The “Aberystwyth” edition of the Cambrian News had two really good stories on the front page of 21 April 2016.
One tells of how a customer in Starbucks was told to “Speak English Or Get Out”. And look, there’s a beautiful “opera star” involved!
That story has everything, and yet there’s more!
The main story has the headline “Woman ‘Put Hand Down 15-Year Old’s Trousers'”
And there’s a picture of a pretty lady here too!
It’s hard to think how that front page could be bettered!
Only, maybe, by it not all being complete bollocks.
Firstly, the pretty “Opera Star” & the horrible Starbucks.
That story is brilliant.
It has something for everyone.
Vague anti-Americanism is popular in Aberystwyth.
Who can forget the half-hearted “Stop Starbucks” campaign (from people with Apple phones).
There is also a feeling that locally-owned shops shouldn’t be pushed out by big multi-nationals.
And finally, there’s the Welsh language industry.
Now, I’m not the most supportive of the Welsh language movement.
I wonder if we put as much effort into the economy as the language, then we wouldn’t be so reliant on the public sector.
But even I think that saying “Speak English Or Get Out!” is wrong.
If something’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t, and this story falls apart on the gentlest reading.
A quick read shows “Ceredigion-born Welsh classical soprano Gwawr Edwards took to Twitter to complain after she overheard a staff member at Starbucks at the top of Great Darkgate Street berating a fellow customer for ordering coffee in Welsh.”
Ah, she was a witness, not the victim.
Rare to have a witness photo on the front page, and on the article too, but she’s a lovely-looking lady and editors love having plenty of those in the paper.
Ms Edwards was reportedly “shocked”, and “Welsh Language Campaigners” found the comments “insulting”.
To be fair, everyone finds it shocking.
They could have said “Even Aberfoodblog, which doesn’t give a toss about the Welsh language, thought this was bang out of order.”
The story was a huge success.
It was Tweeted and Facebooked by gullible fools on social media, who wanted to believe it so much they didn’t consider it might not be true.
Starbucks were contacted, and were “looking into it”.
This reads like a mealy-mouthed fob-off, but it’s not unreasonable.
They had only just heard about it, and needed to investigate.
But what of the lovely Gwawr?
I emailed her asking whether the Cambrian News’ story was accurate, and here is her reply in full:
Hi, I have said from the beginning that this happened but that I wasn't there my self. The Cambrian News twisted this story to say that I 'over heard' this and printed a story as if I went to them to print it. I never went to any news paper, only stated my opinion on this matter on social media and the Cambrian News took it upon them selves to print a story on it! The person it happened to never came forward as they probably don't want their name in the papers over it! Thanks Gwawr
(We had a similar chat on Twitter too.)
Not only was Gwawr not the victim, she didn’t actually hear it said.
She doesn’t even know who the victim is.
Somebody told her something, she Tweeted it, and the Cambrian News put it on the front page as if it were the gospel truth from Our Lord.
It took me about half an hour of not-at-all relentless questioning to show this story is rubbish.
Unlike Cambrian News staff, I am not a professional journalist.
Why didn’t they check with Gwawr?
Gwawr who happens to have a new album out, I note, in doubtless unconnected news.
Sure enough, the following week a very different story appeared tucked away inside on page 3.
“Welsh language row in coffee shop didn’t happen, investigation finds” doesn’t have the same punch, does it?
This wasn’t shared very much, Welsh Language Campaigners didn’t say “Yeah, it did sound unlikely” and no one has felt smug or outraged about anything.
Many people will still believe this happened, but do the Cambrian News care?
I wrote to them pointing out all of the stuff above, and they weren’t bothered, the editor believing contacting Starbucks was quite enough.
She didn’t explain why they hadn’t spoken to Gwawr, the only person who thought the incident had happened.
Pretty poor, isn’t it?
Vicky Howells had been found Not Guilty before the paper hit the streets on Wednesday morning.
Yet there she was, all over the front page of her local paper for something she hadn’t done.
When the paper reported her Not Guilty the following week, it was a quarter of one column on Page 3.
I wonder if 5% of people who saw the original, front-page-with-pix article ever learned she was innocent?
Having found I had a knack for this journalism lark (certainly more than the journalists on that week’s Cambrian), I contacted Vicky.
I expected her to be annoyed by the difference in prominence of her accusations and verdict, but it was worse.
As the mother of two teenage girls in local High Schools, she was upset at how the story had caused them to be bullied.
If the false allegations hadn’t been splashed over the front of the paper, the girls lives wouldn’t have been made hell.
The Cambrian News is very quick to jump on any local councillor who misses a meeting, or the minutiae of Health Board proceedings.
Yet they’ll destroy someone’s reputation based on allegations, rather than waiting for facts.
When I put the concerns in this article to them, they couldn’t care less.
They publish pretty much every letter I write them, but couldn’t be brave enough to carry one about where they had fallen short..
They have not apologised to Vicky Howells, or even spoken to her.
They didn’t speak to Gwawr Edwards, just copy & pasted her Tweet.
As a regular reader, it is disappointing to realise The Cambrian News sets very high standards for everyone else, but is happy to accept the lowest standards of behaviour for itself.
PS At the time of posting this, it’s “Local Newspaper Week” and the Cambrian News is boasting of how important it is in holding others to account.
Its own standards seem of little interest.