Tom Little: All journalists find themselves tarred

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Editor’s Notes

NEWSPAPERS are spending much of their time writing about themselves these days, thanks to the phone hacking probe and particularly the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

Some of it has been pretty unedifying stuff, not least to those of us in the trade. But I do hope Lord Leveson and, more importantly, the general public will recognise the differences to be found both among journalists and their “victims”.

The Dowlers were horribly wronged and they deserve all our sympathy. Hugh Grant got a few more column inches than he wanted. He doesn’t.

Categories are also needed when passing judgement on journalists and newspaper owners. Some hacks hacked, but the vast majority didn’t. For every one who went through a dustbin there are a thousand who did not.

Of course, the same is true of priests and paedophilia and MPs with dodgy expenses. (Though among the latter the “innocence” ratio was more like one in ten.)

Like those professions, all journalists find themselves tarred to a degree. That’s fair enough. Newspapers dish out kicks and we don’t always get it right, either.

At local papers like the News, though, there is more reason than most to aim for accuracy and getting the pitch of stories right. We live and work here, among our readers and the people we write about. If we get it wrong, they soon tell us – and usually face to face.

If we do get it wrong we apologise and make corrections – guidance on how to complain appears every day on our letters pages. Any corrections are printed there too.

The same page guides readers who are not happy to the Press Complaints Commission. Despite claims to the contrary, it takes ALL claims seriously. We have recently had to spend a lot of time handling two complaints. One was from a family which willingly gave us an interview after losing a loved one but had second thoughts after it appeared in print. The second was from a convicted fraudster who felt we were picking on him.

Time for more categorisation: although we did nothing wrong, I felt deeply sorry in the first case; I have no regrets at all in the second.

* ON happier matters, when the giant pandas arrive at the zoo on Sunday 50 local primary school children and their families will be there to greet them, thanks to a competition run by the News. As you’ll see on pages 8 and 9 today, these kids have no doubts the long wait for Tian Tian and Yang Guan has been worth it. Let’s just hope two soon become three.

* AND finally, we’ll launch our Christmas appeal on Monday. Working with big-name local partners, we’ll combine raising cash for a very good cause with a bit of fun for everyone. Watch this space!