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The gossip mill of the West End village…..

The West End, it’s always famously said, is a small village; and the villagers can’t help talking to each other. So it’s impossible to keep a lid on gossip doing the rounds, and that’s been accentuated in the age of Twitter, which is really just a channel for gossip to go viral.

Only the other day I wrote here about how quickly the news spread about the intended closure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and quoted Michael Coveney commenting how “the news pre-empted a producer’s announcement thanks to an actor’s tweeting and was gleefully seized upon by bloggers and tweeters who regard ‘joining the conversation’ as a substitute for checking facts and abiding by proper journalistic practice.”

Fast forward another weekend, and on Sunday I duly tweeted news that I’d heard of the show that was going to replace The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: the musical version of Lend Me a Tenor that has been hovering around since its Plymouth try-out last October looking for a theatre had apparently found a new berth at the Gielgud.

I must stress, of course, that when I tweet these things I never do so “blind”, but check out my sources first, just as any journalist would: for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg it was good enough for me that a cast member who had been told of the fate of his show alongside the rest of the company would be close enough to the source, and again on Lend Me a Tenor I was directed to the Facebook profiles of people connected to the show (which even gave dates for the intended transfer), before I tweeted it.

There is, nevertheless, a world of difference between a tweet - a casual passing on along the grapevine - and translating that into a hard news story. Perhaps there are no barriers anymore, but one news story published yesterday duly cited Twitter itself as its primary source. “Proper journalistic practice” might determine that one asks the producer or press agent instead; and I’ve done both. The producer duly told me that no formal announcement was possible until the final deposit on the theatre was paid, so its appearance now as a fully confirmed news story is pre-emptory.

Of course it’s impossible, nowadays, for a producer to keep a lid on things, when his own creative and production staff are understandably so happy celebrating their long-anticipated West End transfer that they are already sharing the news freely. (And in this case, I gather, too, that some re-casting has been necessary because various cast members now have other work, and breakdowns that have gone out to the agents have also been mentioning the theatre it is headed too).

But it’s also clear that, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, that news is being quickly assimilated, distributed and translated into hard fact; and by the time the press agent finally gets around to issuing a formal release, it is old news. So expect Twitter to be cited as a primary source a lot more, whatever “proper journalistic practice” may dictate.

13 Comments

I wonder if the story was supposed to have been under the 'gossip' part of the site(?) where it would, without collaboration/confirmation etc., seem to belong.

While I agree with the views expressed here, it's not as if what is being preached is being practised in this blog either. This blog is hardly a bastion of proper journalistic practice and also relies on rumour and speculation heavily, in some cases with scant regard for checking up on facts.

@Emma: You miss the point. This is a blog, *not* a news story. There's a difference. Blogs are based on opinions, and rumour/speculation are part of that.

I have no problems with the blog not being a news story and apprecaite that you try to verify what you tweet/blog. But you reallyhave a rose tinted view of villages.

I grew up in one.

There were huge interrelations - I still couln't tell you how I was related to half the people I was supposed to call auntie because we were related (as against auntie becuase she was an adult).

There were also huge rivalries some permanent, some temporary. Most of the time half the villlage wasn't talking to the other half and no-one would have hesitated to blacken the name of their temporary or permanent enemy. Lies were, without doubt, told.

Admittedly when there was a real tragedy - and there were several while I was growing up - three fathers being killed in a nasty car accident, all the children between 10 and 13 (me included) on the school bus ( provided by the village bus comapny and driven by a local man we all knew) being involved in a head on crash on a steep country hill which wrote off the bus and injured many of us - the village dropped all its emnities.

As a child certainly you would always go to someone from the village rather than anyone else - including the police and authorities. But most of the time you walked on eggs, in case the grown ups weren't speaking!

To Lucy Anderson-Jones:

You write, "There were also huge rivalries some permanent, some temporary".

Sounds just like the West End, then!

Emma, Rumour and speculation are part of this blog but Mark's purposes are always fair and honest so they form a valuable component of Shenton's View.

You can't always have the cold, hard truth on your side. For instance my instinct is that, in view of your post,you are rather humourless and boring but that is just speculation.
I have not met you but I feel confident saying that on the evidence of your post. It is not the truth to say you are dull but informed speculation that I feel confident making.
Best of good wishes,
Quartermaine

Er.. Lucy.. What on earth are you on about?! Random.

@Quartermaine: “Mark's purposes are always fair and honest”. He’s good at giving that impression, but I’ll have to disagree with you. I run Whatsonstage.com, which of course is the website Mark refers to in this piece and which he’s had a bash at, implicitly and explicitly, many times in his blog.

I’ve already addressed Mark’s comments on discrepancies between Michael Coveney’s comments and Whatsonstage.com’s own use of Twitter in a blog, which you can read here.

To address his points more specifically about our story on Lend Me a Tenor on Monday: We have been tipped off many times about it going into the Gielgud, including emails directly to us before and since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg announced its closure. Over the weekend, there were additional reports on this on Twitter. Contracted cast members also published notices of the venue and date confirmation on their Facebook pages, which we checked. And I emailed the producer of the show.

Also, while the piece, which I wrote, is in the news section, the wording is very specific. “Following the early closure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg next month, another new musical is preparing to move into Shaftesbury Avenue’s Gielgud Theatre. The musical adaptation of Ken Ludwig’s play Lend Me a Tenor, which had a try-out last September at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and was nominated for Best Regional Production in the Whatsonstage.com Awards, is due to receive its West End premiere there on 15 June 2011 (previews from 2 June), according to reports on Twitter.”

My piece does not report who will star in the West End, though much further down, I do say, “In Plymouth, where the musical ran from 24 September to 6 October 2010, the 27-strong cast was led by Matthew Kelly (as Saunders, the general manager of the opera company), Michael Matus (Tito), Sally Ann Triplett (Tito’s wife Maria) and Damian Humbley (Max).”

Even with all that, if and when I get something wrong, I’m easy to approach – every PR and producer in the West End knows how to get in touch with us as we’re all in regular contact, so I’m hardly unaccountable.

Look, we are a very small editorial team churning through an awful lot of content and trying to get it up as quickly as possible – pressures for more and more content that have grown while timescales have shrunk immensely thanks to social media, which, as Mark himself points out, is changing the whole nature of the media game. We make case-by-case judgements. Sometimes we may get them wrong, but more often than not I think my team and I do a pretty good job. With Lend Me a Tenor, should it not open at the Gielgud, we’ll report that too.

So just going back to Mark Shenton’s “fair and honest” journalistic practice … the reason he no longer refers to Whatsonstage.com by name is because we have complained to The Stage many times about prejudices and inaccuracies that he’s written about us and we threatened legal action when, amongst other things, he published incorrect information about our ownership structure, accused us of editorial corruption and rigging our audience-voted Whatsonstage.com Awards. None of which is true, and none of which he ever bothered to check with me or any other Whatsonstage.com spokesperson. Receiving lectures from this source on integrity, editorial or otherwise, is a bit rich.

Terri, ironically a major reason for why I first got into what's on stage is Mark Shenton. In the first half of last decade,Mark worked like a galley slave for the site supplying fizzy features and breaking exclusives and I suspect his industriousness for the site did not make him a millionaire. Are you not all grateful for his efforts?

I like Wos but you must realize that Michael coveney is not immune from the things you accuse Mark of! Take his reporting last week that Peter T has shut up shop and called it quits. Not true apparently but I did not think less of Michael as a result. Inaccuracy is sadly a by-product of modern-day reporting- paradoxically technology has made everyone a wire service reporter. With an increase in supply, comes an increase in truth- and untruth. C'est la vie as a character in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg might say....

Hi again Quartermaine

I recall very well what Mark Shenton did for Whatsonstage.com. I had a great working relationship with him for many years, valued him immensely and thanked him many many times. However, it was his decision to leave Whatsonstage.com five years ago, before Michael Coveney joined, despite my sincere and repeated attempts to persuade him to stay. And, given that it was his choice, it’s always been surprising to me that he seems to have harboured resentment towards me and my company since then, and, as I say, has taken a bash many times in print and in private, including with our Awards, which he helped to set up so knows are truly audience-led.

And, while Whatsonstage.com may not have made Mark a millionaire, I can assure you he did earn more from the site than my business partner or myself at the time. We remortgaged our house to keep it going and did not take salaries for three years. Like theatre in general is for a large number of people who work in it, Whatsonstage.com has often been a labour of love as much as anything.

In any case, I think Mark can often be a great and enthusiastic champion of theatre and I wish him well in his other good-spirited endeavours. However, I’m through with sitting back and not responding to attacks against myself, Michael Coveney or anyone else on my team. Defending Whatsonstage.com against this silly and sustained campaign of abuse is now my policy.

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Calm down - as my tv other says.

I think Mark is truly justified in commenting on the "other sites" guy when the other site's guy is saying one thing at the top of the report and then doing exactly (in my impression) the things he says he dislikes in others....there's a word for that - it sounds like a large mammal and a scary little monster!
I love how Terrible Paddock has a policy out on Mark Shenton. It made Sir Salman Rushdie famous after he had a fatwa against him, will Terrible Paddock make Mark even more famous?? Will he be knighted for services to theatre. That would be hilarious!!
Oops, I just noticed - my iPhone recognises Terri as Terrible, but I think it sounds sweet so I'm leaving it in!!
Good luck both, hope you don't fall out as friends lol

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The comment "good at giving that impression" by TP could and should land her in hot water! I'd expect an apology any day now.

Which bring me to my point, what about the Rebecca 'news' story on the WOS site??
I was amazed to hear the news and was already looking to get a ticket.

Not sure if I'd want to be throwing stones in the glass house that wigwam lady lives in. How short some people's memories are...or did they retract that story? Oh, no they never, they just put a 'gossip' story up about Broadway opening. Not able to afford that ticket.

One thing for sure, with The Stage news I know where I truly am. Great articles, substantiated facts, great writing and an interesting blogger (and more).

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