Mark Edwards Peterborough Evening Telegraph Editor on Journalistic Integrity

o8:08 Thursday 7th July 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: There’s no doubt what the top story is, the story that’s dominating all news agendas, all newspapers, and every media outlet. It’s the hacking story. .. Earlier we spoke to Ian Overton, editor of the Bureau of Investigate Journalism. He said he would never condone the practices, if they are proven to be true. (TAPE)
IAN OVERTON: Certainly there is a fine boundary of what do you cross to get the story. Now nobody has gone as far as phone-tapping something that affects the judicial process, and I think that’s one of the problems here. In the Milly Dowler case, there was an ongoing investigation, and phone-tapping occurred, and messages purportedly were deleted. Now that is obviously a significant issue, if it turns out to be true.(LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well yesterday the Prime Minister called the allegations of phone-hacking “absolutely disgusting”, and promised a full public inquiry. Let’s speak to Mark Edwards. He’s the editor of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph. Morning Mark
MARK EDWARDS: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Newspapers under increasing pressure. We heard from Ian earlier this morning saying that part of the problem in his opinion is young people coming through, not learning the trade, thrust into the limelight, doing their work under extreme presure from espacially national newspaper editors to get the story. And they’re cutting corners.
MARK EDWARDS: Well hand on heart I don’t know the situation at the News of the World, and I think that yes, that’s a large organisation that pays to recruit high-calibre people if it needs them. And I think that’s its look-out. If that’s true then it’s not acceptable. I’m here to talk about the local perspective on it, if you like, and my guys and gals at the ET would probably have a wry smile at that comment, because they work really hard. They’ll finish the degree, they’ll do a pre-entry course from the National Council of Training in Journalism, and then they’ll have a two year period on the ET when they work very hard, and they work to pass the NCE exam. Once they’ve passed the NCE exam they can call themselves senior reporter. But it takes well over two years to get there, and it is hard work.
PAUL STAINTON: Is the pressure building though on journalists to do more and more work, and is there pressure to keep getting the same quality of stories? And is it forcing, and I’m not saying locally, but is there a culture now where journalists are under extreme pressure?
MARK EDWARDS: Well I think the media itself is permanently under pressure. It always has been, it always will be. I don’t think that the News of the World is any less competitive or more competitive now than it’s always been. I think it strives to be at the forefront of its own particular type of news and content. And of course that is primarily celebrity gossip and stories of that nature. And so therefore yes, it’s a very very competitive matketplace, the national one, certainly it is. Locally, people are always under pressure, because my journalists will be looking at the stories they’re working on in the evening, and I will want those to be in the paper the next day. And we’ll be looking at what the BBC are covering. We’ll be looking at what other media are covering. And everybody’s under pressure. But I think that, certainly on a local basis, there are numerous checks and balances that you have to put in place. And we’re a local paper. We’re here tomorrow. We’re here the day after. If we say there’s a traffic jam on the Parkway and there’s not, then it’s obvious that it’s not correct, and people point that out to us. So being on a local patch brings with it its own disciplines. You’re working for a very educated readership, whereas I guess on a national stage, a lot of the audience don’t know the people that you’re writing about, and they don’t know the veracity of what you might be writing about, and maybe don’t buy into that connection as much, so maybe don’t understand what goes into getting those stories.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Where is the line here? If a journalist comes to you and says, look Mark, I’ve got this story about Paul Stainton. I need to do some recording. I need to do some undercover reporting. There are checks and balances there, aren’t there?
MARK EDWARDS: Yes of course. Absolutely. Again I’m talking about the ET’s context. I’m not really equipped to talk about the News of the World’s context, where there’s probably a lot more layers of management, and a lot more freelance and contractual arrangements that don’t exist on a local paper. But every story we run in the ET, the first question we ask is where has this come from, how have we substantiated it? And you certainly would, if a reporter suggested even knocking on someone’s door who had been in a difficult personal situation, we would think about that long and hard before we actually did it. Just that degree of sensitivity is important on a local paper.
PAUL STAINTON: And of course you’d have been thinking about that with the Yaxley story. That’s a difficult story to cover, wasn’t it, locally?
MARK EDWARDS: Absolutely. Very difficult. Absolutely. It’s true to say that we had one or two people say to us, that was a bit insensitive, asking that person that question. And then when we checked back in the office, we said we haven’t spoken to that person yet. And it turns out that it was an agency from another part of the country had come in and said, oh yes, I’m from the Evening Telegraph and can you answer this, can you answer that. And of course people in Yaxley were perhaps a bit more prepared to speak to us than they were to an outside news agency. And there were a couple of instances of that happening. So you’re aware that other people around you are using what you would probably call iffy tactics in certain situations. That doesn’t stop our decision to be careful about how much information we’re prepared to release about the Yaxley story without it being thoroughly checked. And you liaise very closely with the police, to make sure that families and friends are aware about what’s going on, and what might or might not be published. And actually occasionally local media will cooperate. You’ll know that I had a conversation with your newsroom about some detail on that, about whether it was the right time to release it. So I think from that point of view the checks and balances, they’re so important on a local level. People remember. You’re talking to the same exact audience every day. And you have to do your best to get it right in that way.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes it’s very tricky. Mark, thank you for that. Mark Edwards editor of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.