Fleet Street reporter who used his knowledge of rock to good effect
Jonathan Ashby, a music journalist who founded the entertainment news agency WENN, has died at the age of 66.
I worked with him at the Sun, where he contributed to the Bizarre column, which was then headed by John Blake. He was a hugely enthusiastic pop music reporter with excellent contacts.
In a tribute to him on the Press Gazette site, a former colleague described him as a “true media visionary” for creating WENN (World Entertainment News Network).
He started it in the back room of his house in Barnet and saw it grow into a profitable international organisation, with offices in London, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin.
Ashby, born in Norwich, started his journalistic career at the city’s main newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times. He moved to Spain for a while to teach English and play electric violin with a rock band.
On his return to England, he joined the Watford Observer before doing shifts and freelancing in Fleet Street, initially for the London Evening Standard, followed by the Sun and Daily Mirror.
He also acted as correspondent for the US-based ABC News and found himself regularly swapping stories with an American counterpart, Shelli Sonstein.
In 1988, when Blake was editor of the Sunday People, he gave Ashby his own celebrity rock column, Sunday Brunch. But his story-sharing partnership with Sonstein gave him the idea of launching a news agency.
So, the following year, he founded the World Rock News Network, which later became WENN. It soon established itself as a major supplier of music and show business-related news to outlets across the world, breaking many headline-making stories.
It later expanded to include photography, radio and TV divisions. Its current chairman Lloyd Beiny described Ashby was “a true media visionary”.
Ashby served as WENN’s chief executive until 2001, when he was forced to step down due to ill health. He had bipolar disorder, and became a committed mental health advocate by running an information network.
Blake told Press Gazette: “Jonathan was very eccentric but a fantastic journalist… a natural talent. He was a lovely, fabulous character… a proper old- fashioned hippy, very sweet-natured, kind and hard-working.”
A series of tributes have been posted on Ashby’s Facebook page. One of them, Sean Fitzpatrick, wrote: “I can still hear his instructions to ‘get outrage’. A legend.”
Ashby is survived by his former wife, Jackie, a co-owner and director of WENN, and two daughters, singer-songwriter Juliette and Jessica, a performer specialising in aerial acrobatics and skating.
*Jonathan’s family will be holding a private service to celebrate his life on Tuesday (19 July). Donations to the Bipolar Support Group set up by Jonathan would be welcome: MIND in Barnet, 55 Christchurch Avenue, London N12 0DG (reference ‘Jonathan Ashby’).
*Jonathan Clifford Ashby, born 12 July 1949; died 6 July 2016.