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Editor apologises after column on depression sparks reader backlash

A regional daily editor has apologised after a column urging people suffering from depression to “quit moaning” and “get on with life” prompted a Twitter backlash from readers.

Members of the public and former staff at The News, Portsmouth, united to condemn the column by Clive Smith in which he argued some people claiming to have depression were “jumping on the bandwagon”.

Clive went on to mock sufferers of bipolar disorder, describing the condition as “all the rage at the moment.”

The column, which appeared in Tuesday’s print edition, was pulled from the paper’s website after dozens took to Twitter to voice their outrage, and now editor Mark Waldron has apologised for any offence caused.

The column as it appeared in the print edition of The News

The column as it appeared in the print edition of The News

In the piece, Clive wrote: “From time to time we all get dealt a bad card – some more than others. But life goes on. You can’t just retreat under the duvet with a bottle of Prosecco and bemoan your fate.

“Being down in the dumps doesn’t mean you’re depressed. Yes, your life has temporarily gone south but I reckon there’s a lot to be said for gritting your teeth and getting on with it.”

Clive said he did not deny that clinical depression was a real mental illness, but then added: “Why everyone needs to have a label lately is beyond me. Bipolar seems to be all the rage at the moment.”

On the issue of men talking openly about depression, he commented:  “Everyone knows men don’t talk about things. The way some are dripping on these days is frankly embarrassing. So buck up boys and quit the moaning. It’s getting boring.”

Dave Bowers, a former journalist at The News, was among those who criticised the column on Twitter.

He wrote: “Horrified a paper at which I was once so proud to work should stoop so low to allow this.”

Broadcaster and comedian Iain Lee also voiced his discomfort, posting: “‘Bi-polar seems to be all the rage at the moment’ incredibly dangerous and ill thought out ‘article’.”

Others tweeted The News, calling on the paper to apologise for the column, which was also featured in its print edition.

Responding with a piece in yesterday’s edition, Mark told readers  he felt it was important to allow “a wide range of views – not just the official line of The News” to be heard.

He added: “By supporting free speech, we encourage our columnists to spark debate, raise awareness of issues, challenge views, change perceptions and give their opinions on our local communities and the matters which affect them.

“Their thoughts may be provocative. They may be contrary to general opinion. But they are not intended to cause offence.

“However, it is clear that some readers were offended by the sentiments expressed in Clive Smith’s column about depression on Tuesday. This was never the aim and nor did the article deny the serious nature of depression. But for any offence caused, I do apologise.”

Mark cited The News’s regular coverage of mental health issues, including the Mental Health Team/Worker of the Year prize it presents at its annual Best of Health Awards.

He concluded: “The support and coverage we give will continue.  And so will our commitment to giving voice to the wide variety of thoughts and opinions which are alive in the communities we serve.”

32 comments

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  • December 4, 2015 at 7:36 am
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    It’s an opinion piece! Why should the paper be forced to apologise? Also, it seems an overreaction to pull the story after only a dozen tweets. Are we now saying papers should relabel such columns ‘popular opinion’ pieces and avoid controversy completely?

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  • December 4, 2015 at 9:30 am
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    FootieFan, it’s not just an opinion. It’s suggesting that people who have mental illnesses are just following a trend or think it’s cool to say they’re depressed. It undermines the seriousness of mental illness and encourages people to dismiss it in others, which can be extremely dangerous. As someone who has a close family member battling depression at the moment, I can tell you that saying “grit your teeth and get on with life” is about as stupid as saying the same to someone who has cancer. It’s disrespectful, demeaning and downright unfair. I thought newspapers had moved further forward than this, but apparently not.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 9:37 am
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    If you actually read it, the column is clearly crass flippantly-expressed nonsense which should never have been published

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  • December 4, 2015 at 9:52 am
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    Footiefan: you’re not related to that foolish and irrelevant columnist Clive Smith, are you?

    My first reaction at reading Mr Smith’s crass stupidity was anger. The second was sadness that a once-respected newspaper should allow such inaccurate drivel to be published.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 10:12 am
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    It’s taken many many years for people to feel that they can speak out about mental health, and this is particularly difficult for men. The journalist needs training to understand the impact that such a stupid, ignorant piece could have had on his readers.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 10:16 am
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    It’s not an opinion piece or ‘provocative and debate-provoking’, it’s just a lazy pile of cack.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 10:17 am
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    Absolutely indefensible i’m afraid. And to try to justify it under the banner of ‘wanting to spark debate’ well … that’s just a licence to say whatever you like, isn’t it? ‘Wanting to spark debate …’ SUCH an abused phrase. Any decent paper has a duty to ensure anything that appears in it is accurate and, particularly in an opinion piece, well researched. You can’t just have any old buffoon spouting ill-informed comments on topics they clearly don’t know anything about. Embarrassing for all concerned.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 10:24 am
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    Comment and free speech is to be encouraged providing the person doing it has some grasp of what they are actually talking about.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 10:26 am
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    A crass badly written piece of tripe. Here’s the killer par “But I’m sure some people don’t know why they’re depressed in the first place”.

    Well, you know what Einstein, there are psychiatrics and other mental health experts who are also mystified at some of the causes of depression.

    So yes, it’s poorly written, ill informed and unenlightened beyond words. But why pull the piece? Surely it would have been better for the writer to have been educated by those with more informed opinions.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 11:16 am
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    The apology appeared in the paper two days after the column got pulled from the website. I couldn’t find the apology on the website, although JP web searches are not very good.
    I thought the apology was hidden, it was on page 2 of the paper with no headline just text that looked very small in my view. The apology should have been on the columnists page. The News was once the campaigning newspaper of the year, now a click bait publication

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  • December 4, 2015 at 11:27 am
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    How did this get past the news or features desk, the subs and the editor? Who actually thought this might in some way be a good idea? There is still a horrible right-wing streak in journalism which actually believes the drivel in this moronic article is right. It’s time this streak was booted out of the journalistic trade because it’s holding back the industry and is putting off younger readers who have, thankfully, far more enlightened attitudes to issues like this.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 11:43 am
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    This column simply shows how far standards have fallen. Like so many others it now reflects sad decline. Are pieces actually looked at before they go is it the old line of: “Never mind quality just fill it up fast.”

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  • December 4, 2015 at 11:49 am
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    Footiefan,
    I know a lot about depression as I have suffered for many years. Yet, I’m still not sure why I am prone to it.

    However, I know nothinng about you. Though according to the point you made, it seems quite alright to have your opinion published whether you know what you’re discussing or not. Hence, I say you’re a dick Footiefan.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 12:14 pm
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    Shoddy piece of journalism compounded by the dreadful “widow” at the top of the second column.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 12:49 pm
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    Crass, insensitive and just the sort of ill-informed guff that stigmatises those suffering from mental illness. All concerned should be ashamed of themselves. More like 1915 than 2015.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 1:07 pm
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    I think the point he’s trying to make, rather poorly, is that there are far too many people who are not depressed in the clinical sense but glibly say that they are. This often leads to people having little sympathy for those affected by a genuinely serious condition and a major reason why so many are reluctant to discuss it.

    It’s all to easy to give a doctor a bit of a sob story over something that you’re feeling bad about and get signed off as ‘depressed’, but that’s not necessarily depression.

    Depression is something which comes and goes without explanation, causing life to become extremely difficult for the sufferer. Stephen Fry summed it up perfectly by saying ‘it is just like the weather’.

    His opinions on those who are just ‘a bit down’ could have been presented in a more reasonable manner. I happen to agree that too many people use it as a ‘label’ so they can cheat their employer or the benefits system but that’s simply an issue related to diagnosing depression.

    By demonstrating such an incredible lack of understanding about the wider topic his ill-informed opinions have no basis for comparison to genuine depression and certainly no merit for publication.

    Let your readers have this sort of debate in your website comments section. Content from a local newspaper is, on the whole, supposed to be balanced but, when presented as an opinion piece, it at least needs to be an informed one!

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  • December 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm
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    Sub Up North, they probably don’t have subs any more and that’s why this utterly dangerous drivel got through.
    I just read a piece by ‘Sports writer of the Year’ Keith Jackson in the Daily Record talking about how a certain cup success had “alluded” Rangers, and that “the Rangers manager unloaded a scatter gun at his lunchtime news conference”. Did he really unload it?
    We subs have had to clean up years of crap writing by some so-called fellow journalists – and it is now being exposed. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 3:14 pm
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    This was an incredibly sad lapse of judgement which went entirely unchecked at a crucial stage, meaning that more than one person is to blame.
    I used the word sad because, look around you, a lot of people in our industry are really struggling at the moment.
    And what about the ones who didn’t make it?
    Tragically many of us in the business know someone just like that.
    Shameful beyond description.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 3:33 pm
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    In my journalism career reporters and editors were dropping like flies with stress, anxiety and depression, I can count on two hands how many had bona fide breakdowns. Seems a strange article from someone in this industry.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 4:47 pm
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    There is a huge difference between feeling ‘down in the dumps’ and suffering from clinical depression. The latter is an appalling illness that is often treatable only by medication and therapy. It frequently leads to suicide and is never to be taken lightly.
    The whole point of being a columnist, writing in a serious newspaper, is that you have the maturity, knowledge, experience and judgment to write constructively and sensibly about a wide range of subjects.
    This column smacks of immaturity, ignorance and crassness and should never have seen the light of day. It cannot be fobbed off as ‘only an opinion’ – it is ill-conceived rubbish that would be intolerable even in a college ‘rag’ magazine.
    Columnists are not there to write space-filling junk off the tops of their heads. However controversial, they’re supposed to add something worthwhile to public discourse and engage their brains before hitting the keyboard.
    In every respect, this column fell short.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 5:02 pm
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    Ditched Sub is right – some appalling stuff is getting through nowadays, especially on the Express and Mail websites.
    The problem is that managements no longer care. Misuse of words, poor spelling, tortuous syntax and garbled grammar are no longer seen as important so long as web traffic is buoyant.
    An ex-colleague still working as a freelance in his seventies told me recently: ‘Young journalists do not receive the grounding we got simply because it’s deemed unnecessary. No-one cares anymore and most readers are so poorly schooled in the language that they don’t notice.’
    That’s the kind of degraded environment ‘journalists’ are working in nowadays. So glad I’m not longer involved.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 5:07 pm
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    The incredible arrogance of this man amazes me. Did he have nothing else to drone on about? He should go and work for the Daily Mail. Or preferably never write another line until he becomes a full rounded adult human being.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 5:15 pm
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    This is why JPs publications are so sad and its real-life share price is about 1p! Bash it out fill the space and never mind the quality. It’s not a myth. Anyone who reads their local rag can see, though the few staff left do work hard. The editing is poor beyond belief to those who remember better times.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 5:42 pm
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    Totally agree, Grogthorpe, but as we have seen here, editors and management need to realise that what first is poor language will then become ill-judged, and eventually, a lawsuit.

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  • December 4, 2015 at 5:50 pm
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    The talent pool must be very shallow for crap like this to make it into print.

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  • December 6, 2015 at 7:12 am
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    Haven’t read the article, but censoring it isn’t exactly Charlie Hebdo, is it?

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  • December 7, 2015 at 10:50 am
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    You cannot use the free speech argument when an article is so ill informed and offensive. The trouble with a lot of regional newspaper columnists is they do not always have a great idea for a column and, in the end, push ahead with poorly thought out articles with ill informed views as their deadline approaches. Any editor should be able to spot these and bat them away. Having known people who suffer from bipolar and depression, I can ensure Clive Smith that hiding under a duvet with alcohol does not solve either illness.

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  • December 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm
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    The editor probably genuinely did think it was ‘provocative’ and ‘contrary to general opinion’ rather than lazy, recycled pub-bore rhetoric. If you read some of the other guff The News puts out as opinion pieces you will see its par for the course.

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  • December 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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    This column was a shoddy piece journalism that showed an appalling lack of empathy for people suffering from clinical depression. The fact it was pulled almost as soon as readers started complaining shows a shocking lack of editorial judgement and commitment and indicates that the paper was embarrassed by it and should never have allowed it to be published in the first place. The irony is that Clive Smith is probably feeling very much like hiding under his duvet right now.

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  • December 7, 2015 at 8:14 pm
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    Is Mr Smith a proper journo or one of those freebie wanabies who fill up space in regional papers nowadays. Either way he should disappear from this particular organ.

    If ever young hacks needed evidence that their industry is at an all-time low this is it.

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  • December 8, 2015 at 12:32 am
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    As my comment received such enthusiastic support, I feel obliged to correct the literal in the last line. It should have read: ‘So glad I’m no longer involved’, omitting that rogue ‘t’. It goes to show that all of us – even high-and-mighty pedants like me – need a sub-editor looking over our shoulders.
    Thought I’d mention it before someone else did. My excuse? Arthritic fingers.

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  • December 8, 2015 at 1:56 pm
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    Most of the opinion pieces in JPs local rags are not worth running, but after their laughable re-designs a few years back they were a “must” every week, whether or not there was anything interesting to say. Too much opinion in papers now, too little news. Why? It is easy copy. As social media shows any idiot can spout his views, even if totally ignorant about the subject. And there is usually some hard-pressed hack just waiting to drop into into a shape on a page.

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