Alastair Thompson, Scoop Media & the Cost of Free Journalism
by Suzan Mazur
How does a news organization that cares about authentic journalism and has a mission to effect “positive change” continue to operate in these times of derivative storytelling when advertising dollars are no longer determined by the quality of editorial content? It is not easy, and that is why Scoop Media and Editor-Publisher Alastair Thompson have moved to a subscription model. It’s an invaluable investment for those who look to genuine news for inspiration. My own decade-long association with Scoop is a case worth noting.
I had the best start an American journalist could hope for over four decades ago, as a writer at Hearst Magazines. But by the late 1980s, I began looking to the British print media for more internationally savvy showcases, finding The Economist magazine particularly receptive to my stories. The editors at the old Economist understood the world, the magazine took lovely risks, its language was rich, its satirical art exhilarating, and I later developed a similar relationship with the Financial Times. But when those two publications entered the US market in a big way and had to accommodate a more conservative mainstream audience, I began to look further away for venues, for “fiercely independent” online venues. In 2004, I found what I was looking for in New Zealand’s Scoop Media, following an introduction to Alastair Thompson by Catherine Austin Fitts of Solari.
Alastair Thompson was fairly young at the time, with tremendous revolutionary zeal, sporting a blonde ponytail. While the ponytail is now gone, Alastair’s enthusiasm for raw truth in journalism persists.
It’s rare in publishing when a journalist finds an editor and publisher (we have never actually met) who is both hands-off content and will defend the writers he presents. Not only has Alastair showcased and syndicated my stories for a decade, he has personally run my stories in forums, like Democratic Underground – taking on the Darwin fundamentalists and other cultists, e.g.
It was Alastair who, in 2008, single-handedly generated an E-book from my assorted evolution stories featured on Scoop, a book that infuriated the science establishment because it went out in front of an emerging story about evolution paradigm shift. Commenting on the first article published: “Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?” -- Science magazine noted my reporting “reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community.”
Then the science establishment began to imitate the reporting. The catchy title “Woodstock of evolution” was used -- without attribution -- by Nature magazine months later on its cover to promote its own story on Altenberg. Under public pressure, Nature was forced to run a “Correction” admitting first use by me in Scoop online. Nature would not acknowledge, however, that “the Altenberg 16” -- which had become a famous term in science circles -- was coined online in the same Scoop story.
Alastair Thompson and Selwyn Manning, former co-editor at Scoop, and their computer artists helped me to visually assemble a series of almost three dozen stories related to the Rome antiquities conspiracy trial that began in 2005. Fifteen of those stories were included in Harvard Law School’s 2008 Art Law Syllabus.
Harvard Law School’s librarian, Harry S. Martin III told me that aside from the quality of the reporting and the visuals, he found my stories “irreverent” and knew they’d appeal to his students. He said he would have included more of them in the syllabus but couldn’t find them all. Many of the articles were from my trove of research on antiquities looting, out-takes of pieces I’d written for The Economist in the late 80s, early 90s.
Both the Financial Times and the Guardian (in 1992 and 1993, respectively) rejected an investigative article from me about the Dorak Treasure – now considered by some one of the top 10 hoaxes of the last century. The Guardian paid, although neither paper would print the article, FT arts & literary editor JDF Jones wrote me saying it would “fall fowl of the British libel laws.” But while Jones, and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said no, Alastair Thompson said yes, and boldly ran my three-part series on Dorak that got to the bottom of the mystery, exposing it as a hoax.
The Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology later included a summary of my coverage of Dorak, and both The Telegraph and The Times (London) cited my reporting when British archaeologist James Mellaart, who invented the Dorak Treasure, died in 2012. The truth would not have emerged without Scoop Media and Alastair’s vision.
In 2014, when the US returned a fake silver griffin to Iran as a peace gesture, I published a two-part story featuring long-time Met Ancient Near East expert Oscar Muscarella’s incisive analysis that the object was a fraud, as well as my interviews with those “experts” who originally authenticated the fake. Again, Scoop took a leap and was right.
Many of my reports about the politics of science first showcased on Scoop are now collected in two anthologies: The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of The Evolution Industry -- which Scoop Media gave its first soft cover run -- and The Origin of Life Circus: A How To Make Life Extravaganza. NASA has recently posted a review of the origin of life book.
Alastair was on the case in Wellington fielding my daily reports on origin of life from the Princeton 2013 conference, which I include in the book. The rest of the media failed to show up for the event.
Alastair’s character was further revealed when he insisted I write for publication on Scoop a tribute to my parents, who had died within roughly a month of one another in 2011.
There is so much I’m leaving out of this commentary about the impact Scoop Media has had on my work, and, in particular, Alastair Thompson’s support for it. I was given an online platform to continue my series on polygamy that first began with a page one Weekend Financial Times story. There have been stories about the Clintons. The excesses of the CIA. A fashion series from my early years as a New York runway model. . .
Yes, Scoop Media is worth supporting because it represents precisely what Margaret Mead once described: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Suzan Mazur is the author of two books, The Origin of Life Circus: A How to Make Life Extravaganza and The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry. Her reports have appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Astrobiology, Connoisseur, Omni and other publications, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org