The Editor of one of the biggest news websites in Wales, who threatened to sue The Eye, has published a ‘trusted news’ section but many of his own readers accuse the site of ‘clickbait’ journalism, dumbing down, publishing grammatical errors and using spelling mistakes, it has emerged.
Paul Rowland, who edits WalesOnline was forced to defend the articles on his website against furious attacks from readers in a Question and Answer article last week.
One asked: “Why does your website have more advertising and click bait articles than genuine news content?”.
Another said: “I welcome your proactive stance against fake news, but what I’d really like to see is Walesonline (sic) reporting real news instead of Buzzfeed style articles on the ten best burgers in Cardiff”.
In answer Mr Rowland said: “What you’ve done there is take a very selective view of what we’re reporting…”
Responding to another ‘clickbait journalism’ charge, Mr Rowland stated: “I think this (clickbait) is a really misused term”.
He also offered advice to a reader anxious to break into journalism.
Mr Rowland suggested writing lists about food for sale, but insisted this does not mean it is ‘clickbait’ journalism.
He wrote: “You might not be interested in ’19 mouth watering street food dishes and where to find them in Wales’, and you might believe it’s not something we should be writing (I wouldn’t agree, but that’s fine).
“That doesn’t mean it’s clickbait.
“The content does exactly what it promises in the headline – clickbait doesn’t.”
Spelling mistakes were also raised.
A reader pointedly wanted to know: “Why are there so many spelling and grammatical errors in your articles and often even in your headlines?“.
Jokingly she offered to help: “If you need a proof reader, I’ll do it for you!”.
Mr Rowland admitted: “At the moment, typos and spelling errors happen too often, and it’s something we need to improve.
“Thanks for the offer to be a proof reader, maybe I’ll take you up on that!”.
Some readers also clearly believed journalists at WalesOnline need better teaching.
One critic asked: “To what extent do you feel your staff have received adequate training to keep up with modern online news tools..?”
But Mr Rowland, whose picture adorns the article, has been in the news before over what constitutes news.
He was engaged in a fierce war of words on social media about whether reporting the opening of bars was ‘real’ or ‘fake’.
Mr Rowland said sarcastically on Twitter to one critic: “Must be nice to do one radio show a week (Sunday Supplement on BBC Radio Wales) and not have to worry about whether anyone listens to it”.
He threatened to sue The Eye before Christmas over a satirical piece which drew attention to it.
Mr Rowland stated: “Satire is no defence against libel (it can be).
“I am placing it (the satirical article) in the hands of our lawyers”.
Last year WalesOnline published 17 ‘stories’ about the Coyote Ugly bar on St Mary Street in Cardiff, which features women dancing for largely male customers.
One report was headlined: “Watch the Coyote Ugly Cardiff girls practise their moves ahead of opening night”.
The South Wales Echo whose stories are also repeated on the website, remains unabashed about its support for the bar.
In the ‘Mother’s Day’ feature, it offered a list of things to do to “spoil” mum.
At number one was to “Dance on the Coyote Ugly bar” where she can “show off her moves”.
But reporting the opening of bars is key for this publisher.
An article about the opening of the Brains ‘sports bar’ with footballer Gareth Bale was the Page Three lead ‘story’ in the Echo, widely regarded as one of the most important spots after the front and back pages, and headlined: “Bale and Brains team up to open sports bar”.
Mr Bale said: “It has been a big goal and ambition of mine to open a sports bar in Cardiff”.
John Rhys chairman of Brains added: “Brains and Gareth are Cardiff and Wales’ most famous product”.
The item was also in the ‘food and drink’ section of WalesOnline.
This was described to us as a ‘puff’ or ‘advertising’ by some of the website’s own journalists.
We also reported the widespread criticism over its coverage of the opening of The Bierkeller bar.
In August 2015 we showed how it published in the ‘food, drink news’ section a “first look” inside the new Cardiff bar, complete with pictures of a group of attractive young waitresses holding foaming mugs of beer.
It even posted footage online of the waitresses doing their job.
WalesOnline ‘reported’ that there were 88 draught beers, hot dogs at ‘under a fiver’, “waitresses in those uniforms” and “rugby on next door”.
The Bierkeller was, it said, “heaven”.
Like the sports bar ‘story’, the item was also published in the Echo.
But it has not stopped
Earlier this year it used the same words as the Bierkeller ‘story’, when it offered a “first look” inside yet another bar – the Bootlegger in Cardiff.
The sexism of past stories is also well-established after it was highlighted by The Eye.
Dr Anwen Jones, a lecturer and wife of Alun Wyn Jones, was described as “clever and sporty … a former 400m hurdler (who) was Welsh champion from 2000-2007″.
WalesOnline’s own journalists have told us it is stuck in the 1970s with its news coverage.
Meanwhile Mr Rowland has stoutly defended his website’s news coverage.
He told BBC Wales in the summer he was “absolutely” committed to covering politics.
It seems he is also committed to answering criticism from his own readers that WalesOnline deals in ‘fake news’ and ‘clickbait journalism’.
On Friday two angry WalesOnline readers ask why it is not publishing real news.