The Mail – Right to Reply

In the last issue of Amber Nectar, Andy Dalton pointed an accusatory finger at the Hull Daily Mail over its coverage of Hull City AFC. The Mail’s Editor John Meehan was none too pleased and sent us this response…

“Instead of building for the future, the club is in chaos. However, it (the Boothferry Park lockout) is resolved, that the situation was allowed to develop this far raises serious questions about the suitability for office of the current board.”
Hull Daily Mail Comment, June 22nd 2000.

“The manager’s hands are tied. He can improve the motivation, training and tactics, but he cannot recruit the players required to transform a mediocre team into a successful one. It all seems so illogical. Why employ a top-line manager and then not give him the tools to do the job? The City board have to provide their manager with the necessary support before he and the fans lose heart”
Hull Daily Mail Comment, August 3rd 2000

Hardly evidence of a newspaper running “a propaganda job for Buchanan and Hinchliffe”, as Andy Dalton contends.

But perhaps Andy Dalton doesn’t read the Mail all that often. That really can be the only explanation for his thoroughly misinformed article in Amber Nectar. Before I go any further I’d like to make clear that that I don’t mind criticism of the Mail, or of me personally. In fact, I expect it and a great deal of the criticism we receive is constructive and helpful

I also don’t mind in the least a bit of fun being poked at us. The Dull Daily Mail feature in the same edition of Amber Nectar was standard fanzine fare and even mildly amusing in parts (although I’m not sure John Fieldhouse takes kindly to his new byline). But Mr Dalton’s piece was something else. It seemed to me a classic case of “shoot the messenger”.

The author is clearly far from happy with the club’s owners, but chooses to take it out on us. The starting point for his rant against the Mail seems to be our coverage of the Boothferry Park lockout caused by the dispute between the board and landlord David Lloyd about unpaid rent.
Now, I’m not going to claim that everything we do is perfect, nor was it on this occasion. The fact was that John Fieldhouse was, unfortunately, on holiday when the story broke (he deserves some time off like everybody else) and, at the time, the sports desk was somewhat lacking in leadership (an issue since resolved).

But to claim, as Mr Dalton does, that we ran just a “single, tiny, rushed piece” about it is simply nonsense. Far from “blatant disregard” for the story, we led our front-page on it on the day of the lockout, followed by dozens of stories in the following weeks. Certainly our coverage was in much greater depth and sustained for longer than any other media. And, although I agree that Sky Sports provide an excellent service for sports fans, you can’t rely on them for a thorough report from an away trip to Torquay or Hartlepool.

It seems that Mr Dalton won’t be happy until the pages of the Mail are filled entirely with news from Boothferry Park. I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t going to happen.

He talks about us “gushing interminably about the most ridiculous, uninteresting local news”, forgetting, it seems, that we are, after all, a NEWSpaper. It’s our job to report local news. It may be boring to Mr Dalton, but it is interesting enough to be read by 201,000 people in this area every day.

I’m also sorry, Mr Dalton, that you have to put up with us writing about rugby league and speedway. We do so because a significant proportion of our readership is interested in these sports and expect us to keep them informed about them. And, by the way, although I accept that the potential support of the football club is greater than the two senior rugby clubs, the combined attendance at Hull FC and Hull KR is often greater than at Boothferry Park.

The fanciful conspiracy theory simply doesn’t hold water, either. Even if you set aside the Comment pieces I referred to at the beginning of this article, I fail to see how any reasonable person could believe we have an agenda which protects the City board. There is no such agenda we simply strive to report accurately, within the limits of the law, events at and surrounding the club.

Mr Dalton refers to the current trial involving Stephen Hinchliffe and our failure to report it. This is simply because there is a legal ruling banning any media from reporting the case or even mentioning that it is in progress (in fact, I probably shouldn’t mention it even here). The case is expected to last for at least six months. Please be assured that, at its conclusion, it will be reported fully in the Mail, providing further restrictions are not imposed. He also asks why anti-Board letters are “never” published. Again, I can only presume Mr Dalton rarely reads the Mail or Sportsmail because they certainly are, as long as they are legally safe to publish.

The latter point should not be missed. I have a responsibility to ensure that what we publish does not contravene the many laws which apply to newspapers, in particular the libel laws. There is a great deal of information we receive that we simply cannot print. Understandably, fanzines are far less careful for instance, I noticed a letter in Amber Nectar referring to Mr Hinchliffe that would have given me a heart attack were it published in the Mail. Come to think of it, referring to the Mail (and presumably me) as incompetent, arrogant and smug is probably actionable, but I’ll let that pass.

Amid all Mr Dalton’s misinformed so-called facts, I was most concerned by his claim that we deliberately misquote or misrepresent fans’ comments. All I can say is that, if any Amber Nectar reader can provide real evidence of this, I will investigate it thoroughly. We don’t get everything right but we try very hard to do so and we certainly never deliberately misquote or misrepresent anybody.

As a football supporter myself I understand entirely the frustration of Mr Dalton and other fans at their club’s plight. I too long for the day when Hull City enjoy stability off the field and success on it. I too share the supporters’ concern over the running of the club and their alarm at the FA and police investigations.

There is only so much that the Hull Daily Mail can do to influence what happens at Boothferry Park, but I can assure Hull City supporters that we will continue to strive to keep them fully informed about events on and off the field.

Finally, Mr Dalton, I have some advice from a professional journalist to an amateur: I don’t know what it is, but please don’t give up the day job.