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‘We didn’t miss child abuse scandal’ says weekly editor

The editor of the main weekly newspaper in Rotherham has denied “missing” the child abuse scandal in the town exposed by a national newspaper last month.

As reported on HTFP yesterday, an article in the New Statesman claimed that mounting pressures on today’s regional press will lead to reporters failing to spot major stories like the Rotherham scandal which was uncovered by Times reporter Andrew Norfolk.

Kevin Meagher, associate editor of Labour Uncut, said it was “no surprise” the child sexual exploitation issue in Rotherham was revealed by a national investigative journalist and not a regional daily or weekly reporter.

But although Kevin did not mention any individual local newspaper by name, Rotherham Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley has defended his paper’s coverage of the story.

Said Andrew:  “First of all, we didn’t miss the ‘Rotherham child sexual exploitation’ story. It wasn’t something we didn’t spot on a council agenda or that was discussed in a meeting that we couldn’t attend due to lack of staff.

“I do not know, but would surmise, that Andrew Norfolk was provided with the information that led to his initial story by someone with inside knowledge who wanted to create a national splash – and it worked.

“A look through our archive will reveal that we have regularly covered the issue of child sexual exploitation and indeed devoted a front page to the imprisonment of five people charged with grooming.

“We carried stories on a regular basis on the Alexis Jay Report before it was released, since when, on a weekly basis, we have devoted seven pages, then 13 and probably another nine this week.”

In his piece, Kevin said the “hollowing-out” of local newspaper staffs meant they were no longer in a position to carry out the “labour intensive” work of holding public agencies to account.

His comments came as a report commissioned by the NCTJ highlighted the impact of the “increasing intensification of work”  on traditional story-getting, with less time being available for investigative journalism.

However Andrew commented: “We regularly hold decision-makers to account and over the past 18 months have called for resignations from the health service and council, as well as being among those clamouring for the PCC to go and standing up for an individual in a battle with the local football club.

“The Rotherham Advertiser averages 124 pages a week and, unlike many papers, is not packed with fillers that are in there simply to get a page away. In fact, most weeks we can’t find space for all the stories we would like to include.

“On another note, I do agree with Kevin that a vibrant independent – and at the Rotherham Advertiser, unlike most papers, we are independent – local media is needed to bring these issues to light.

“I am unsure as what Kevin’s interest is here, but I can assure him that at the Rotherham Advertiser we will always do what we believe to be in the interests of our readers.”

25 comments

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  • September 11, 2014 at 9:25 am
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    Ooh, touchy. The fact is, nobody in Rotherham has covered themselves in glory on this – and that includes the local press.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 9:36 am
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    Of course you didn’t miss it. You just had zero knowledge of it so were unable to write a story about one of the biggest child abuse scandals to hit the UK. Completely different to missing it.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 9:58 am
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    After the 2010 trial, and Laura Wilson’s murder, the only journalist who went after the story was Norfolk.

    If the sources had trusted the Advertiser to report , they would have found that a great deal of information would have come their way. I’ve been working on CSE for a long time, and it takes forever to build trust.

    My impression was that large sections of the community were so frustrated by the situation that they created their own public forum online and its been used by many a journalist as a reference point.

    If I was in this Editors position, I would be asking myself why my organisation did’nt break, and shape the agenda on what is the biggest child abuse scandal since Bryn Estyn.

    How does a local paper hold authorities and individuals to account when they are dependant financially and materially upon them? The real issue is the relationship that local papers have with local authorities and institutions,political parties, institutions and individuals.

    But there is another lesson.

    Investigative journalism has been abandoned by our current media in favour of the story count and the quick hit. Andrew Norfolk learned his craft on the Scarborough News back in the day. Will we have journalists with old school skills in the future? No, we wont and we are already seeing a death of that approach within local and national media.

    The CSE story was never in the council corridors but on the street, and needs the backing of a media organisation to really get to grips with what the phenomena of child sex exploitation is in the North of England and beyond. We have only heard a tiny part of a story which is of national and international importance.

    Few organistions are making a long term commitment towards the difficult messy stories that elude a sub’s creativity for a compelling top line.

    Rotherham has highlighted the important role media has to interrogate, question, and reflect our world. The fourth estate is the most powerful means by which power can be held to account and we, as journalists, are custodians of that.

    The Times did something unique. They invested time, money and effort into the story which a few years ago seemed of little interest.

    Who’s covering child sex exploitation this week? Or will our editors have abuse fatigue – again.

    Its unfair to point the finger at the Advertiser, when as far as I can see we need to reflect upon our own practice.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 10:31 am
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    Bit harsh to have a go at the Rotherham Advertiser. It is one of the better local weekly newspapers out there!

    And as for those weeklies which aren’t up to much, that’s rarely because of the hard-pressed reporters and editors who work there. It is the senior managers above them (who usually aren’t journalists) who are responsible for trashing what was once a great industry.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 10:37 am
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    certainly doesn’t speak well of their local contacts

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  • September 11, 2014 at 11:02 am
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    Dear Andrew – nowhere in my piece do I allege your paper “missed” the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/how-can-we-reinvigorate-local-papers-ensure-scrutiny-failing-public-agencies

    My point is that local papers – certainly all the ones I’ve ever come across – simply lack the resources to pursue investigations of this type and break stories like Rotherham or Mid-Staffs Hospital. Its a question of having the time money and expertise to do so.

    That’s why I’m arguing for a local scrutiny levy on public bodies to pay for accredited and ring-fenced public interest journalism so that they will be able to do so in the future.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 11:33 am
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    I suspect the abuse scandal completely overwhelmed Mr Mosley and his hapless staff. He simply was unable to cope with the national and regional implications of it all. Journalists with Andrew Norfolk’s intelligence and tenacity are few on the ground. And that is why he is rightly UK Journalist of the Year.

    Perhaps Mr Mosley could invite Andrew Norfolk to address him and his staff to explain what real journalism is about. For starters the Rotherham paper could persist vociferously with editorials on why Shaun Wright and Joyce Thacker should resign immediately. And which Asian groomers and councilors should be arrested for questioning.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 11:53 am
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    Astonishing that a local paper editor should find himself under fire for ‘missing’ a scandal of this magnitude that, seemingly, was known to many in authority that choose to push it under the carpet.
    That it is taking Parliament itself to get to grips with many of those now denying responsibility – but was accountable- for what happened speaks volumes.
    Whistle blowing policies in the public sector were meant to make it easier to reveal these sorts of atrocities but not always that easy. Earlier this year a former senior employee of a local authority told me of the day she reported financial irregularities at a centre she was running on their behalf. The chief executive at the time invited her in when she gave detailed evidence of what had happened.
    The outcome? A month later her post was made redundant.
    In terms of accountability the public sector is a mess. In my patch they’ve closed the court houses, defendants can be sent to any one of three courts and seemingly on any day, so no chance of transparency there in administration of justice.
    Health bodies meet in far away places with difficult access both to their background papers, identification of local issues and expenditure.
    Police commissioners only expect publication of ‘good news’ and detailed papers associated with the former police authorities have all bar gone from public gaze.
    And Data Protection is blamed for crime not being reported and communities remain blissfully unaware of what is happening.
    Local councils, mostly, operate a ‘don’t tell’ ‘keep it as quiet as possible’ ‘hide it from the press’ ‘but if you must tell couch in such terms no journalist will understand’ terms.
    Each day, but seemingly each hour, hundreds of pages of documents get placed on Cambridgeshire web sites – as what happens elsewhere too no doubt- from public sector bodies with agendas, reports, background documents and associated paraphernalia. One reporter speed reading for eight solid hours would only skim the surface so meanwhile policies get advanced without proper scrutiny.
    Still I always retain the memory of a local councillor, about to sit in judgement with colleagues on a packed, 300 page planning meeting who opened the envelope posted to him a week earlier with the reports at precisely one minute before the meeting got under way.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm
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    Don’t feel bad Andrew, the nationals missed it for years too.

    To be fair to you all it’s a tough one to uncover. I mean, it’s not like a wealth of information on the subject has been in the public domain since the 1970s in say, regular publications of a magazine like Private Eye.

    Oh, wait…

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  • September 11, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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    Ironic this article appeared in a left-wing magazine. Had a local newspaper reported on what happened in Rotherham, the New Statesman would no doubt have accused it of racism.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm
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    A bit harsh to have a go at the Rotherham paper. Don’t forget, EVERYONE missed the Jimmy Savile story for decades.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm
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    Doesn’t anyone recall the old maxim: “Worst crime in journalism – ‘not to know’?”

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  • September 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm
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    Kevin Meagher is right. Lack of money, staff and, most of all, experience is now a permanent handicap to local papers.
    There is no need for Rotherham’s Andrew Mosley to defend his paper’s frustrating miss up against a whistleblower with a direct line to an outstanding Times journalist.
    Yes, be angry at the feeling of journalistic helplessness because of the long-established creepy cosiness between Labour councillors and social services in Northern towns and cities.
    Yes, be angry that, even now, The Rotherham Advertiser is unable to crowbar its way to the secrets of the town hall’s inner sanctum or stone-walling South Yorkshire Police Force.
    But don’t waste anger on explaining why there is no need for a mea culpa that Meagher never sought in the first place.
    Just enlist the help of Rotherham readers in a relentless editorial attack on the credibility of councillors and council officials, past and present, caught up in this sleazy cover-up.
    It might just trigger the conscience of a new Deep Throat in the council or police……

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  • September 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm
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    It is true that many local newspapers lack the expertise and staffing numbers to break some major stories but the Rotherham Advertiser has a brilliant editor – one of the sharpest – and there is no doubt this was not a “missed story” but one fed to a national newspaper – there is little any journalist, national, regional or otherwise, can do about that.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm
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    I can’t believe some of the comments on here. Have you lot been inside a local weekly newspaper office lately? (assuming the paper still has an office) Do you have any idea how few editorial staff are left? And how much mundane rubbish the remaining handful are forced to plough through before they can even think of tackling a proper story such as child sex grooming?

    The only way a typical local newspaper reporter can hope to uncover a story of this magnitude is if they do it in their own spare time, spending many hours during their evenings, weekends and annual leave working for no money. I can imagine the bean counters in charge of our industry would love that. They’d soon start insisting that all reporters work even more hours for nothing. Would YOU be happy with that arrangement?

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  • September 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm
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    And then there’s the problem of the very young reporter who, back in the early 70s, discovered a classic case of abuse in a local “runaways’ refuge” but who didn’t know how to make the story stand up & who got no backing from his editor. Today I believe they are trained properly on how to do that – said reporter’s successors finally got one of the victims to sign an affidavit, and the refuge was closed down (there were no prosecutions then, either) – but in those days it was traininjg on the job…something to be said for the NCTJ!

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  • September 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm
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    Just one thing subbot – people didn’t ‘miss’ Savile – it was more a case of the authorities didn’t do anything about it. You can hardly accuse national figures of something they haven’t been convicted of in a court of law – that way lies the libel courts.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm
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    I have had several interactions with the Rotherham Advertiser editor and I strongly believe in Mr Mosley’s, and that of the reporters, ability in their roles.
    I know for a fact that everyone at that newspaper bust a gut to do their utmost for the town, it was simply fed to a national instead of them.
    As a resident of Rotherham, the Advertiser as a paper has my full trust and backing when it comes to supplying me with local news, nothing has changed for me.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm
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    It’s unfair to target the Advertiser. The national press has for years failed to uncover scandals unfolding right under their noses.
    I recall in 1981 contradicting a print colleague when he was singing the praises of the ‘great’ charity fund-raiser Jimmy Savile. ‘Wonderful bloke,’ he said.
    ‘No he isn’t,’ I said, “He’s a gangster and a pervert. He’s a cold-eyed villain who should be locked up.’
    The reason I was able to say that with such certainty is that the whole of Fleet Street knew what Savile was doing.
    This vile creature was not only messing around with kids, he was leader of a gang of thugs called the Leeds Mafia who would break your legs – or worse – on his say-so.
    Savile was ‘overlooked’ as a subject for exposure partly because of his top-level connections, but also because he was a litigious character who would take full advantage of the UK’s draconian libel laws.
    Other scandals studiously ignored by the nationals: Anthony Blunt, the Queen’s art adviser, who was also a KGB spy; the Jeremy Thorpe saga; the Wallis Simpson affair and many more.
    The newspaper barons were privy to all these scandals long before they saw the light of day, but kept their readers in the dark because of establishment etiquette.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 5:55 pm
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    To be fair I doubt a weekly paper would have the resources to let a reporter devote as much time to the scandal as the Times did Norfolk. He admits himself it essentially became his life and he was doing nothing else. That said hats off to Norfolk, I have met the guy through his Scarborough connections and he deserves all the accolades that come his way for this story.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 6:19 pm
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    Nobody was pointing the finger at the Rotherham Advertiser, merely pointing out the appalling lack of resources and support suffered by the regional press these days. Can’t help feeling that Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley is being unnecessarily thin-skinned.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 6:25 pm
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    Around 1976/77, a “seasoned” Fleet Street hack told me they were on to Jimmy Savile and that “a big story would be breaking soon”. The fact that it took another 30+ years to come out, prompts the questions:
    1. Just what did reporters on the nationals have in their notebooks?
    2. What happened to any content of these notebooks?
    3. Who decided not to run with the stories internally?
    4. Was external pressure put on news organisations?

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  • September 11, 2014 at 9:31 pm
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    Where does the notion that national newspaper journalists are ‘simply fed’ stories come from? National newsdesks are the same as any other – the phone rings, emails come in, people come up with ideas. The one real difference is probably this – if the story’s good enough you still get time to work on it.

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  • September 17, 2014 at 11:14 am
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    The basic problem is that the national press and BBC is 80% Oxbridge so has an inbuilt tendency to believe authority.

    Couple this with so called reporters doing almost everything from their office chair.

    Awkward bods who want to do proper research and call MPs and councillors liars when they are blatant – get fired; look at the moronic comments from Ian Katz about Paxman; and the unwatchable state of Newsnight.; and Panorama firing its best reporters.

    A few months back i was in London and went for a few pints in a Westminster pub; i picked up more about what was happening in a few hours there- from researchers and civil servants -than from months of reading the papers.

    Watch the BBC and Sky-then go see what RT and the UK Arab stations cover and you get a whole new slant on the world.

    It took 20 years for my local paper to revert to campaigning and calling people to acoount- and it is far from perfect – but the only reason locals will survive is to get over this serf like attitude to officials.

    Most modern journalists are good at the craft, but it is often well wriitten but dire on real analysis

    Am old journo mate summed it up” If i get to Friday without anybody yelling at me or complaining to the editor or making a legal threat , then i have failed to do my job properly-which is to stick a rod up the backside of those in charge when they are short changing the public. my readers.”

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