‘The Philpott case was one of the toughest and most rewarding of my career’

philpott caseDerby Telegraph editor and NCTJ board member Neil White explains how the regional’s journalists achieved thorough and compelling coverage of the story that shocked the nation

On 4 April, Mick Philpott, his wife Mairead and his best friend Paul Mosley were jailed for their part in an arson, which had killed six children in their Derby home.

The trio had unwittingly burned the house down as they tried to frame Philpott’s former lover Lisa Willis.

In sending them to prison, Dame Justice Thirlwall brought to a conclusion a tumultuous period for the Derby Telegraph.

Two days earlier, after the three were convicted by a jury, the paper produced 29 pages about the case – including background information – gleaned from months of interviewing those close to it.

For the previous six weeks, the Telegraph had at least one reporter, sometimes two, in court. It was the first time the paper had covered a trial online and in print simultaneously.

The This is Derbyshire homepage and news channel were dominated by the story every day, as well as having its own dedicated channel.

Reporters in the court room sent at least 20 texts a day, which were used to update and re-headline the live story. The time of each new line was displayed throughout the article, with the latest at the top. Not a moment of courtroom action was missed as there was a two-reporter relay system in place.

For optimum search engine optimisation, each story also featured a large number of related articles links plus a link at the bottom of the copy to the Philpott Trial channel itself.

On Twitter reporters used #philpott and #philpottstrial to tweet out each new line.

The paper splashed on the Philpotts most days of the trial with between three and five pages of copy in each edition.

Thus, organisation was paramount. One double page spread was filed during the lunch interval and another at the end of the day.

The need for excellent fast shorthand was obvious. This was the most important trial in Derby’s recent history and the eyes of the world were on the Telegraph and its website.

Equally, ethics were a consideration. On occasions salacious side-line information was presented during the trial but we made decisions not to include it.

One of the reasons was that it could have sullied the reputations of those innocent parties whose names were mentioned in connection with unsubstantiated claims over sexual and physical abuse.

The Philpott case was one of the toughest and most rewarding of my career. After its conclusion I was delighted that our coverage received praise from within Derby and outside for its thoroughness and its avoidance of sensationalism.

But it demonstrated the importance of all of the basic journalistic skills – accuracy, spotting the best line in a story, shorthand, time management and ethics.