EDITOR'S CHAIR: Your Argus and ethics

South Wales Argus: DOING IT RIGHT: Lee Howarth with baby Hallie-Rose DOING IT RIGHT: Lee Howarth with baby Hallie-Rose

I TRAVELLED to London last week to take part in a seminar about ethics and journalism. Primarily, this was an event aimed at educators - those who run journalism courses at universities.

The seminar focused on how ethics is taught to potential new journalists, particularly in today's post-hacking scandal and post-Leveson world.

Below are some extracts from my speech at the event, which I hope will explain to readers how we try (not always successfully) to get things right.

I can’t remember ever actually using the word ‘ethics’ when discussing how to approach, or write, or display any particular story.

But the reality is we apply an ethical approach to every story we publish, online or in print.

There will be plenty who will disagree with me – usually the mum of someone who has just been in court, outraged that her offspring’s name and/or picture has been published by the local paper.

So how do we apply ethics to the day-to-day business of running a newspaper?

Firstly, every journalist we employ has a clause in their contract that refers to ethics and sets out the Editors’ Code of Conduct.

Secondly, every journalist at the Argus has a copy of the pocket-sized Code issued by the Society of Editors. They are encouraged to keep it with them, to refer to it when in doubt, or refer to me if still in doubt.

But most importantly, we care about the communities we serve and the impact our stories can have on them.

When a major national story breaks on our patch – and it happens at least a couple of times a year – the national media arrive, do their job and disappear until the next time. Their interest is in getting the story. Period.

We are on patch all the time. We cannot afford to upset people unnecessarily. We have to get things right.

As a young reporter chasing stories 30 years ago, I was taught that first is first and second is nowhere. And I like to be first with a story. Every editor does. Every journalist does.

But I would rather be right than be first.

Brand reputation is more important to me than rushing a story in before it is ready to go. As a local newspaper, without the trust of our readers we have nothing.

Let me give you two brief examples of getting it right – and getting it first.

When I was Editor of the Worcester Evening News in 2008 we broke the story of Dan James, a 23-year-old former rugby player who had been paralysed from the chest down after a training accident and had travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his own life. He was the youngest British person to die in such a way.

The day after we broke the story, it made the front pages of every national newspaper. The story won us Scoop of the Year and Newspaper of the Year awards. But that doesn’t matter.

What mattered to me was that we got it right. We actually sat on the story for more than a week.

We had covered Dan’s injury and his death. Then we got word that it was an assisted suicide and that police were investigating his parents, who had flown to Switzerland with him.

We could have run the story there and then. But I wanted Dan’s parents to be on board. I wanted them to be involved with the story, to understand the impact it was likely to have on them. So we talked to them – via an intermediary – for some time. In the end, they accepted we would run the story but didn’t want to be involved with it.

We could have lost that story at any point during that period. The Midlands is a competitive area. But I wanted to get it right more than I wanted to get it first.

More recently, at the Argus this month, we covered the tragic story of Caroline Howarth who suffered a heart attack while giving birth to her first child and died two days later. We picked the story up from Facebook, where a tribute page had been set up to her.

Again, we could have run the story straight away. It was already in the public domain. Other media might have already picked up on it.

But you have to get these things right, particularly with such sensitive stories.

So we spent two days talking to family friends, getting messages to Caroline's grieving husband Lee about why we wanted to run the story and how we would present it.

Then we ran the story with the full cooperation of Caroline’s family. We got it first and we got it right.

The result was a message the next day from the family, thanking us for our sympathetic and accurate coverage.

These are high profile examples, but they represent the kind of decisions we take every day. We don't always get it right and I wouldn't pretend that we do.

But it is what matters the most to me and to the Argus.

Comments (13)

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9:58am Thu 29 May 14

Mervyn James says...

I wonder if the news of the world people were there lol. They abused every ethic in the book and abused bereaved parents too. 'Public Interest' and 'right to know' is just an excuse to abuse anyone they can to get copy. Newspapers just create and feed voyeurism and hatred in a number of respects, then they publish the odd article about free speech. They treat readers as stupid, personally now, when I read some 'sensational expose' I go online and read as many copies and views on it as possible then form own view. I don't really find BBC/SKY News valid any more they both publish/air identical news bulletins every day 50 times a day, this suggests to me both are being fed same stories but neither are researching fact or going into depth, they just churn out same stuff, exactly, which is worrying, even the wording is identical, I think media has given up on getting news and just surfs online and repeats that,but they don't even surf for balance, journalism seems dead, any fool can google these days. I don't think the Argus need worry so long as they ignore what happens outside their sphere of coverage which is Gwent. We are interested in local news via the Argus, it is all I buy it for, the rest is a bit of a lottery really. Sometimes I wish they would leave the 'daily mail' options out. They don't care for truth or who they upset, one would hope the Argus s better than that. You can go to Smiths paper shop and view 20 newspapers and see the same headlines on very one of them, pathetic ! Can Kevin get his journalists OUT of the office and look for real news ?
I wonder if the news of the world people were there lol. They abused every ethic in the book and abused bereaved parents too. 'Public Interest' and 'right to know' is just an excuse to abuse anyone they can to get copy. Newspapers just create and feed voyeurism and hatred in a number of respects, then they publish the odd article about free speech. They treat readers as stupid, personally now, when I read some 'sensational expose' I go online and read as many copies and views on it as possible then form own view. I don't really find BBC/SKY News valid any more they both publish/air identical news bulletins every day 50 times a day, this suggests to me both are being fed same stories but neither are researching fact or going into depth, they just churn out same stuff, exactly, which is worrying, even the wording is identical, I think media has given up on getting news and just surfs online and repeats that,but they don't even surf for balance, journalism seems dead, any fool can google these days. I don't think the Argus need worry so long as they ignore what happens outside their sphere of coverage which is Gwent. We are interested in local news via the Argus, it is all I buy it for, the rest is a bit of a lottery really. Sometimes I wish they would leave the 'daily mail' options out. They don't care for truth or who they upset, one would hope the Argus s better than that. You can go to Smiths paper shop and view 20 newspapers and see the same headlines on very one of them, pathetic ! Can Kevin get his journalists OUT of the office and look for real news ? Mervyn James
  • Score: -4

10:45am Thu 29 May 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Mervyn
Our journalists are out of the office every day - covering courts, councils, community events, sports matches, and interviewing local people.
What do you define as 'real news'?
I don't understand your reference to the Daily Mail.
And you might see 20 newspapers with the same headline - but we won't be one of them because we only cover local news.
Mervyn Our journalists are out of the office every day - covering courts, councils, community events, sports matches, and interviewing local people. What do you define as 'real news'? I don't understand your reference to the Daily Mail. And you might see 20 newspapers with the same headline - but we won't be one of them because we only cover local news. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 5

11:02am Thu 29 May 14

-trigg- says...

In your quest to avoid the risk of upsetting "people unnecessarily" there have been occasions when you have only ended up telling half a story.

Whether this is due to a reluctance to dig deeper and ask the awkward questions or if it is more a case of not wanting to publish the answers to those questions I couldn't say.

Shallow coverage of events is still better than no coverage though
In your quest to avoid the risk of upsetting "people unnecessarily" there have been occasions when you have only ended up telling half a story. Whether this is due to a reluctance to dig deeper and ask the awkward questions or if it is more a case of not wanting to publish the answers to those questions I couldn't say. Shallow coverage of events is still better than no coverage though -trigg-
  • Score: 6

11:02am Thu 29 May 14

welshmen says...

The two stories mentioned in this article describe the right way to report on these personal family losses, the truth and the facts reported with the families thoughts very much in mind and rightly so.

What I and many other news paper readers have a problem with is the dumbing down on certain stories that effect every one of us and the media refuse to run the story because it might cause distress, what the media seem keen to report on is White on Back crime, yet when there's Black on White it seems to attract a news blackout, when a White person attacks a black person it's instantly "Racist" yet when a Black person attacks a White person it's just an assault crime.

This happens also with Religion, if you disagree with a Religion's Holy book you attract a phobia very quickly, yet all your trying to do is point out the harm that Religion and it's followers pose to our Country, a lot of these types of crime are reported on line with the reporter putting his spin on the story to which way his personal view is, when these stories are reported by the "Far right" they are called racist and radical attacks, what I am trying to say is report all news regarding race and religious issues, be honest and truthful people are not stupid non reporting is as bad as reporting lies, shoving a story under the carpet so to speak is wrong, if there are issues with Race or Religion then it's better to sort it out now, not let it fester for years.

The Media denying mass Immigration was bad for our Country and embracing the "Multicultural" line held by the Labour Party, that also failed, the truth is better, after all Democracy is our life....so is Freedom of speech fought hard for by many for so long yet even Freedom of Speech is under threat by this Government, dictatorships in other Countries are good at suppressing the truth, but in the end people power will win, but that will be through thousands of deaths to accomplish their Democracy and Freedom of Speech, the Media in our country have the peoples vote to uphold our Democracy and just as important Freedom of Speech....
The two stories mentioned in this article describe the right way to report on these personal family losses, the truth and the facts reported with the families thoughts very much in mind and rightly so. What I and many other news paper readers have a problem with is the dumbing down on certain stories that effect every one of us and the media refuse to run the story because it might cause distress, what the media seem keen to report on is White on Back crime, yet when there's Black on White it seems to attract a news blackout, when a White person attacks a black person it's instantly "Racist" yet when a Black person attacks a White person it's just an assault crime. This happens also with Religion, if you disagree with a Religion's Holy book you attract a phobia very quickly, yet all your trying to do is point out the harm that Religion and it's followers pose to our Country, a lot of these types of crime are reported on line with the reporter putting his spin on the story to which way his personal view is, when these stories are reported by the "Far right" they are called racist and radical attacks, what I am trying to say is report all news regarding race and religious issues, be honest and truthful people are not stupid non reporting is as bad as reporting lies, shoving a story under the carpet so to speak is wrong, if there are issues with Race or Religion then it's better to sort it out now, not let it fester for years. The Media denying mass Immigration was bad for our Country and embracing the "Multicultural" line held by the Labour Party, that also failed, the truth is better, after all Democracy is our life....so is Freedom of speech fought hard for by many for so long yet even Freedom of Speech is under threat by this Government, dictatorships in other Countries are good at suppressing the truth, but in the end people power will win, but that will be through thousands of deaths to accomplish their Democracy and Freedom of Speech, the Media in our country have the peoples vote to uphold our Democracy and just as important Freedom of Speech.... welshmen
  • Score: 0

11:04am Thu 29 May 14

DaiFrank says...

Kevin Ward - Editor wrote:
Mervyn
Our journalists are out of the office every day - covering courts, councils, community events, sports matches, and interviewing local people.
What do you define as 'real news'?
I don't understand your reference to the Daily Mail.
And you might see 20 newspapers with the same headline - but we won't be one of them because we only cover local news.
Kevin, I published Ethics and Media Culture: Practices and Representations in 2000 and Journalism, Ethics and Society in 2008. I've been teaching media ethics since 1995 beginning at Cardiff University and now at Solent University in Southampton (I'm a Newport boy!). Ethics in journalism pitted against the commercial realities is as you are aware an extremely complex issue. The question I pose in the latter book and to my students is this: 'What is the social purpose of journalism'? That is a starting point for a subsequent debate on how to achieve virtue in practice in the absence of regulation, but there are no guarantees that journalists will behave ethically, hence Leveson. I'm happy to discuss/visit with a view to opening-up a public debate and perhaps reciprocal on your part to confront my inquisitive journalism students.

best

David

Dr David Berry
Academic & Writer

https://en.wikipedia
.org/wiki/David_Berr
y_(educator)
[quote][p][bold]Kevin Ward - Editor[/bold] wrote: Mervyn Our journalists are out of the office every day - covering courts, councils, community events, sports matches, and interviewing local people. What do you define as 'real news'? I don't understand your reference to the Daily Mail. And you might see 20 newspapers with the same headline - but we won't be one of them because we only cover local news.[/p][/quote]Kevin, I published Ethics and Media Culture: Practices and Representations in 2000 and Journalism, Ethics and Society in 2008. I've been teaching media ethics since 1995 beginning at Cardiff University and now at Solent University in Southampton (I'm a Newport boy!). Ethics in journalism pitted against the commercial realities is as you are aware an extremely complex issue. The question I pose in the latter book and to my students is this: 'What is the social purpose of journalism'? That is a starting point for a subsequent debate on how to achieve virtue in practice in the absence of regulation, but there are no guarantees that journalists will behave ethically, hence Leveson. I'm happy to discuss/visit with a view to opening-up a public debate and perhaps reciprocal on your part to confront my inquisitive journalism students. best David Dr David Berry Academic & Writer https://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/David_Berr y_(educator) DaiFrank
  • Score: 7

12:35pm Thu 29 May 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Thanks David.
Drop me an email - kevin.ward@southwale
sargus.co.uk - and we can discuss further.
Thanks David. Drop me an email - kevin.ward@southwale sargus.co.uk - and we can discuss further. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 1

12:38pm Thu 29 May 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Trigg
If you can give me some examples of our 'half-stories' and 'shallow coverage' then I'd be happy to respond fully.
To clarify, when I talk about not wanting to upset people if possible I am talking about individuals in tragic situations, not the powers-that-be.
I have no problem with upsetting people in power and if you saw my postbag you would know that we do so on a regular basis.
Trigg If you can give me some examples of our 'half-stories' and 'shallow coverage' then I'd be happy to respond fully. To clarify, when I talk about not wanting to upset people if possible I am talking about individuals in tragic situations, not the powers-that-be. I have no problem with upsetting people in power and if you saw my postbag you would know that we do so on a regular basis. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 2

1:06pm Thu 29 May 14

-trigg- says...

Kevin Ward - Editor wrote:
Trigg If you can give me some examples of our 'half-stories' and 'shallow coverage' then I'd be happy to respond fully. To clarify, when I talk about not wanting to upset people if possible I am talking about individuals in tragic situations, not the powers-that-be. I have no problem with upsetting people in power and if you saw my postbag you would know that we do so on a regular basis.
I'll give you the Forestry work at Cwmcarn Forest Drive as a recent example. There were several stories published regarding this over a few days in the Argus, on one of which I commented with a few questions which had been left unanswered:

1) The various articles regularly mention 50,000 tonnes of larch. Roughly how many trees is that?

2) What percentage of the total number of trees does this represent - are the hills of Forest Drive going to resemble heathland or simply be thinned out slightly?

3) Can National Resources Wales offer assurances that the trees planted to replace those that are felled will be from a diverse mix of species, to reduce the risk of such a drastic issue affecting the nation's woodlands in future?

4) Will the 50,000 tonnes of lumber be sold commercially for a profit? If so, what would this profit be spent on if not re-laying the road?

There have also been questions raised by a few others around this issue that have gone un-answered, for example querying why a bus for mountain bike users will be allowed to continue using the road, if it is to be closed to the general public due to "safety concerns".

There is a feeling that the diseased larch trees are being used as an excuse to launch a cost saving exercise. This is touched on in one of the articles which mentions that NRW are looking at alternate sources of funding but is then not pursued any further.

I would expect this type of investigative journalism to be the bread and butter of a local paper, instead of simply regurgitating press releases.
[quote][p][bold]Kevin Ward - Editor[/bold] wrote: Trigg If you can give me some examples of our 'half-stories' and 'shallow coverage' then I'd be happy to respond fully. To clarify, when I talk about not wanting to upset people if possible I am talking about individuals in tragic situations, not the powers-that-be. I have no problem with upsetting people in power and if you saw my postbag you would know that we do so on a regular basis.[/p][/quote]I'll give you the Forestry work at Cwmcarn Forest Drive as a recent example. There were several stories published regarding this over a few days in the Argus, on one of which I commented with a few questions which had been left unanswered: 1) The various articles regularly mention 50,000 tonnes of larch. Roughly how many trees is that? 2) What percentage of the total number of trees does this represent - are the hills of Forest Drive going to resemble heathland or simply be thinned out slightly? 3) Can National Resources Wales offer assurances that the trees planted to replace those that are felled will be from a diverse mix of species, to reduce the risk of such a drastic issue affecting the nation's woodlands in future? 4) Will the 50,000 tonnes of lumber be sold commercially for a profit? If so, what would this profit be spent on if not re-laying the road? There have also been questions raised by a few others around this issue that have gone un-answered, for example querying why a bus for mountain bike users will be allowed to continue using the road, if it is to be closed to the general public due to "safety concerns". There is a feeling that the diseased larch trees are being used as an excuse to launch a cost saving exercise. This is touched on in one of the articles which mentions that NRW are looking at alternate sources of funding but is then not pursued any further. I would expect this type of investigative journalism to be the bread and butter of a local paper, instead of simply regurgitating press releases. -trigg-
  • Score: 1

1:18pm Thu 29 May 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Thanks Trigg.
There will be much more to come from the Cwmcarn Forest story. It won't all come out at once and public authorities often insist on FoI requests in response to legitimate questions. We will get there.
Your last paragraph is grossly unfair.
Thanks Trigg. There will be much more to come from the Cwmcarn Forest story. It won't all come out at once and public authorities often insist on FoI requests in response to legitimate questions. We will get there. Your last paragraph is grossly unfair. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 0

1:20pm Thu 29 May 14

Katie Re-Registered says...

I find the Argus to be a cut above the notoriously misinformative red-top tabloids that infect Britain and I do think that Kevin Ward is genuinely trying in a very hands on way to improve our local newspaper and its fairness, impartiality and accuracy in reporting.

However, I couldn't help noticing that over the last few weeks the Argus seemed to have drifted into tabloid Victorian sideshow circus mode when it constantly referred to Conchita Wurst as 'the bearded lady' and even, at one stage, referred to her as 'a bloke in a dress' - which is totally incorrect information.

Actually, fair do's - the Argus seemed to get the female pronoun correct - which is what she prefers to be referred to with, but a quick bit of basic research on wikipedia would have enlightened the Argus's journalists to the fact that Conchita Wurst actually identifies as gender neutral which makes both referring to her as 'a bearded lady' or 'bloke in a dress' complete misinformation. I did point this out in the comments threads at the time, but none of this incorrect information was corrected.
I find the Argus to be a cut above the notoriously misinformative red-top tabloids that infect Britain and I do think that Kevin Ward is genuinely trying in a very hands on way to improve our local newspaper and its fairness, impartiality and accuracy in reporting. However, I couldn't help noticing that over the last few weeks the Argus seemed to have drifted into tabloid Victorian sideshow circus mode when it constantly referred to Conchita Wurst as 'the bearded lady' and even, at one stage, referred to her as 'a bloke in a dress' - which is totally incorrect information. Actually, fair do's - the Argus seemed to get the female pronoun correct - which is what she prefers to be referred to with, but a quick bit of basic research on wikipedia would have enlightened the Argus's journalists to the fact that Conchita Wurst actually identifies as gender neutral which makes both referring to her as 'a bearded lady' or 'bloke in a dress' complete misinformation. I did point this out in the comments threads at the time, but none of this incorrect information was corrected. Katie Re-Registered
  • Score: -2

1:35pm Thu 29 May 14

bodlondon says...

I don't feel that comment threads are the best place to address the publication or the article - newpapers certainly don't have the resources to keep uo with and respond to every comment
I don't feel that comment threads are the best place to address the publication or the article - newpapers certainly don't have the resources to keep uo with and respond to every comment bodlondon
  • Score: 0

7:48pm Thu 29 May 14

Mervyn James says...

Kevin Ward - Editor wrote:
Thanks David.
Drop me an email - kevin.ward@southwale

sargus.co.uk - and we can discuss further.
In all fairness although I take with some salt some of the journalistic output (And then some !), the Argus does attempt to engage. Their feedback is an envy to other publications. Where it sails into dubious waters is trying to give a view on 'national' (UK) issues, this is a red flag to us pro moaners here as kevin knows, the prime interest is obvious in Newport, we have problems with the Labour party, the welsh Assembly and welsh language, as well as the state of the city centre which we are all holding our breath emerges viable. I'd prefer the Argus drops all 'national UK' coverage, there are tabloids that do that, agreed a whole lot worse but...
[quote][p][bold]Kevin Ward - Editor[/bold] wrote: Thanks David. Drop me an email - kevin.ward@southwale sargus.co.uk - and we can discuss further.[/p][/quote]In all fairness although I take with some salt some of the journalistic output (And then some !), the Argus does attempt to engage. Their feedback is an envy to other publications. Where it sails into dubious waters is trying to give a view on 'national' (UK) issues, this is a red flag to us pro moaners here as kevin knows, the prime interest is obvious in Newport, we have problems with the Labour party, the welsh Assembly and welsh language, as well as the state of the city centre which we are all holding our breath emerges viable. I'd prefer the Argus drops all 'national UK' coverage, there are tabloids that do that, agreed a whole lot worse but... Mervyn James
  • Score: 0

8:23pm Thu 29 May 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Mervyn
I don't know how many times I can say this to you, we don't cover national news and haven't done since 2012.
My first act as Editor was to drop our national news page in favour of an extra page of local news.
Mervyn I don't know how many times I can say this to you, we don't cover national news and haven't done since 2012. My first act as Editor was to drop our national news page in favour of an extra page of local news. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 1

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