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From the East Antrim Times, via Fleet Street, to a glittering TV career ... NI-born media watcher Raymond Snoddy on why the printed Press will triumph over fake news

The Larne-born journalist earned just £2 for his first story 55 years ago, but believes newspapers are here to stay, in spite of well-publicised failings over Brexit and Trump

Ivan Little

He's one of the UK's most-respected commentators about the ever-changing world of TV and newspapers, but Raymond Snoddy still savours the memory of seeing his work in print for the first time ... in Larne, 55 years ago.

"I got paid for it, too," says 71-year-old Raymond. "It was a lovely man called Emil Thompson, who gave me £2 for the story for the East Antrim Times newspaper, which he edited."

Raymond, who was a pupil at Larne Grammar School at the time, was as proud as punch of the article, which explored ways of attracting more holidaymakers to Larne.

It's a tough question, which is still vexing tourist chiefs in the town many years later.

But Raymond, who spent a lifetime as a journalist at Fleet Street's top newspapers, coupled with a TV career, has managed to persuade at least one prominent incomer to buy into the area: himself.

He says: "I bought a house just outside Ballygally after the Good Friday Agreement.

"My wife Diana had said that it was high time to think about getting a place of our own in Co Antrim, so we did.

"We love our visits. I don't have close family in the area anymore, but we have great neighbours and I meet up with people I was at school with.

"Ballygally is a lovely place for a break. We have the best of both worlds."

Tennis player Raymond tries to indulge his passion for the game as often as he can and he is a "country" member of Larne's club.

The beautiful and quiet coastal hideaway of Ballygally is a world away from the cut and thrust of the media industry, which Raymond has known for so long.

One of the latest chapters in Raymond's story has been a new book, which he jointly edited and which examined how the media on both sides of the Atlantic got things so spectacularly wrong in their predictions about Brexit, Donald Trump and the UK elections last June.

The book - Brexit, Trump and the Media - is a collection of more than 50 essays, guest lectures and brief editorials by what Raymond has dubbed "hackademics" - a mix of journalists and academics.

They deal with the lies and deceits of the US presidential election and the false promises made during the Brexit campaign here, as well as the role of pollsters who were so wide of the mark with their number-crunching.

Theresa May's disastrous election presented a dilemma for Raymond and his fellow editors, who knew the book would look out of date without any references to the shock results.

The production schedule was put back several weeks and a new eight-chapter section was added at high speed.

The book's contributors include broadcasters Jon Snow and Nick Robinson, who give their takes on why the media's electoral forecasts about Brexit, Trump and the June election went so awry.

Raymond says: "Jon and Nick independently wrote mea culpas, saying we will all have to rethink journalism, because we sat around in our Metropolitan bubbles, instead of going out around the country and meeting real people."

Raymond, who has written a number of pieces for the book, is concerned about the current state of the mainstream media and social media.

He says he's worried about the spread of misinformation on the internet - fake news, so to speak.

"You can't believe a word you read on social media and I'm frightened by the fact that 30% of people get their news from Facebook and much of it is completely unchecked and unverified and often garbage," says Raymond, who adds that while newspaper circulations are going down and down, their online offerings are more in demand as people seek out the truth in what he calls the "flight to quality".

But finding ways of financing the digital editions are - and will increasingly become - a challenge for newspapers, according to Raymond, who says: "I absolutely believe in newspapers and I just hope a funding model can be found."

The Donald Trump factor has also been a huge part of the book by Raymond and his associates.

He cites one writer, Bill Dunlop, who argues that for all his bluster and attacks on the media and claims of fake news, Trump has actually been something of a saviour of the industry.

Raymond says many US newspapers and broadcasters are discovering that their subscriptions are increasing - again because of the flight to quality - as people try "to find out what is really going on, as opposed to the lies that Trump tells".

The book presents a picture of a media landscape that is pitted with uncertainty.

But Raymond's entry onto a very much less complicated media scene back in the late-1960s was surprisingly straightforward.

The son of a greengrocer on Larne's Main Street, Raymond never followed up on his debut article for his local East Antrim Times, but at Queen's University Belfast he dabbled with student newspaper The Gown, before heading off to England, where he says he "stumbled into the only thing that I wasn't too bad at".

The youthful Raymond's first thoughts about a job as a journalist came when he spotted an advertisement in a newspaper in an ice-cream factory, of all places.

He explains: "I had a summer job with Lyon's Maid and in the cold store I picked up a newspaper and saw the advert for graduate trainees for Westminster Press.

"I made contact and got on the 207 bus to Uxbridge to meet an editor and he kindly offered me a job.

"Things wouldn't happen like that nowadays.

"But I started work on the Middlesex Advertiser. I enjoyed it immensely."

One of Raymond's opposite numbers on a rival publication in the area was Greg Dyke, who would go on to become director-general of the BBC and latterly the chairman of the Football Association.

Raymond's next job was at the Oxford Mail before he achieved his ambition of going to London to work as a parliamentary writer.

It was not a match made in heaven for Raymond, who says Charles Dickens did the same job a long time before him and he hated it too.

But a move to The Times was a better fit for Raymond and he stayed there for seven years, before moving to the Financial Times.

"I hadn't intended to focus on media affairs," says Raymond.

"Initially, the media was just part of my reporting job, but everything was moving so fast in so many different directions with satellite television, the internet, social media and the like that it all became my full-time brief."

Raymond's contacts were so good and his exclusives so plentiful that one organisation feared he had tapped their phones and they had their boardroom swept for bugs.

Raymond says his scoops had nothing to do with underhand measures.

"I got most of them in the pub," he laughs.

After 19 years at the Financial Times, Rupert Murdoch, (right) whom he had just interviewed, poached Raymond back to The Times with a lucrative contract.

His departure as The Times' media editor in June 2004 ironically made headlines in the very outlets that Raymond wrote about.

Serendipity, however, was again to change the course of Raymond's life.

"I was invited out for lunch with a freelance producer and he said he wanted me to present a TV programme about the media.

"I told him I had no experience of television, but he said he had seen me chairing a conference and he thought I would be just right for the job."

Raymond hosted shows on Channel 4 and Sky and he presented the BBC programme NewsWatch for nine years.

He is still busy writing for newspapers and magazines and retirement isn't a word he ever uses.

"That's the great thing about journalism - helped by the internet - you don't ever have to retire and I have no intention of ever doing so," says Raymond, who has written a number of books, including a biography of media tycoon Michael Green and another about the ethics of the newspaper industry.

Away from his roles as a freelance journalist and conference and seminar host, Raymond, who was awarded an OBE in 2000, is a keen Queen's Park Rangers fan. The Loftus Road club have had a succession of Northern Ireland internationals in their ranks, including the late Alan McDonald and Billy Hamilton.

Raymond is keeping his eyes on the progress of former Linfield starlet Paul Smyth, who has signed for the west London club, along with Northern Ireland under-19 international Charlie Owens.

"Another of our players is Conor Washington, who is a Northern Ireland striker," says Raymond, who grew up as a supporter of his hometown club Larne.

He was also a contemporary at the school of ex-Northern Ireland captain and manager Dave Clements.

"He played rugby for Larne Grammar in the morning before heading off to play Irish League football in the afternoon."

Brexit, Trump and the Media, edited by John Mair, Tor Clark, Neil Fowler, Raymond Snoddy and Richard Tait, is published by Abramis Academic Publishing, priced £19.95

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