The Leveson Inquiry commenced over a year ago to look into the relationship between the press and the public – alongside other areas and heard evidence of phone hacking, intrusions into the personal lives of high profile individuals and most memorably allegations of malpractice by government officials.
Today the report has been published and in terms of local and regional media it surmises “In relation to regional and local newspapers, I do not make a specific recommendation but I suggest that the Government should look urgently as what action it might be able take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of this much valued and important part of the British press. It is clear to me that local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role.”
The Leveson Report went on to say “I should also, perhaps, make it clear that the regulatory model proposed later in this Report should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press.”
During his opening statement in July 2011, Lord Justice Leveson outlined the core of the inquiry: “At some stage, there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom“.
A question journalists and those involved in reporting constantly need to ask themselves is whether what they are writing is of value to the general (or local) public. Secondary, or perhaps alongside that, must be the method of news gathering – and ensuring it is within the parameters of the law.
What Leveson seeks to establish is when and why these parameters became so blurred, when professionals thought it was acceptable to hack into the phone of Milly Dowler, and in the process give her parents renewed but ultimately baseless hope that their daughter may still be alive and well. The extremes are so obviously ‘wrong’, however in the short time Wrexham.com has existed we have seen some examples of reporting issues and methods locally which have raised our eyebrows as although not illegal we would perhaps expect better :
- Straight up untruths published.
- Reporters causing direct distress to recently bereaved family members in Wrexham.
- Stories not published on a subject, with the subject then having advertising in a close edition.
- Stories published with great ‘concern’, then see associated adverts later in the same publication eg. sexual ‘massage’ adverts in the same paper making a stand against such things.
- ‘Senior Reporter’ hassling a teenager on social media late of an evening to chase details of people who had died four or five hours earlier in Wrexham.
- Facebook ‘friend’ requests from media accounts with the sole reason to gain more information, usually access to ‘locked’ pictures.
- Use of said pictures in the publications over the next few days.
- Editing of news releases to remove mention of financial relationship links between the publication and the article subject.
- Lack of meta-reporting be it on circulation reports or debates on council tax payers money eg. cost of statutory notices.
The treatment of deaths locally is a particular gripe we have as the pattern is often the same, a death is sadly announced yet it does make filling space easier via ‘tributes’. We have written before about our pet hate of ‘tributes’ pages, we have seen reporters noting down the contents of cards left with flowers at the scene of a tragedy, straight cut ‘n pastes from Facebook and Twitter of genuine tributes left not for public consumption but for personal reasons. It is a very easy way to fill a page or two in print, but we do wonder if there is any real benefit or reporting value and it is worth saying that readers and reporters themselves seem to wonder the same when we speak with them.
We are also aware of a time where reporters were sent to the streets to ask for public opinion, when that came back as negative the message was changed to one of positive – internally at the publication. When articles are held up as representative of public opinion or perhaps read by decision makers looking for a guide to public opinion there is no other way of describing it other than wrong.
We don’t just write for Wrexham.com, we have grown up in the town and consumed the local and national media relating to it. We always held it in high esteem however our eyes have been opened to perhaps the true nature of it. When several key stakeholders in and around the town share the same concern, but have no ability or avenue to express or help change things for the better that is of great concern.
Of course if standards and output are raised then that makes things more competitive for Wrexham.com , but we welcome it. We know our site and our other outlets get monitored with our original stories and information taken (usually uncredited) by other publications but we see that as a huge compliment. In reality there ought to be no gap in the market for a new startup such as ourselves in 2012 but the fact there is speaks volumes.
A recent report by Nigel Warner, released by the Institute for Public Policy Research vastly underplays the importance of online hyperlocal style news consumption – which Leveson today made clear with “30% for those aged between 16 and 24” engage with media online – said : “Undoubtedly these sites contribute to the wealth and variety of UK sources of news and comment. But they are not substantially equivalent to well-funded journalism that remains largely the preserve of the traditional print and broadcast organisations.” Leveson mentions the double figure percentage of advertising revenue drops suffered by some regional media groups, which accompanied by local circulation figures dropping results in the required unspecified ‘change’ that is in the air.
We are fortunate to have a rich, free press provoking debate and discussion. But with so much news out there and differing outlet methods the establishments are struggling; struggling even to give us reason to get to the newsagents and buy their paper, tune in the radio or visit their website. Maybe the occasional extreme measures in news gathering and more common over-egging of presentation* gives an insight to the the desperate landscape of the industry as a whole and the insecurities of where it’s going.
Although Leveson will grab the national headlines to make out all media and journalists are bad apples, we know there are some excellent reporters and media outlets locally. We urge all involved, however big, small, good or bad to rethink how they operate and look to improve standards both of operation and output.
Written by Rob Taylor and Mike Roberts
(* We know people in Wrexham are upset over a burglary or the like who wouldnt be, but they always seem to be ANGRY LOCAL RESIDENT UP IN ARMS. Really? )