30 Sep 2022

Media Network: Four health editors, a political veteran, an investigative superstar and the producer who clinched the Prince Andrew scoop

Welcome to the MHP Mischief Media Network bulletin. Our unrivalled team of former journalists and media experts bring you the latest insights behind the headlines.


Come to us with a campaign idea: “If there’s an opendoor then kick it down.”

By Jaber Mohamed, former Department of Health Chief Press Officer and Abi Smith

This week, MHP Mischief brought together some of the nation’s top health editors. We heard from Shaun Lintern of the Sunday Times, Nick McDermott of The Sun, Laura Donnelly of The Telegraph and Victoria Macdonald of Channel 4.

Here are some highlights:

Nick: “If you have a story, make sure it is relatable. Statistics and numbers don’t work because people don’t think like that, a story needs to be about people.

“If you email me, just be really clear about what the story is and please get my name right. I keep getting emails saying: ‘Hello Helen’, I don’t know who Helen is but she’s getting sent some terrible stories.

“Also, a word on campaigns. If there’s something you know can happen, if you’re at a tipping point in getting government to do something then get in touch. Newspapers want campaigns they can win, if there’s an open door then kick it down.”

Laura: “Be opportunistic about stories, often it’s all about the timing. The best organisations to deal with are the ones that know what is coming up, they are the ones I will take notice of.

“Relationships are critical. Just send me one usable story and we can take it from there. Coffees aren’t always the best way to interact because it often ends up with a circular conversation of me saying what I want and the contact not having it. It’s always best to start with a good story.

“An ideal press release would look like a news story. Also, I want a print embargo, it helps me clear time to write exclusive stories and meet people.”

Shaun: “When pitching a story think be aware who you are pitching to. In journalism our work is literally out there, everyone can see what we produce.

“I am often the contrarian, I will go in a different direction. Think about our readership, we are a subscriber-based model we want exclusive stories not an all-rounder press release.

“At the Sunday Times we want constructive news stories, not PR puff pieces. Our readers are not shy of complexity, they are not averse to subtleties.

“The best way to contact me is by email but I don’t want 1,000 words. I don’t necessarily want a finished story and definitely not a press release.”

Victoria: “Unlike the others I only do one story a day and I do have the freedom to pursue stories I’m interested in.

“When pitching to me it’s important to think about timings, a story embargoed for newspapers isn’t going to work for me because it will be nine hours old by the time we broadcast.

“Remember we are broadcast, stories that work for Channel 4 News are ones that can also work on YouTube and TikTok.

“And for television it’s about being articulate. It’s amazing how many brilliant minds are out there who can’t get their message across.”

For further insights from the MHP Mischief Health media panel contact [email protected]

Starmer is the bookies favourite, and I’ve never met a poor bookmaker

By Yasmeen Sebbana former Head of Private Office to Keir Starmer

The MHP Public Affairs team hosted a dinner with Daily Mirror Associate Editor Kevin Maguire at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool this week.

He offered the following fascinating insights

  • The chaos and radicalism of the government’s economic policy (and how poorly it has been received) has left an open goal for the Labour Party
  • But Labour leader Keir Starmer still needs to tread carefully. He and his team worry about being seen as misogynistic if he goes for Liz Truss in the same way as he went for Boris Johnson
  • One way to tackle that is to make it less about him. Starmer is happy for others like Rachel Reeves, Wes Streeting and Angela Rayner get profile if it furthers the Labour cause
  • Another win was party discipline. Everyone sang the National Anthem at the start of the conference and there was no shadow cabinet briefing against the leader
  • Starmer knows there is more work to do. He needs to do more than just respond to the chaos caused by the Tories, he must present a bold Labour vision to voters
  • That said, next week’s Conservative Party conference is a key moment for the Tories and Labour, especially if the Truss leadership continues to unravel
  • Maguire isn’t making any predictions, but he notes Labour are now the bookies’ favourite to win the next election, and he’s never met a poor bookmaker!

Wirecard’s big PR effort was to question the integrity of the Financial Times

This week MHP Mischief’s Pete Lambie hosted a Q&A with Financial Times reporter Dan McCrum, about his investigation into the €1.9bn fraud at Wirecard

Dan McCrum is the Financial Times reporter whose dogged investigation into a €1.9bn fraud at Wirecard brought down the German payments company.

Speaking at MHP Capital Markets event he explained how his reporting unearthed Wirecard’s links to organised crime, the Russian government and even a divorce lawyer making YouTube videos.

He also offered a little PR advice too.

‘After a few stories exposing corruption, had Wirecard come clean and said they were going to clean house, we would have probably declared victory,’ said McCrum.

‘But they didn’t. They said the FT is incorrect. That it had turned its pages over to rogue reporters who were running around trying to manipulate the share price.’

McCrum’s PR advice is not to do that. It forced the FT to fight.

‘That made it impossible for the FT to walk away. They called into question the FT’s reputation which is quite valuable,’ he said.

The investigation went from reporting on a shoestring to money is no object, as the FT battled to prove it was right.

And right the paper was, with McCrum and colleagues on the paper bringing down a company he admits he initially thought was just ‘a bit fraudy’.

McCrum told how he found himself the target of the UK’s biggest ever private security investigation, developed a habit of checking his garden hedge for spy cameras, and even started standing away from Tube platform edges for fear of having an accident.

There’s no news like bad news

By Pete Lambie and Hugo Harris

Never underestimate your interviewer, says the producer who clinched the Prince Andrew scoop

By Ellie McGarahan

Ex-Newsnight producer Sam McAlister – the one who clinched that Prince Andrew “interview of the century” – shares her top tips for interviewees.

  • Be prepared for the killer question – broadcast journalism is all about generating its own news stories to get the nation (and world) talking. Keep this front of mind when preparing for your interview to avoid being caught out and being made tomorrow’s headline.
  • Humility goes a long way – nobody thinks they are going to do a bad interview, and interviewees are often uncomfortable to be seen by viewers on a human level. This was the Duke of York’s fatal flaw: given countless opportunities by Maitlis to do so, he refused to go anywhere near an apology. Where necessary, take accountability and own the issue at the first opportunity.
  • Don’t get spooked by the cameras – time and time again, interviewees fall flat as soon as the cameras roll. Though easier said than done, practicing on camera beforehand will reduce the chances of any preparation instantly going out the window.
  • Never underestimate your interviewer – just because you’ve agreed to answer questions doesn’t mean you are automatically on the front foot. Prince Andrew overestimated his capabilities and gravely underestimated Maitlis’s prowess as the best of broadcasters.

McAlister also suggested that the Queen’s funeral may be the last we will see of Prince Andrew for a while. Where he was once the monarch’s favourite, King Charles plans to take a very different approach.

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