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Brexiters should come clean: they never had a plan

Writing about Brexit has become tough. The whirlwind of panic gripping both sides of the negotiations means what you write might be right today, wrong tomorrow and right again the day after. Many write with a specious certainty about the negotiations, frequently with little real evidence to hand.

I have hesitated to add to the mountain of highly speculative comment, although I have written a few pieces on how it might affect the financial services sector which have been full of ifs, buts and maybes. Few are close enough to the heart of the negotiations to be able to write with much authority on the current state of the talks, the likelihood of a deal or no deal Brexit, a second referendum or the future survival prospects of Theresa May’s government.

So, why this blog?

I was struck this morning, when listening to the latest instalment of despair and delusion from the Brexit frontline, by a sudden recollection of the image of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson the morning after the referendum in June 2016.

You may recall they waited many hours that morning before eventually appearing together to face the media. When they did, their grim, almost gloomy demeanour was sharply at odds with the triumphalism surrounding Nigel Farage down the road. It was, it seemed, a case of beware of what you wish for. The cynical calculation of Johnson in particular that supporting the Leave campaign would enhance his chances of becoming Conservative leader was meant to end in heroic failure. He did not expect to win.

This goes right to the heart of the dishonesty of the Brexiters. They never had a plan.

What the picture betrays is that both of them had not put any serious thought to what winning the referendum would mean. They had no plan for Brexit on that June morning and they have no plan for Brexit now. What they have offered since is a series of fragmented, incoherent and intellectually threadbare responses to whatever crises the negotiations have thrown up.

That is what makes so many people who voted to remain angry. Having urged the UK down a path that required real vision, creative thought and incredible diplomacy to deliver the UK’s withdrawal from a series of complex international treaties and obligations, they had nothing to offer. Their only moment of honesty was the one their faces betrayed at that post-referendum press conference.

Matthew Townsend remembered in St Bride’s

Matthew Townsend, with whom I worked for many years, sadly passed away earlier this year just a few days before his 49th birthday. He is now remembered with a simple plaque, bearing the Benn family crest, in St Bride’s, Fleet Street. Matt and I actually worked together just a short walk from there for several years.

I was privileged at his funeral back in March to be asked by his parents, Tim and Tina Benn, to say a few words about Matt’s work as a publisher and our collaboration. Several people who couldn’t be there have asked me for a copy of what I said so, with Tim and Tina’s permission, I publish it here.

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It was a huge privilege to work alongside Matt.

Our careers met twice. First, as he took his initial steps into the world of publishing at United Trade Press when he started selling classified advertising on one of the magazines I edited. Then, more importantly, when we worked together at Timothy Benn Publishing and Incisive Media on Post Magazine and its associated brands.

My years of working with Matt were among the most rewarding and memorable times of my career, as I know they were for so many other people lucky enough to work with him. He brought tremendous flair and fun to the Post team, inspiring us all to take that wonderful brand to new heights.

Life working with Matt was never dull.

Our annual trips to the printers in Cornwall were adventures in themselves. The first time we went together I booked us onto the plane to Newquay. Matt was not impressed as we boarded a plane with propellers. He was a nervous flyer. Every year thereafter we drove, an interesting experience the morning after enjoying the generous – legendary – hospitality of St Ives’ sales director.

Matt-Townsend-Matt was a great team leader – and it is our achievements as a publishing team that many of us will always cherish from our time working with him.

As anyone who has worked in business publishing knows, understanding the market you are serving is vital. This was totally instinctive for Matt. He liked the insurance market and it liked him.

This led to a string of triumphs, several of them making stunning commercial successes of ideas that others, not least myself, had failed to bring to fruition.

He launched a magazine called Professional Broking by putting the perfect business model around an editorial concept I had singularly failed to translate into a commercial success.

But it is our collaboration to create and launch the British Insurance Awards almost a quarter of a century ago that will forever be one of the highlights of my career. In so many ways it perfectly illustrates why Matt was a brilliant publisher. But also why his achievements did not always get the credit he deserved.

Before Matt arrived at Post, I had put together a ragbag of stand-alone awards but could not get the commercial traction to take them to another level.

Matt had the vision to see the potential of pulling those awards together and creating a bold, new integrated awards scheme for an industry that was struggling for recognition, not least because it did not promote its own successes.

We argued long and hard over what to call them. I was all for playing safe and calling them the Post Magazine Awards. Matt’s vision was bigger and bolder – he believed we could create a new brand – the British Insurance Awards. He was right and thank goodness he won that argument.

Above all it was his dynamism and professional salesmanship that ensured we got the BIA off the ground. It is hard to imagine the scepticism we faced back then.

People just could not understand what we were trying to create, not least when it came to the awards ceremony.

We even had to have a physical model of the Great Room at Grosvenor House made – digital graphics were in their infancy then – showing where the state trumpeters would be, how the military band would be used and the quality of set we intended to build. We took that around to potential sponsors and developed a polished routine for unveiling our precious model. We were a decent double-act.

Some sponsors also could not understand why their substantial financial commitment did not buy them a place on the judging panel. Matt was unwavering in our shared belief of the need for a totally independent and impartial judging process.

Mind you that resolve was tested in the very first year. Those independent judges decided not to award one of the categories Matt had worked so hard to get sponsored. He was not impressed – and I was immediately dispatched their head office on the south coast to explain what had happened. Fortunately, I managed to concoct a solution that kept everyone happy.

That rigorous independence has been one of the cornerstones of the enduring success of the BIA – the UK’s largest B2B awards scheme – and is part of Matt’s considerable legacy. Because of it the insurance industry today wears the badge of BIA winner with enormous pride.

It also laid a solid foundation for the events and awards that revitalised Post and are an essential element of its continued commercial success.

Matt did not seek the limelight.

Indeed, he shied away from it.

It is one of the reasons why his achievements were not always adequately recognised.

In many ways, I was his frontman. Whether it was standing up at the BIA in Grosvenor House and later the Royal Albert Hall or hosting a series of global roundtables in the reinsurance market when he turned his attention to reviving another of our brands, Matt never stepped out into the spotlight.

It just wasn’t his skillset and he knew it. He was kind enough to trust me to do all that for him.

Matt, it is a privilege to be your front man one last time.

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The_spire_St_BridesThe plaque is easy to find if you visit St Bride’s. It is about halfway down the aisle immediately on your left as you enter the church.

There is also an obituary to Matt on the Countryman website.

Reaching out across 50 years: School reunion stirs memories and evokes the past

September 1968 and 93 fresh-faced, apprehensive 11 year old boys stepped through the doors of an institution that was to shape their lives. Fifty years on many of those same boys, now all in their early 60s, will once again to step through those doors together.

The “50 Years On” group is a key feature of Old Bancroftians’ Day every year and this Sunday it is the turn of that class of ’68 to re-connect, reminisce and remember. Some year groups make little effort to trace lost colleagues while others treat it as a welcome challenge. The class of ’68 from Bancroft’s School in Woodford Green, Essex, is firmly in the latter camp. As a result, around 40 of that year group will meet again this weekend.

1968 was a different era. It was the year student protests gripped universities here and on the continent. The Vietnam War was dragging on into its second decade and a war-weary America was getting restless. Northern Ireland was teetering on the brink of civil unrest. South Africa was about to plunge itself into a quarter of century of sporting isolation by banning the English cricket team containing Basil D’Oliviera.

Old Bancrotians' Day

The quad – still pristine half a century on

Bancroft’s in 1968 was on the cusp of huge change though those 11 year old boys being ushered from the imposing gates, around the pristine quad to the wood-panelled Great Hall to be allocated to their classes had little inkling as to how much change they would see in their seven years at the school.

The cane still loomed large on the list of possible punishments. The cloisters were open to the elements. The changing rooms were separated from the gym and the swimming pool, requiring crazy dashes through the snow and ice in winter wearing only swimming trunks and shoes, clutching a towel that could never adequately protect one from the elements.

Many of the staff had been teaching at the school all their lives, some having been boys at the school. Goodbye Mr Chips could have been written about the Bancroft’s that embraced the class of ’68 .

It changed. Indeed, change was a constant feature of our school days.

A new headmaster, Ian Richardson, had arrived a year or so ahead of us and with him came many new ideas.

Those cloisters which invited the winter wind to whip through their arches were closed in, although that spoilt the fun of wading through the mountain of autumn leaves that always accumulated outside one classroom, causing the history teacher to explode with rage as they blew around the room when we carelessly left the door open.

A new science block was built. A new gym and swimming pool was built with the novelty of having changing rooms in the same building. This has since been superseded by an even newer sports building. It is disorientating for that class of ‘68 to walk into what they still think of as the new gym only to find it is now the drama centre.

David_Worsfold_Bancroft's_1975

I thought the boaters were great fun in 1975 – and still do

The uniform was gradually updated but not quite fast enough to prevent us from being the last sixth form to wear boaters. Some of us loved them and many will be dusted down at the weekend if they can be found.

In 1968, a quarter of those boys were stepping into an institution that wasn’t just to be their school but also their home. Boarding at the school had been part of Bancroft’s from its foundation but by the time we left no more boarders were joining. It was a change that had a fundamental impact on the culture of the school. The debate about whether it was a change for the better or worse is one that will always occupy Old Bancroftians of our generation and earlier when they meet.

A bigger change was to come before we left the school, however.

In 1973, as the class of ‘68 entered the sixth form, it was joined by two girls. Six more followed the next year. Now it is a fully co-educational school. For us girls were a novelty, now they are the norm at Bancroft’s.

Change swept through our era and it has followed us as we have trodden the twisting path of life’s journey since leaving.

1968 Bancrfot's Form List

That 1968 form list. At Bancroft’s the first year has always been the third form

Yet, seeing the names on the form lists from 1968 has reminded many of that class of ’68 that those boys were part of an institution that remains part of them. They have been inspired to reach out to each other, re-connecting after a lifetime, determined that as many as possible will greet each other in person at this weekend’s events. Many of those who can’t make it have been busy promising each other they will meet soon.

We will have changed, some more than others. Many have led lives that have taken unpredictable turns, some bringing joy, some despair. Some have followed what seemed to be pre-ordained paths.

Lives have been lived. Some have already run their course.

As the names on the class lists from 50 years ago were ticked off during our months of research to find everyone, there were moments of sadness as the list of those who haven’t made it to the glorious uplands of their seventh decade grew longer. There were those we all knew. One died while we at school, another just weeks after leaving. Others we are only just learning will be with us only in spirit.

Yet, for all the change of the last 50 years that has swirled around us and moulded us there will be moments this weekend when it will be as if nothing has changed.  Fleetingly, change will be an illusion.

Standing in the quad looking up at the tower and the great wooden doors below will remind us all of the timelessness of the journey that thousands of boys – and girls – have experienced over the 130 years that tower has stood guard over the school in Woodford.

In the chapel we will rise to sing the familiar hymns and psalms as the summer sun streams through the stained glass, casting rich colours across the faces, once young, now old. It will be a moment when change will seem elusive, almost forgotten.

Floreat Bancroftia

Why was Jeremy Thorpe so adored?

We can’t seem to get away from Jeremy Thorpe at the moment. It sometime feels as if we are in a bizarre 40 year time warp with his name dominating the headlines once more.

Some of us may have our own vivid recollections of the events portrayed in A Very English Scandal and the subsequent trial but for many others it is a little piece of political and social history they knew nothing of until the last few weeks.

Several people I have spoken to expressed surprise at the jubilation when he was found not guilty and the adulation in the final balcony scene in A Very English Scandal (also shown from real life at the end of Tom Mangold’s 1979 documentary).

It is hard to explain to people just how adored Thorpe was but I thought this picture of my late mother (nearest the camera) might help.

I took it for her at a Liberal Party conference (or Assembly as we called them) in the mid-70s. She was with a colleague (Sue Skinner) from her constituency (Wanstead & Woodford). As you can see Jeremy was accompanied by Marion.

Thorpe had only met my mother once before. She was just another constituency activist from a part of the world I don’t think he ever visited – Wanstead & Woodford – but within seconds he had recalled her name and where she came from. He was genuinely engaged in a conversation with them, making them feel very special. He had that effect on so many people, maybe not always for the best, but it goes some way to explaining the reaction to the trial.

Many of those people, including my mother, thought it wouldn’t be long before he made a political comeback. His judgement – or Ursula’s in the drama – was that he was finished as a public figure. That balcony scene with Thorpe displaying all his old élan and panache was a sad last hurrah.

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Politically I was a huge fan of Thorpe for reasons I recounted an the Appreciation I wrote after his death. Nothing I have seen in the wonderful BBC drama or Tom Mangold’s documentary has made me change those views.

Quote checks: a growing curse

Over my near four decades as a journalist one of the biggest changes has been the huge growth in demands from PR people – both in-house and external – for quote checks. When I started they were unheard of. Now, hardly an article goes by without at least one request.

They are a blight and that is putting it politely.

They are an insult to professional journalists and a dreadful indictment of the lack of trust PR people have in the people they are responsible for putting in front of the media.

Gather two or three journalists together, mention “quote checks” and they will quickly generate plenty of righteous and totally justified indignation. It isn’t just journalists who are appalled by this curse. Very experienced PR people are too, for reasons that S-J Wrigley of Spotlight Consultancy recently explained in an excellent post on LinkedIn.

I was asked by a publisher to suggest some guidelines for dealing with requests for quote checks – here is what I sent them and which they have largely adopted.

Quote check guidelines

If a journalist correctly identifies themselves as such at the start of a conversation that is clearly aimed at gathering content and comment for publication that conversation is “on the record” unless anything is said to the contrary at the outset.

If the subject of the interview tries to change the status of a conversation part way through that does not mean they can take remarks already made off the record.

This puts the journalist in a strong position as people have no legal or other right to review, amend or withdraw comments made on the record.

There can never be an expectation that an interviewee or the PR team has a right to review quotes. The only exception to this is when one person is the subject of the article, eg a profile piece, and then, legally, they have joint copyright over their quotes (but never the journalist’s context etc). If it is a news article or a feature quoting several people this does not apply.

Requests for quote checks at the end of an interview cannot carry any threat to withdraw permission to use the material. It was said on the record and that cannot be withdrawn retrospectively. This gives the journalist the upper hand in negotiating if that becomes necessary.

Requests for quote checks are sometimes made at the beginning of an interview and the interview is sometimes conditional on agreeing to it. This is an invidious position for a journalist to be placed in.

How should a journalist respond?

This partly depends on whether you need them more than they need you. In general, requests for quote checks should be resisted. The only exceptions may be when the quotes contain a lot of technical information, data, names etc that everyone would feel more comfortable having checked. In these cases you should always stress it is just the facts they are checking.

Celebrity PRs are among the most controlling and will often produce a contract for the journalist to sign before they are allowed to speak to a client. This will make clear that their approval is essential. If you are ever presented with such a contract show it to your company’s lawyers before signing it. If you do not have that luxury then check that they are not exerting control over your words, just over their client’s quotes.

Of course, resisting a request to check quotes might mean that a person or even a whole company might not speak to you for a while. This threat is what PR people are relying on to get you to submit your quotes to them. They are bullying you.

Why should requests be resisted?

They imply a lack of trust in the ability of the journalist to do the job for which they have trained and in which they may have had years of experience. This should be pointed out to people because they often don’t see it from our perspective. Sometimes I have turned it round and asked them if I can come and check whether they are doing their job properly.

Quote check screamThey can lead to unnecessary arguments. What are you going to do if they come back and try to neuter the best comment they made? You have it as an on the record comment (you may have even recorded it), it adds value to the article and you want to use it. They have no right to withdraw it. Stalemate. The journalist is in the driving seat and should drive a hard bargain which might, ultimately, mean refusing the request to change it – publish and be damned. OK, they might be cross and not talk to you for a while but usually there are plenty of other people out there who will speak to you.

They mess up the publishing process. You write an article to a deadline that doesn’t allow time for PR people to poke their noses in and fuss about quotes. The more people you quote in an article, the more chaos quote checks cause. They are often simply impractical.

Quote checks on interviews that are recorded are simply pointless. You are under no obligation to tell people you are recording an interview. This has been clearly established in the courts which only care about whether a journalist has accurately captured what someone said, not how they captured it.

The dumbest requests I get are from people who I have interviewed face-to-face, knowing I was recording the interview. How do they think they are going to dispute what they said?

Ultimately, this is about trust.

Firms need to be able to trust the people we interview to say the right things. They then need to be able to trust us to report that correctly. Relationships with contacts built on anything other trust are usually only transient anyway.

If the person/firm you want to speak to really insists as a pre-condition that you submit quotes for checking and they are so special, have access to the key piece of information, etc that you feel you have to do a deal with the devil, still remind them that they are displaying a lack of trust in our ability to do your job as making them feel guilty might make them less keen to attempt to censor anything they decide they would rather they (or their spokesperson) hadn’t said.

Even if you have agreed to a check that doesn’t mean you have agreed to change anything. Remember once it is on the record, it is always on the record. Publish and be damned.

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The final blog in this short series will suggest some basic procedures for dealing with complaints about content

The earlier blogs covered:

• Editorial standards: values worth striving for
• Reporting Best Practice: facts, sources and comment
• Editorial standards: maintaining trust, authority and integrity

Editorial standards: maintaining trust, authority & integrity

Professional journalists care deeply about about the quality and accuracy of what they write and the way they go about gathering information.

A few years ago, I wrote a booklet for Incisive Media journalists on editorial standards which contains plenty of valuable advice and guidance for journalists. Much of it remains highly relevant and is worth sharing. I remember when writing the booklet how impressed I was that so many other media organisations, especially in the fields of business and financial publishing had similar policies they expected their journalists to adhere to.

This is the third in a series of blogs doing just that with a few minor up-dates.

Mission: It is our aim to produce great journalism that provokes, informs, entertains and educates. Accuracy, reliability and integrity are the key attributes that all writers and production staff should aim for in every aspect of their work. We strive to produce added-value information, whether in print or online, that our readers cannot live without. You should be aware of your division’s mission statement and that of your own brand.

Authority: We write factual and authoritative stories and do not pull punches. We do not write deliberately negative or destructive copy and always go out of our way to be honest and balanced. There is no room for mean-spirited journalism in our pages. Be tough, but be fair.

Independence: One of the most important qualities of a good journalist is independence and our readers must be able to place their trust in us. We are independent of our sources and do not let ourselves be used by them. It is our job to question the conventional wisdom and ask the questions we know our readers would like to have answered. Our editorial pages – whether in print or online – are not for sale.

Accountability: We hate making mistakes. When we do, we correct them. Internally, you are expected to come clean with your editor or publisher when you make an error. Do not withhold any serious complaints you get from readers and/or sources about your work. (A further blog in this series will deal with complaints and how to handle them).

Initiative: Editorial staff must show initiative and commitment, be good time managers and be flexible, ready to respond to the varying demands of their job. They must represent Incisive Media in a professional and conscientious manner in appearance and attitude.

Honesty: Never lie to a source. Never lie to a colleague. Never lie to your editor or manager.

Transparency: Never duck the implications of your relationship to a subject or a story, or to a particular source or sources, if this might have an impact on how we approach a story. If there is any reason why you might not be the right person to do a story because of a conflict, let your editor know.

ipso-green-320Stocks and shares: Simply put, you should never write about a company or business in which you have a financial interest, or write about shares or financial services products in which you or a close relative has a significant interest. You should be familiar with the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Editors’ Code of Practice which is unequivocally clear on this point.

Advertising features: These are a common feature of modern business publishing and can add value to a publication, its website or to an event. However, it is important that readers are not misled. They should be clearly labelled and, if staff writers are contributing, you should always ask the question: is it clear to the reader what is independent content and what is paid-for content? If there is any prospect of confusion among readers, you should err on the side of caution and use external writers or write under a pen name.

Plagiarism: It goes without saying that as part of your commitment to trust and integrity, you should never attempt to pass off someone else’s work as your own.

Entertainment and paid-for trips: Practice differs sharply in different markets. In the US, most journalists decline all lunches or similar if paid for by a company or a source. In the UK and Asia, it is more usual to accept them. You need to be wary of excessively expensive entertainment: think through the potential obligation to the provider that might result and, if you have any concerns, discuss these with your publisher and editor. If it is a paid-for visit to another country that will result in editorial coverage, you should state clearly at the end of any article who paid for the trip.

Finally, there were a few general words of advice that all journalists, including this writer, should reflect on from time-to-time.

A key ingredient in any successful journalistic career is self-discipline, whether in meeting deadlines, managing your time, making that extra phone call to get the story or checking every fact over again. That can only come from you, although the advice in this booklet will be of great help.

Always remember that excellence is not a one-off event, it is a constant striving for the very highest standards in print, in person and online.

Trust, authority and integrity are hard-won accolades: tough to earn but all too easy to lose.

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The next blog in this series will deal with the growing problem of demands for quote checks.

The earlier blogs covered:

• Editorial standards: values worth striving for
• Reporting Best Practice: facts, sources and comment

Reporting Best Practice: facts, sources and comment

We hear so much about fake news, media bias and suspect journalistic standards nowadays that people might think that journalists rarely, if ever, stop to think about what they do or how they go about their daily task of reporting. My experience is that professional journalists care deeply about about the quality and accuracy of what they write and the way they go about gathering information.

A few years ago, I wrote a booklet for Incisive Media journalists on editorial standards which contains plenty of valuable advice and guidance for journalists. Much of it remains highly relevant and is worth sharing. This is the second in a series of blogs doing just that with a few minor up-dates.

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Sources: All of your conversations with sources are presumptively on the record, provided that you clearly identify yourself at the start of the interview as a reporter for your publication. Many of the people you interview will want to go ‘off the record’. Resist this: encourage sources to be on the record. Remind them that readers place more stock by an attributed quote. If you must, allow them to go ‘not for attribution’ or ‘off the record’ (see below). Make sure that you and the source have the same understanding of the terms used below. Avoid conversations that wander from one status to another: it is generally best to take them off the record and then go through with the source to get his or her agreement as to what can be used on the record at the end.

You should aim to get as much as possible on the record. Do not let sources think they can easily gain anonymity in order to criticise other people or damage competitors; encourage them to go on the record. Never forget that some sources want to remain anonymous because they want to advance an agenda or hurt someone. Do not let yourself be used.

Everything given to you by one source as that you wish to present as fact should always be checked, no matter who they are. You must always be on your guard against being used or too easily accepting something as fact just because it sounds true or is headline grabbing. Unfortunately, journalism is littered with examples of people who have deviated from this simple rule.

Sourcing and status: There are three levels of conversation between source and reporter: on the record, not for attribution and off the record.

• On the record is exactly what it says: sources, by name, being quoted or paraphrased in print.

• Not for attribution is when you quote or paraphrase someone without identifying them by name. “A source in the Justice Department…” “A leading fund manager…”. Two important points to bear in mind when using not-for-attribution sources are: work out in detail how you will describe an anonymous source – the source should not be surprised to see how you have described them – and give the reader some help on how to judge the value of information from the anonymous source by being as detailed as possible in the identification while preserving the source’s anonymity.

• Off the record means you cannot attribute the information to the person you are interviewing and you cannot use it based on that source at all. It does not mean that the information goes into a black box, protected from ever being made public. You can take what you learn in an off-the-record interview and use it to try to ferret out other information, or the same piece of information, on the record or not for attribution using other sources.

• At some events people may refer to the Chatham House Rules. These are frequently misunderstood. Firstly, there is only one Chatham House Rule. Secondly, it does not mean off the record. It is a non-attributable status that means it can be reported: “At an dinner in the City last night top compliance directors slammed the regulator…”. You cannot identify the participants but do not be surprised if some people at the event think they were talking off the record.

Getting comment: No one should be surprised to see their name in one of our publications. No one should be surprised to read an allegation or accusation about them. You should get comment from, or at least attempt to get comment from, people whose names will appear in and are the subject of a story. Be persistent: one phone call is not nearly enough; you should try hard, often leaving multiple messages, to reach key players in a story and tell them when your deadline is.

In most instances, organisations should also not be surprised. For example, if you are mentioning a firm, even if you are not quoting anyone from that firm, you should call a manager or PR representative of that firm to confirm facts or to get comment. You should give people a real chance to respond to an article by contacting them ahead of deadlines when circumstances permit. As with all of these guidelines, there are obvious common-sense exceptions. For example, it is not necessary to get comment when a person’s name appears as part of a contemporaneous court report.

People and companies cannot suppress a story about themselves that they do not want published merely by refusing to comment. In order to protect yourself and your publication you should put allegations to someone and invite them to comment but if they do not respond within a reasonable time or refuse to comment then you can publish. It is best to make your readers aware that you invited comment but did not receive it.

There is plenty of law covering this, much of it now enshrined in the 2013 Defamation Act.

ipso-green-320Representing yourself as a reporter: Do not tell people you are someone you are not. That means, in virtually all cases, you should introduce yourself to potential sources and subjects as a reporter and name your publication. Deception should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is a clear public interest to be served and these should be discussed with senior editorial staff. The Editors’ Code of the Independent Press Standards Organisation has some sensible advice on this.

Quotes: Do not use quotes out of context. Use an ellipsis (…) when you omit long stretches of quoted material. You do not need to use an ellipsis when you omit odd words from an interview: just be careful not to distort the meaning or take a quote out of context.

Facts: You are responsible for not making mistakes. The best practice is to fact check everything you write formally. That means going through a copy of the final, edited version of your story and questioning every fact: the spelling of names, the names of companies, job titles and so on. Just getting the spelling of someone’s name wrong undermines the authority of a story. A good practical tip is to fact check from the bottom of the story up, one sentence at a time. This will force you to isolate facts and minimise the likelihood of quickly reading past checkable material that you’ve stopped ‘seeing’ because you have read the story so many times.

Online resources: Take care when using online sources. It is the journalist’s job to check sources. Do not take all websites at face value, especially if they contain controversial information. There are many bogus and hoax websites that contain malicious false information about individuals or business rivals that look like the real thing. You should look for an ‘about us’ section and check the contact details if you have any reason to be suspicious about the provenance of a site.

Wikis and collaborative sites: Wikipediea and similar collaborative sites are a very good starting point for research but they should never be treated as a definitive source. There are many examples of inaccuracies, some deliberate and malicious, on these sites. Every fact should be checked.

Beware of social media: The vast array of social media also presents a significant challenge. Social media can be a great source of stories but it is also the means by which most fake news is generated and recirculated. Everything needs careful checking. Remember that the laws of defamation and libel apply to social media in the same way as they apply to everything else that is published.

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The next post in this series will cover some broader topics such as financial interests, hospitality and balancing commercial interests. Later posts will deal with complaints and quote checks.