[Update at end of post]
Observers of the Fourth Estate might have missed the latest desperate attempt by the Desmond press to get its front page splashes for free – there have, after all, been plenty of other events to attract attention – but this week has seen the Express scrape the barrel with some vigour as it has run a total of four weather shock horror items. And it’s not even new news.
Since Sunday’s rather nasty “Councils Pick Widows’ Pockets”, where Communities Secretary Eric Pickles committed a routine act of hypocrisy, there have been six front pages, one asserting the tax cuts were “on the way” (they aren’t), and another trying to push a health scare over diet drinks. Every other lead story has been telling readers what they already know – it can get cold in winter.
And every one of these frighteners has come courtesy of Nathan Rao, who really exists (unlike some at the Desmond press, as former Daily Star freelance Rich Peppiatt found out), and whose first effort of the week was to proclaim “Britain Colder Than Iceland”. Nowt gets past Nathan. This supposedly newsworthy event happened time and again last winter. Do try and keep up.
As some readers might have figured that out themselves, there had to be something more dramatic on Thursday, so Rao came back with “Britain Faces A Week Of Snow”. There was only one problem: it didn’t. And the main event wasn’t going to appear until the weekend. And there wasn’t an “Arctic Blast”: the cold air is coming out of Russia. From the east, not the north. Must try harder.
Come Friday, though, the Express – uniquely among the dailies – was fresh out of proper news to put on the front page, so Rao brought another of his gems, with “-12C Britain Faces Snow Chaos”. This was, more or less, the previous day’s story reheated. The problem was that, for most people, no snow had arrived and there was therefore no chaos. Oh well.
And so we arrive at the weekend, and that pesky snow still hadn’t shown up (it’ll be arriving in the north west this afternoon). But the Express needed a front page, and so Rao returned once more. “6 Inches Of Snow This Weekend” screamed the headline. Really? Well, “up to 6 inches”. But there was an added shock horror: “fears of a nationwide gas shortage”.
This was because the cold weather “has forced Russia to cut supplies to the rest of Europe because of high demand at home”. Sadly for Rao, his own piece then has a quote from a National Grid spokesman: “The UK ... doesn’t receive any of its gas from Russia”. Not just cheap stories, but cheap hackery as well.
But it frightens the punters into picking up the Express, while allowing Des to trouser a whacking great profit. That makes it another Benchmark Of Excellence.
[UPDATE 8 February: There was no sign of Nathan Rao in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's snow - maybe he had a couple of days off - but he's come roaring back today with yet another slice of dishonest reader frightening. Today's zero cost Express front page screams "-15C: Colder Than The North Pole", although where I live it was -5C, and -15 is not colder than the North Pole.
And Rao is still confused as to where the cold wind is coming from, telling of "A new Arctic blast", while it is neither Arctic nor new. Moreover, it very much depends where in the country you live as to how cold the nights will get: here in the North West, temperatures are set to be far less cold, with some nights not yielding a frost. We're not all Southerners.
But good to see Des and his hacks getting their lead story for free. Again]