry.
At the time of writing it has over 300 comments overwhelmingly critical of what is variously described as a “smear campaign”, “set up” and “character assassination” by HDM.
Some point to the hypocrisy of the attack from a newspaper which recently launched a campaign to back local businesses, while others point out that the newspaper has previously published glowing articles about a local sex shop.
A distinction is also drawn by some commenters between operating a ‘porn business’ and building websites for companies who then use them to publish porn. (I wonder if they’ve investigated their own printers to see if they are running a ‘porn business’?)
And many, of course, point out that the newspaper itself is happy to provide a platform for sex industry advertising in its own pages.
A commenter on Hold The Front Page remarks:
“Maybe some proper journalist should ring up the ad booking services at all Northcliffe titles and ask to place ad for personal services. Perhaps ask those who take the calls if they beleive that some of the girls who advertise are working girls. Ask for some anecdotal tales of girls canceling their adverts one week in 4 … I beleive there might be a story there worthy of a DPS in the the Mail on Sunday !”
That comment is particularly salient when reading the Hull Daily Mail’s justification for running the story:
“What Mr Smith has done is not illegal, but it is certainly not consistent with publishing a responsible local website carrying reports, pictures and videos of community events and activities, many featuring children. It is in the public interest that people know the truth about the man behind HU17.net”
Replace ‘Mr Smith’ with ‘the Hull Daily Mail’ and you get an idea where the backlash is coming from.
The comments spill over onto a response on HU17.net itself, which the publicity has clearly brought to a wider audience locally.
One comment suggests that ads for escort adverts are being removed from the Hull Daily Mail website as they are being highlighed in the comments – certainly there are a lot of dead links, which seems odd given that the Classifieds have a whole section devoted to ‘Escort Agencies’ (image above).
Whatever you feel about the story, the comments across both sites provide a real insight into how people perceive their local paper and the attempts of hyperlocal publishers to run a business and serve a specific community.
More coverage at Journalism.co.uk and The Register. And Journopig’s post pulls out some of the unnecessary and unsupported paedophile-innuendo running through the story.
UPDATE: Hull Daily Mail editor defends the story.