Samantha Cameron’s sister gets £60,000 for ‘positive’ news app from fund meant to help local papers (after bizarre test that involved balancing marshmallows on top of spaghetti)
- Samantha Cameron’s sister got £60,000 Government grant for her business
- Emily Sheffield awarded grant for news app from fund meant for local papers
- She was awarded the money for app after navigating a bizarre interview process
- The grant to Ms Sheffield’s outfit caused anger among local newspaper groups
Ms Sheffield failed to mention that start-up capital for her business included a £60,000 Government grant from a fund set up following a review intended to help struggling local news publishers
When David Cameron’s sister-in-law Emily Sheffield wrote last month about the strains of becoming a ‘media tech entrepreneur’, she described how she was ‘broke, on sleeping pills… and in the midst of a severe midlife crisis’.
But Ms Sheffield failed to mention that start-up capital for her business included a £60,000 Government grant from a fund set up following a review intended to help struggling local news publishers.
Ms Sheffield, a former deputy editor of fashion bible Vogue, was awarded the money for her app – ThisMuchIKnow – after successfully navigating a bizarre interview process, part of which included placing marshmallows on a tower of spaghetti during a ‘group challenge’.
The grant came from a £2 million Future News Pilot Fund issued by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
The fund was set up by the Government last year as part of an effort to sustain quality public interest journalism, particularly in local papers, in the face of falling revenues and the rise of digital competitors.
The grant to Ms Sheffield’s outfit has caused anger among local newspaper groups – none of which has received any money from the pilot fund.
A total of 54 news organisations bid for a slice of the money during a two-day interview process run by Nesta, an ‘innovation foundation’, with 19 then receiving the handouts.
The winning applicants were decided through a mixture of presentations and ‘ice-breaking’ team activities such as the marshmallows game.
Ms Sheffield’s start-up, which relies on content from Instagram to provide ‘need-to-know stories, special reports, culture and news quizzes’, has also received money from the Guardian newspaper’s £42 million venture capital fund.
Ms Sheffield, whose sister is the former Prime Minister’s wife Samantha, said last month that the switch from her glamorous job at Vogue to her start-up had been ‘the most intense period of my whole life’.
Ms Sheffield, a former deputy editor of fashion bible Vogue, was awarded the money for her app – ThisMuchIKnow – after successfully navigating a bizarre interview process, part of which included placing marshmallows on a tower of spaghetti during a ‘group challenge’
In an article about the project, she wrote: ‘My sister Samantha Cameron entered No 10 during my years at Condé Nast [publisher of Vogue]. She was ambassador for the British Fashion Council, and we often sat on the front row gossiping during London Fashion Week.
‘In Paris, we would sneak off with our British designer friends to chic gay nightclubs.’
After she lost her Vogue job, Ms Sheffield went for dinner at the Camerons’ home with former Chancellor George Osborne.
‘They sweetly got me drunk,’ she recalls.
‘I can’t remember much of what the four of us furiously debated and laughed about that night, but George’s advice to step back and seriously consider what I want next would prove the most salient.’
And this is what it’ll pay for
The fund was set up as part of an effort to sustain quality, public interest journalism but recent stories on ThisMuchIKnow have included a discussion on ‘how diverse are our catwalks’, Ms Sheffield writing about menstruating on the Camerons’ white sofa, an ‘ultimate green jeans shopping guide’ and an interactive environmental quiz asking: ‘How Greta are you?’
Meanwhile, last week it was revealed that another online news site, Tortoise, received a £50,000 grant from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
The project is headed by former BBC Director of News James Harding and typically focuses on national rather than local issues.
His advice ultimately led to Ms Sheffield setting up This MuchIKnow, of which she says: ‘The message is in our name – we are humble, sharing the news, not just telling it.’
The Future News Pilot Fund was set up as part of Ministers’ response to the Cairncross Review, which recommended a package of measures for public interest journalism.
In 2018, Dame Frances Cairncross, a former senior editor at The Economist, was tasked with making recommendations into how to future-proof journalism in the face staff cuts and falling circulation.
Her review found that the number of local newspapers fell from 1,303 to 982 in the decade to 2017 as publishers lost vital classified advertising to Facebook and Google, and concluded that this amounted to a threat to local democracy.
The fund was set up by the Government last year as part of an effort to sustain quality public interest journalism, particularly in local papers, in the face of falling revenues and the rise of digital competitors [File photo]
The News Media Association, which represents national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK, said in a statement about the award of the grants: ‘It is very disappointing that the Future News Fund, overseen by Nesta, has bypassed the local news media industry by failing to directly award it any grants.
We hope that if the Future News Fund develops from a pilot into an ongoing fund, it will build on the existing infrastructure, talent and expertise which is delivering local journalism today by partnering with established local news media providers’.
A spokeswoman for the fund said that the marshmallow exercise was an ‘ice-breaker which was just one of a number of assessments for the grant-awarding process’.
The spokeswoman added: ‘The Future News Pilot Fund is a demonstrator fund to prototype new ideas, not to subside existing models of news in the UK.’
Ms Sheffield declined to comment last night.
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