An open letter to The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo,

I’ve got to hand it to you; as link bait goes, your article for the Telegraph concerning the North of England’s failing digital economy is a belter. Damn, I just fell for it. Anyway, I’ve read it several times now, and I’m still left reeling by what a complete and utter nonsense most of it is. It’s like a Magic Eye illustration from the 1990s – you stare at it for several minutes before saying to yourself: “This is bullshit.”

In defense of it, as stated on Twitter, you say you “weren’t slating the North at all” and that you’re “genuinely concerned that great ideas are being crippled by lack of connections and good advice”. My concern is that it doesn’t read like anything of the sort; the tone of the piece from start to finish is insulting and sneering.

The likes of Sarat Pediredla and Manoj Ranaweera are far better placed to comment on your article, and they’ve done so by providing substantiated critiques. I’d like to take a few minutes to comment of some of the areas they’ve already covered, and some they haven’t:

For starters, I’m not sure if the piece concerns itself with the North West or the North East. You seem to have fused them into an anonymous amalgam “North of the Midlands”. You do know they’re very different regions of the country, right? And you’re aware there are cities in those regions from which the journey into central London is two hours or less? The North isn’t on the Moon, it’s really quite accessible.

From your article:

“Nick Bell, who runs Quick TV… is moving to London this month, exasperated by the limitations of the tech scene in Newcastle, and perhaps a little by Newcastle itself. You can’t really blame him.”

Really? Since this is your opening gambit, and you highlight Nick’s situation as validation of your argument, don’t you think you should have contacted him to determine his motives? As Nick has pointed out in his comments on Sarat’s blog, you didn’t bother.

As Nick states, the fact is that “the North” has helped support and fund Quick.tv. It’s headquarters are in Newcastle. But from the company’s inception, Nick has wanted Quick.tv to be a global player, a game changer. He says in your comments that he needs to travel – not just to London, but cities around the world – promoting Quick.tv and meeting clients. London has several very big airports – I imagine living there will make meeting clients and promoting Quick.tv far easier and less time consuming. That’s not a strike against the North, that’s an admission that London is the capital city.

I dare say that knowing Nick, London will better suit his personal lifestyle too; he lives for networking and enjoys socialising in London, he has plenty of friends there. That would be a personal preference, and not validation that he is “exasperated” with either the tech scene in Newcastle, or the city itself. I simply can’t imagine Nick saying “I’m exasperated with Newcastle”, or words to that effect. Then again, I haven’t spoke to him in the past day. Then again, neither have you, yet you’re still happy to read significant meaning into a situation you haven’t researched properly.

“Networking events are small, where they exist, and filled with the same old faces.”

Prove it. If you’re going to make accusations like that on a national newspaper’s website, back them up. Have you ever attended a networking event in the North? I can’t speak for the North West – that’s a completely different area of the country where I don’t live – but events occurring in the North East include:

  • Thinking Digital
  • GameHorizon
  • Think and a Drink – monthly events concerning the business of the digital economy, attended by up to 200 people
  • Thursday Fizz – a new networking event just three months old, but already attracting over 170 people from digital and creative industries, as well as students, entrepreneurs and investors
  • SuperMondays – another new networking event already attracting similar numbers
  • Durham Geek Girl Dinners (North East) – the inaugural event is next week for 150 women working in technology and innovation

These are events within Newcastle’s catchment area – there are plenty more occurring in Tees Valley, York and Leeds. Where did your facts come from?

“In perhaps the same way that Silicon Valley can be sniffy about London, many tech entrepreneurs based in the South of England have doubts about start-ups from the North.”

I don’t understand your point. In one sentence you’ve argued the case for the whole London tech scene to re-locate to the west coast of America.

“You have to wonder slightly about an event called Tech Mission. Is it really a “mission” to come to London? That the event was even called a mission betrays the conceptual gulf that those based in the North feel between themselves and the rest of the scene.”

What, in much the same way that Digital Mission might betray the conceptual gulf that those based in the UK feel between themselves and the rest of the world? Of course it’s not a mission to travel to London, but then thanks to aeroplanes it’s not really a mission to fly to New York, either. Calm down dear, it’s just a name.

““It’s the only place to start, though perhaps not the place to finish,” someone told me.”

What does that even mean?

“Plugging yourself in to the London circuit is the best way to generate buzz around your product.”

I probably wouldn’t need too many hours to compile a list of well-funded start-ups that generated more buzz than a barrel of angry wasps, and still went belly-up shortly afterwards. If the idea’s bad or poorly executed, it can fail whether you’re in London or not.

More importantly, it gives you the best chance of making the connections you need to investors and other start-ups… if you want to give your business the best chance at success, the message is clear: you must come to London.”

Is that a fact or a message? And whose message is it? Time for a revelation, Milo – I’m pretty sure everyone agrees with you. The point is you don’t have to stay in London. Nobody I’ve met is so close-minded as to believe Newcastle or any other northern city can rival London’s support network or technology scene. As Sarat and many others will agree, there are plenty of challenges facing the North East; there are frustrations with Government-funded scheme and we do lack the depth of mentoring that London can offer. But just because a business isn’t based in London, it doesn’t mean it can’t take advantage of what London can offer. We can plug into London whenever we want – if companies aren’t doing that, then that’s an entirely separate issue.

“Howard Sherrington of DataNovata has kept his developers in the North, but opened a marketing and PR office in London.”

It seems Sherrington is building a business outside London (possibly because it’s cost-effective to do so?) and marketing it inside London. That seems like a statement of common sense, rather than one that supports the argument that digital business outside London is failing.

“I came away with two distinct impressions. First, that mentors and “dragons” – not to mention events – of this quality don’t exist, or don’t exist in sufficient numbers, in the North.”

Newcastle has a population of less than 300,000; there are barely two million people between York and the Scottish Borders. The population of London is 10 million. That’s not an argument, that’s mathematics.

“According to an investor friend of mine, who claims never to have been north of Nottingham, “It’s no accident that their greatest export is Grand Theft Auto.” That’s not fair, and not true – Grand Theft Auto came from Scotland, for a start – but it does reflect some of the prejudices down here.”

Ho ho. How deliciously smug. Back-handed insults are your idea of a supportive article? And tell your investor friend that ignorance is rarely a trait to be proud of.

“I’ve been trying to persuade a close friend of mine from Newcastle with his own very promising start-up to move to London. “When I can afford it,” he says. After Monday, my question to him is: how can you afford not to?”

Here’s another equally likely scenario; your friend moves to London, he can’t afford to support himself while he bootstraps, and the idea folds before it gets off the ground.

The bottom line is this, Milo; there is no North-South (or “North-London”) divide as far as those in the North are concerned. Most of us entirely accept our place in the grand scheme of things. We realise the situation isn’t perfect, we understand it needs to improve, but we’re already taking advantage of London’s golden-paved streets. As Charlie Hoult commented, we see our efforts at innovation collectively and collaboratively. That’s the point of events like Tech Mission London 09.

Charlie pretty much summed it up:

Of course, London is a mecca. It’s a mecca for innovation and a boiling pot. But that’s as true for Slovenes and Scandis as it is for Geordies and Mancs. The world is full of satellite cities like Newcastle, Middlesborough, Salford, Exeter… and you never know where the breakthroughs will come from.

Your article may well have been an attempt to raise awareness of the challenges faced by tech companies outside London, but instead it read like a damning, patronising, ill-researched piece of writing, produced expressly to increase traffic to the Telegraph’s website. You haven’t come close to “stimulating debate” because everyone seems to agree the bulk of your points are irrelevant. You’re merely propagating myth and disappointment, and it smacks of lazy, desperate journalism.

Paul

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