Editors debate regulation and ethics in journalism training at conference

A panel of editors from around the UK debated the issues surrounding regulation and ethics in journalism training on day one of the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference at Belfast Metropolitan College.

The panel was chaired by Tom Thomson, managing editor, Herald and Times Group and the participants were Cathy Duncan, assistant editor, South Wales Evening Post; Jim Flanagan, editor, Ballymena Guardian; Deric Henderson, Ireland editor, Press Association; Damian Wilson, group editor, Johnston Press Northern Ireland; and Richard Best, editor, West Briton.

They discussed ethical issues in the regional press, topics surrounding regulation and how they, as editors, maintain high standards of journalism and operate within the law. The focal point was the recent hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry.

Richard entertained delegates with a presentation on the findings of a survey he carried out prior to the conference. He asked participants, who were all non journalists, for their views on the media and  asked when or whether it was acceptable to use subterfuge, take pictures and use information leaked to them. The results showed that the public rarely agree with these methods, however they do like the information. He likened the relationship between the public and newspapers to that of the public and sausages, saying: “People love them but they don’t want to know how they are made.”

Speaking about regulation, Jim said: “For me, when it comes to regulation it’s clear. I see the PCC as the bible of regulation because it provides practical and common sense practice. Difficulties arise when journalists choose to ignore the code. Journalists and phone hacking should not be used in the same sentence.”

Cathy shared this view and said she was worried about what things would be like for the press after the inquiry. She said: “I am concerned those in the regional press are going to suffer the backlash of the Leveson Inquiry. We have always adhered to what the PCC say and now we are finding it hard to cover things properly.”

Referring to the inquiry Damian said what he saw was “horrific” and “shocking and I feel ashamed.” He said he hoped the outcome of the inquiry would find that not all journalists act in this manner and that the majority are good and need support. The panel agreed that the NCTJ needed to continue to provide this support.

Deric said the best way to ensure high standards of journalism were maintained was to make sure all journalists knew shorthand. “Journalists should not be allowed on the street unless they have shorthand. Journalists should not be allowed to apply for a job without it.” He said multi-skilling was important but shorthand was vital and added: “You can’t call yourself a real or proper journalist without it.” He said that the NCTJ was crucial in making sure journalists were equipped with this skill.

Jim pointed out that if journalists were stuck at their desks, this would pose a problem when they tried to report thoroughly and accurately: “The further you move away from the primary source, the more we will get into trouble.”

The panellists agreed unanimously that journalists need to get back to basics and build relationships with their communities.