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August 26, 2014

Former NoW US editor looking for ‘go-getting’ English reporters to join fledgling showbiz agency in LA

By William Turvill

Former News of the World US editor James Desborough is looking to emulate the success of British-run agency Splash as he seeks to expand his own celebrity news agency in Los Angeles.

Desborough (pictured above) , who won two awards at this year's Southern California Journalism Awards for stories published on Mail Online, set up Front Page Media with Jon Boon, a former senior news and entertainment correspondent at Splash.

Desborough went freelance when the News of the World closed in 2011.

He set up Front Page Media, which works with a network of ten freelances and sells stories, photographs and video to a number of outlets in the US and UK, less than a year ago. Despite its young age, Desborough says "early signs would indicate that business is buoyant, bright and looking rosy for the future".

The men whose success he cites, fellow British tabloid expats Gary Morgan and Kevin Smith, set up Splash in the early 1990s in Los Angeles.

When they sold the business to Corbis Images in 2011, for an undisclosed fee, Splash claimed a $30m a year turnover and boasted offices in London, New York, Rome, Milan, Berlin, Sydney and Florida, with 100 staff and 3,000 contributors.

Desborough is hoping to entice fellow British journalists to join him across the Atlantic.

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"I'm not being rude about American journalists," he says, "but obviously there is a certain mentality you get being an English news reporter – even an entertainment reporter – and at Front Page Media we really want to expand that. We're looking to get more people over here and we're looking to build a team.

"I think you just have to look at the success of what Gary and Kevin did with Splash – their business is slightly different now, but I feel there is a real opportunity for a go-getting team to work on both sides of the Atlantic to deliver and to go and get unique, fascinating content."

Despite speaking with sadness about job losses on Fleet Street, and in the US, and acknowledging that there is less money around now than ten years ago, Desborough believes it is an "exciting time in this strange media landscape".

“As much as it is tough out there, it is also a very exciting time, because it seems to me that there are so many online news media outlets popping up," says Desborough.

He acknowledges that websites are often less willing to invest in original journalism but believes this will change, to the benefit of freelances and agencies. “At some stage the balance will have to swing back with the sites wanting to become unique, wanting to deliver content that’s exclusive. And I think the balance is changing.”

One of the ways Front Page Media has been able to earn more money is through selling content on a worldwide basis.

One of the Mail Online stories that earned him a prize at the South California Journalism Awards, for instance, was also sold to the Daily Mirror.

Desborough says: “I do feel that as a content provider one of the new ways for dealing with this business is essentially maximising your earnings from content you have.

“There is often a case where you offer an exclusive to separate territories and you get your timing right, so that each territory gets what they feel is an exclusive at the right time.

“The internet certainly removes that, but one of the great things about licensing video content and pictures is that is has, or has been and it continues to be, a way of dishing up content where you try and maximise revenue you have.”

Desborough acknowledges that one of the best things going for Front Page Media, and why it could emulate the success of Splash, is its subject area: celebrity.

“People are fascinated by that world," he says. "And thank God they are, and thank God they thrive on it, because most of us in celebrity journalism wouldn’t have a job otherwise.”

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