The Other Mark Blacklock

While I’m doing some house-keeping, it seems to make sense to publish this here. It was first published in the 73rd issue of Off The Fence, the weekly newsletter of The Fence magazine, which can now be found on Substack. I unreservedly recommend subscribing immediately.

I first became aware of the other Mark Blacklock around the millennium when I turned up for a fortnight’s sub-editing on the now defunct Sunday magazine supplement of the News of the World. The features editor accused me, directly, in front of the entire office, of not being Mark Blacklock. I was in my mid-twenties and infrequently sober, but it was the one aspect of reality that I was reasonably confident about, so stood my ground. Following some bizarre conversational jousting, we found consensus: there was another Mark Blacklock who had worked for many years at The Express, where the features editor and he had crossed paths. I was packed off to a back desk to check the crossword answers (words of no more than four letters).

A few years later while working for the Telegraph I received a payment I wasn’t expecting and gratefully trousered it, thinking it might be a tax recalculation (eternal optimist). When it happened a second time, I discovered that the other Mark Blacklock was also an occasional contributor. I found his contact details and let him know what had happened to his invoices. We enjoyed a humorous exchange – Hi Mark, it’s Mark – in which we discovered that we were both from Wearside.

Over the intervening years, I figured that the fact that the other Mark Blacklock was a prolific news journalist might work in my favour when I pitched my slightly wonky feature ideas to magazines. Searches for our name produced hundreds of byline hits. Admittedly, many of these were appended to stories along the lines of ‘Is This the Most Evil and Hated Leader in the World?’, Express, March 31, 2005, and that was quite different to my pitch about US sonic weapons programmes, but it surely did no harm. Blacklock had range.

I was loosely aware that Mark was no longer at The Express from 2009 onwards: my vanity searches told me he was on twitter @marxmedia and was now a media consultant and lecturer at Northumbria University. I quietly seethed as his following exceeded mine, but otherwise found it gently comforting to know that the other me was still out there. I was en route to becoming a lecturer myself! I also noted his twitter handle, and wondered if he’d been radicalised by working for Richard Desmond. It would be a rational response.

Last December the doppelganger sitch took an abrupt offroad turn. I was tagged on twitter by @BeijingtoBritain as the author of an article published in The Global Times, the English language organ run by the Chinese State. I’d authored a think-piece questioning the British government’s protestations of anti-democratic electoral practices in Hong Kong. I panicked – what would this do to the brand? – before realising that no one cared. I shared a byline correction and the other Mark Blacklock politely confirmed that it was his work.

I spotted his (our?) piece the following month questioning the identification of Christine Lee as a Chinese spy, which otherwise went under the twitter radar, but was tagged again in February when we attacked Liz Truss for her idiocy in recommending have-a-go freedom fighters tool up for Ukraine. It was “not a good look” to be writing for The Global Times, according to a random twitter user. I did not disagree, either with myself or the user.

The pieces have continued monthly, attacking NATO, Truss again (still agree), the monarchy (hard agree) and more recently The West in its totality (it’s complicated). I’ve been contacted by a Hong Kong researcher who is seeking out all Western contributors to The Global Times (apparently many of them don’t exist).

It’s quite curious: I don’t personally wish to contribute to Chinese state propaganda and would prefer to work for free and independent media, like The Fence, but neither do I feel it’s my place to judge the other Mark. He remains a genial correspondent and is open about his motivation when I ask him if he feels compromised. “After 45 years in the British tabloid media, I’m fairly sanguine about writing for a platform with an ‘agenda’,” he tells me. “It doesn’t really bother me. I’m not told what to write and what does get published appears online and in print as written. As I had always previously worked as a straight news journalist it’s quite refreshing to be able to express an opinion.”

Fair enough, I guess. We’re not in lockstep, but then who is? My range expands. I hope I’ll draw the line at Russia Today.

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