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Daily editor defends web publisher exposé

A row has erupted after a regional daily revealed the background of a web manager who runs a community news website on its patch.

Yesterday’s Hull Daily Mail carried a front page piece about Paul Smith, a digital publisher who runs a website featuring photos and news from the nearby town of Beverley.

Following a tip-off that his company Smiths Media Solutions had also designed pornography websites, a Mail reporter posing as an escort girl arranged a meeting with him about building a site for her.

The paper’s page one splash drew links between Mr Smith and local civic leaders, who had given their backing to him and his Beverley project, and the paper also carried a stinging comment piece.

“Readers of this newspaper will be understandably alarmed to learn that a man running a community website focused on Beverley is linked to a host of hardcore pornography sites,” it said.

“The site earned Mr Smith credibility and connections in Beverley. He even became a member of a partnership group promoting the town.

“What Mr Smith has done is not illegal, but it is certainly not consistent with publishing a responsible local website.”

But a writer for the website has hit back at the Mail, calling the stories a “character assassination”.

“Paul Smith has had some dealings with people involved in the adult industry in the past, and has coded some of their websites,” it says.

“He has also taught many of them how to update their own sites, and this looks like being a huge mistake, as the content is then completely out of his control yet still carries links to his website company.

“However, as the Hull Daily Mail states several times, Paul Smith is supposedly personally behind ‘thousands’ of hardcore websites.

“Paul owns a total of 112 domain names which cover every website he has made over four years of every kind. It’s a mystery where the figure of 3,991 websites comes from.”

The Hull Daily Mail’s main news story online had attracted over 320 comments at the time of writing, the majority of which were supportive of Mr Smith, as are those posted under the response story on

One poster has written that they have already raised the story with the Press Complaints Commission.

Hull Daily Mail editor John Meehan today issued a robust defence of the newspaper’s coverage.

He told HTFP: “Our coverage has been entirely legitimate and in the public interest. It was wholly accurate and responsible.

“We reported fully Mr Smith’s explanation for his activities related to pornographic websites. We even carried a piece in our newspaper from Mr Smith’s website accusing us of mounting a ‘smear campaign’ against him.

“We believe it is important that people and organisations in Beverley are fully aware of Mr Smith’s activities. They can then make their own minds up about whether he is an appropriate person to be running and producing content for a community website.

“There are also important issues related to the fact that he had become a member of a partnership group representing the town and that the local authority, East Riding Council, had actively promoted his website.

“The story has provoked considerable discussion on our website. Many of the comments are misinformed, but we have continued to allow people to post their comments because we believe passionately in freedom of expression, within the boundaries of the law.”


Trevor (05/03/2010 10:22:57)
I don’t suppose the Hull Daily Mail has ever carried adverts for “personal services” then…
(Which can be alternatively read as prostitutes, some of which may have been trafficked…)
This is much more about a new business trying to carve out a bit of the Mail’s market.
They don’t like it up ’em.

Suffolk E Riding fan (05/03/2010 10:26:02)
Well done to the HDM for telling this issue – and for allowing freed bebate on it. Enlightened ones know the value of both free expression and any criticism that goes with it.

pogal (05/03/2010 10:48:51)
I fully support the HDM on thisone too. If it’s not true, sue them. If it is, sit down and hold your tongue. It seems to me everyone has been given the chance to have their say and claims they are factually correct, so if Mr Smith has an issue, he should address it through the proper channels.

Hannah (05/03/2010 11:06:16)
I don’t object to the Mail’s right to print it if it’s true – that’s up to them. But the pretence that it’s a fantastic story or that it’s firmly in the public interest is a bit much. Porn sites aren’t illegal, and it’s not for the newspaper to judge on whether they are immoral or not unless they are actually causing harm – which would be another story altogether. If staff at the Mail visited such porn sites in their own time for their own reasons – would this be in the public interest because they run a community newspaper? Bizarre front page.

Onlooker (05/03/2010 11:06:56)
Carrying grubby adverts for ‘adult services’ has been helping local newspapers pay journalists’ wages for years. To take a high moral stand on Mr Smith’s website building business seems highly hypocritical. He isn’t actually involved in the sites’ content. But this isn’t about morals, it’s about business and the Mail seems to be putting a shot across Mr Smith’s bows, just to keep him in his place.

The Reaper (05/03/2010 11:12:26)
I think I would be more comfortable for the world to know me as someone involved in porn than for the world to know that I worked for the Daily Mail (the national, I mean)

Fence hopper (05/03/2010 12:22:02)
Ah, so another newspaper tries to survive in this new world they neither understand nor thrive in, by deciding that flexing their muscles is the way to make friends and influence people. Collaboration is clearly lost oop-north.
No issue with the reporting of it, but I hope they’ve double glazed their glass house, because those stones can cause a bit of damage when you start throwing them.

Ben Dover and Phil McCrevice (05/03/2010 13:51:12)
All this fuss over a bit of pictoral literature. The male race wouldn’t survive without it.

hacked-off (05/03/2010 14:18:23)
Come on then Mr Meehan, are you going to ban adult ads in your ‘community’ newspapers? Or is it one rule for Northcliffe…?

In The Know (05/03/2010 14:53:37)
Oh Noes, looks like my story idea got deleted.
I wonder why ?

lacklustre (05/03/2010 17:14:19)
On the same HDM website that carries this story, a quick look in their classified listings shows the following.
SERVICES » Personal Services
***PARIS*** blonde, mature, free themes. Pls call.-
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
CHARLIE’S back, new number.- Telephone
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
LISA & Kasey – home or visit.
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
DIVORCED, blonde for no-strings fun in Hull, text ABI to for pics.
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
HELAINE discreet Escort.- .
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
LILY Heaven, young, attractive and friendly massage.-
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
LONELY lady seeks adult interests with men
Published: 05/03/2010
SERVICES » Personal Services
Published: 05/03/2010
< prev="" ...="" [1]="" 2="" 3="" ...="" next="">>
Phone numbers removed to spare blushes)
y these can’t be anything but legitimate services in such a pure as the driven snow community newspaper? I guess we will never know

FAST WOMAN (05/03/2010 17:32:36)
Looking like a bad own goal at the moment. Hundreds of comments supporting the website man, two anti-HDM Facebook groups and derision on IT industry website The Register.
As for trying to establish a link between the website work ad the fact that the man takes photos at junior sports events.. not good. Not good at all.

Ex-HDM (05/03/2010 20:39:51)
There was no justification in this story at all. I can;t recall them doing a front page lead and double page spread on the bloke who owns the XXX shop next door to their office. This was done purely becuase he is taking readers and advertisers off them.
This man has done nothing illegal and there is no public interest jusitification at all. Something being true is not reason enough for it to be a news story.

Robert (08/03/2010 11:13:40)
Probably the best bit of free advertising will ever get. How many HDM readers will have been aware of it before it was splashed across the front page?
I think HDM have shot themselves in the foot with this one. The website looks clean, crisp and appears to be covering grassroots stories HDM don’t deem worthy. HDM could learn a thing or two.

Another ex-HDM hack (09/03/2010 11:34:58)
This is so typical of HDM. They go into a massive panic whenever there is a sniff of competition. Meehan and Co went mental over KC radio, when the BBC moved into Queens Gardens and when any website/paper promoting the East Riding was set up. Yes, times are tough, but you still have the monopoly over the media in East Yorkshire. Concentrate on improving your products, rather than stooping so low that you drag up dirt about others which, coincidently, most people couldn’t give two hoots about. He designed the sites, he didn’t pose for them. If anything, all the story does is highlight how wide-varying his portfolio is. Good work Paul!

Two_shanks (09/03/2010 12:47:48)
Just noted that the HDM site has their ‘Promotion Exec’ saying “We have had lots of cute youngsters so far, but we are still hoping for more, particularly in the three to five year category.”
As the same site has an ‘Escort Services’ section, and I presume the same will be true of the print edition, will there be a front page expose of the ‘sordid’ publication and its money streams, with a single sentence reference to these pictures, in next week’s HDM?
Public interest – the story has attracted more comments than any other I’ve seen on any local news website. Last time I checked they were almost totally supportive of Mr Smith. Strange that these comments are no longer visible…
John Meehan – your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
Perhaps you should concentrate on the quality of your own publication rather than mud-flinging like this?