The sponsor of the News Shopper’s letters page has distanced itself from the winner of the paper’s “star letter”, which brands homosexuality “perverted”.
Webster’s Pen Shop acknowleged the letter had “caused offence to readers”, but said the family-run firm had “no influence” on the newspaper’s choice of letter.
It said in a statement: “Webster’s Pen Shop would like to reiterate that the views expressed in this weeks News shopper does not reflect the opinions of Webster’s Pen Shop or its staff.”
When asked if the company would be reviewing its relationship with the newspaper, managing director Andrew Webster declined to comment.
The letter, published in editions delievered to homes in Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs, said the newspaper was “promoting perversity” by highlighting a local hospital being mentioned on a website as a place where gay men could meet for sex. A pen from Webster’s, which has branches across the south London suburbs and in Brighton, is to be given to the writer of the letter, which was signed Mrs S Fitzsimons of Lewisham.
The Orpington-based company was unaware of the letter’s contents until it began to receive calls about the issue on Thursday.
The News Shopper has both defended its story and attacked its critics. Web manager Simon Bull used Twitter to say on the paper’s behalf: “Well, the letter in the Greenwich edition this week seems to have hit the spot for getting lots of attention and sparking a strong reaction. Just because a letter wins the pen, it’s in no way an endorsement from us of the author’s views.
“In fact, it’s surprising so many people are having a go at us about it instead of responding to the author and what she thinks.”
Bull’s comments – posted two hours before he linked to any stories from the paper’s website – only served to increase criticism of the newspaper, with even a California-based Twitter account, NewsWorldToday, spreading the story. Greenwich Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher called the letter “bigoted” and said it was “very poor judgement”.
The Eltham North representative added: “And [it’s] a big mistake to crow it’s ‘hit the spot’ in sparking disgust.”
The newspaper, based in Petts Wood and part of the Newsquest media group, directed people to its web forum to debate the letter’s contents. By 1.45pm on Friday, nobody had used the newspaper’s forum to comment on the letter.
Phew. I know the News Shopper does have a reputation for reacting really badly to criticism – take a look at the bizarre comments thread tagged onto this odd little story about a patch of blood being found outside their offices. But I’m amazed at the spite in its reaction. Twitter has got a high proportion of journalists and other media types using it. Many of those people criticising the News Shopper were journalists who live in its circulation area. Wouldn’t it be wiser to engage with its critics, instead of going on the attack?