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Watchdog to quiz publisher over editorial standards

Press watchdogs are calling on a leading newspaper publisher to address claims that its new content management system is compromising editorial standards.

The National Union of Journalists says the Atex system that has latterly been installed across Johnston Press is responsible for a mounting catalogue of editorial howlers.

It wrote to the Press Complaints Commission after seeing a leaked memo from Paul Bentham, managing director of the group’s South Yorkshire titles, to editors and senior journalists, setting out new rules following the introduction of the system.

The memo included the line: “[Editors] should not continue with the old practise of reading every story. Editors should evaluate the risk for each story based on content and the seniority of the journalist and act accordingly.”

The PCC today confirmed that it had written to Johnston Press requesting an explanation of new rules governing the operation of the Atex system.

A spokesman told HTFP: “I can confirm that we have been in touch with Johnston Press to obtain clarification and reassurance about the relevant issues. This is not a formal investigation by the PCC.”

The union’s concerns were originally set out in a letter to the PCC by its Northern Organiser Chris Morley.

He wrote: “The memo from the managing director contains a number of extremely worrying developments which strike at the heart of an editor’s responsibilities. I believe it is important for the PCC to take a formal view on this as the PCC’s code is written in to JP employees’ contracts.”

“If employees were to carry out these instructions of the company, it is entirely possible that editors and other journalists will be in breach of the code and therefore their contracts, not to mention the NUJ Code of Conduct if they are a member.

“This is an intolerable position for our members to find themselves in and if a case arose where the fault for a substantial inaccuracy lay with inadequate checking where would the PCC put the blame – on the individual editor or the company whose procedures had created the conditions for the complaint to arise?”

There has been no comment thus far on the story from Johnston Press.


Joker (15/06/2010 10:38:38)
“[Editors] should not continue with the old practise of reading every story.”
Great news! When the solids hit the fan and JP is hit with a massive libel bill, how nice for us editors to know that it’s Paul Bentham’s nuts that are going to be chopped off!

sensible (15/06/2010 11:33:28)
Its nice to see you are willing to work as a team. nobody wants to work within a blame culture

Tasso (15/06/2010 11:36:13)
Perhaps if Bentham had bothered to ask an editor to look at his memo before sending, he’d have found out he’d spelled ‘practice’ incorrectly. QED!

richard meredith (15/06/2010 12:04:12)
Talking of compromising editorial standards … will the PCC please ask JP whether its ad reps will have access blocked to editorial page proofs so they don’t get tempted to use what they read as ad sale leads. Believe me, that road leads only to Hell.

FAST WOMAN (15/06/2010 13:18:46)
I wonder if actuaries in the libel insurance world are monitoring this little development.

outofit (15/06/2010 13:34:50)
Why stop at editorial standards? The PCC should investigate all aspects of JP’s assault on journalism and a once-proud local press.
They’d find a lot to go at, I’m sure.
Perhaps all those sub-editors (or ‘backroom technicians’ as they were once carelessly dismissed by a clueless JP managing director) who have lost their jobs could retrain as libel lawyers. They’d clean up in no time.
Perhaps JP could be done under the Trade Descriptions |Act for calling themselves newspaper publishers!
Are pigeons coming home to roost at last?

Amanda (15/06/2010 14:20:18)
The rapid decline in editorial standards has always spoken for itself since the new system’s introduction – but it’s a relief to see it finally being acknowledged as a serious issue, and one that absolutely has to be addressed. The problems aren’t going to go away unless the company scraps Atex or brings back some of the experienced journalists it shed – before it’s too late!

wowsers (15/06/2010 16:02:43)
What a bunch of clowns. They deserve to go out of business.

Observer (15/06/2010 16:47:41)
Can anyone else picture a ferry leaving port with its bow doors open? Makes my blood boil. If you’re reading this Paul, let me know and you can have my email so I can explain why what you are doing is so inept.

Creosote Arthur (16/06/2010 08:44:46)
I wonder if the editor who leaked the memo to the union expects more loyalty from his/her own staff than they have shown to their MD.
I can imagine they would feel pretty let down if a reporter sent an internal note intended for staff to the NUJ.
Have a look at yourself, whoever did it.

Mr_Osato (16/06/2010 08:51:49)
Shame on any editor who DIDN’T leak this memo. All good journalists rely on tip-offs or leaks from people who know they shouldn’t be talking, but who do because they believe the truth should get out. Telling the truth should be the first instinct for any journalist, far ahead of any misplaced loyalty to the corporate drones who are killing journalism

Constant Sorrow (16/06/2010 09:53:20)
Creosote Arthur – agreed. A low trick from a low person. I wouldn’t like to work with them, that’s for sure.

Observer (16/06/2010 10:39:30)
Oops, wonder what I did wrong? Surely no one’s upset at the bow door comment (see above)? Seems like a perfectly acceptable comparison of management ineptitude to me.

Observer (16/06/2010 10:54:11)
So the complaint wasn’t upheld? I feel vindicated – a victory for free speech. Hurrah.

A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 11:02:16)
Very old news. Since when have editor’s read EVERY single story before it goes to press anyway? They must have a lot of time on their hands if they’ve got time to do that. As for the comments re: libel, so no JP titles were ever sued for libel before ATEX? Also, since ATEX has been brought in how many libel suits have been brought against JP titles? I’ve not heard of any. This is a total non-story.

Old regional press hand (16/06/2010 11:07:01)
A.J.Ournalist – In my career I have worked for at least one editor who read every single word that went in his paper, and at least one who hardly ever read anything that went in it and left all that to the newsdesk. It takes all types…

Oldhackandproud (16/06/2010 11:30:36)
Sure the point is that SOMEBODY who knows what to do read the bloody thing!!

Ess Jayar (16/06/2010 12:12:07)
Two things stick in my mind (and craw) about JP’s catastrophic introduction of Atex and the continuing ramifications for editorial standards.
First, the editorial staff clearly care far more about the quality of the company’s papers than it does.
Second, the board of JP is now dangerously close to leading the company into disrepute as well as massive debt.
I for one am glad that my name and reputation is no longer associated with ‘Shoestring Publications.’

Happy Hack (16/06/2010 12:13:09)
It seems to me that one of the main concerns here is that people are worried an individual reporter needs somebody to check his work before it is printed to look for errors. I thought the reason the NCE was so difficult was because it proved people could do the job? And even with subs there are still mistakes! I do not think Atex is going to go away.

A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 12:27:16)
Ess Jayar – So you’re angry at the JP board for trying to cut costs and at the same time you’re angry at them for leading the company into debt?! Seems like they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Ess Jayar (16/06/2010 13:43:49)
A. J. Ournalist
I am angry at JP for getting mired in so much debt over a newspaper-buying spree turned p+++ing contest that should have ended long before it did. And I’m angry
also at the board for trying to reduce that debt principally by reducing the quality and integrity of its papers. Still, once all its papers are online-only – they will be – mistakes can be quickly remedied as required. That or blamed on someone elses’s journalists.

A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 13:52:08)
Ess – what would your plan be for reducing the debt?

JP Worker (16/06/2010 13:55:41)
Why was it leaked? Johnston Press MDs are known for their honesty, willingness to engage and knowledge of journalism. How could anyone do that to them – poor lambs!

JP Man (16/06/2010 13:59:09)
Dea, oh dear – the apologists are out. Bank the brownie points and keep your head in the sand! Atex is a pile of…

Simples (16/06/2010 14:02:42)
A.J. Journalist – a few tips to reduce debts. Avoid buying a shoddy system such as Atex for starters. Avoid wasting money on paywall disasters. Look to the long term, invest and watch the paper have a healthier future. Cutting resources and staff is effectively slowly killing the industry.

Mediaocrity (16/06/2010 14:16:45)
The apologists are out, yes. And so are the usual whinging old prunes. Get a life.

A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 14:17:43)
Simples – exactly how much money was wasted on the “paywall disasters”?

FAST WOMAN (16/06/2010 16:25:46)
A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 13:52)
Ess – what would your plan be for reducing the debt?
Sure Ess can answer for him/herself.
But what I wouldn’t do in any business is churn out a barely mediocre product line as shrinking sales = less revenue / lower margins = struggle to service the debt.

A. J. Ournalist (16/06/2010 16:43:32)
Fast woman – so your solution is to throw good money after bad? Sounds like a fantastic idea! I hope to God you’re not a business reporter.

outofit (16/06/2010 17:23:09)
Sounds like A. J. Ournalist is more of A. M. Anagement-Lackey to me. Then again, self-tighteous *%£+@ usually are.

A. J. Ournalist (17/06/2010 08:30:21)
Outofit? Outoftouch more like.

Creosote Arthur (17/06/2010 09:59:16)
Outoftouch, like most of the moaning old walnuts on here, regards anyone who doesn’t agree with his ‘the company is evil’ mentality to be a corporate lackey.
It’s the kind of embittered state people get to when they realise they’re never going to amount to anything and the only joy they can squeeze from the stone of life is to spit out at the hand that feeds them. Sad.

outofit (17/06/2010 10:21:02)
Dear Creosote, I get a lot more joy out of the ‘stone of life’ in retirment than I ever did from the last two years of my journalistic life when I had to watch at first hand the industry I love being taken apart piece by piece. Bitter? Of course I am.
I’ll ignore the personal attack – as you don’t know me it’s meaningless.

Muppet (17/06/2010 10:37:53)
It’s been a very long time since editors read every word before it went in print, or online. If the NUJ really believes that this was still happening, then it says a lot more about the NUJ’s grip on reality than it does about the state of the industry. Stand up for journalism? You need to know what you’re standing up for first.

Creosote Arthur (17/06/2010 10:47:04)
Personal attack? do you mean: “Then again, self-tighteous *%£+@ usually are”.
Or something I said?

The roof is caving in!! (18/06/2010 12:59:15)
Bugger me, if people spent as much time working on stories/subbing as they did back-biting in these columns, there might be fewer errors cropping up in copy. BUT SERIOUSLY – we all know JP are a gang of inept cash-grabbing nitwits, and I pity any young journo who gets their first job with them now, as I did more than a decade ago. They’re bean counters, not publishers. They will probably go under sooner or later, and on that glorious day we shall all hold hands and sing. Furthermore, to the idiot above who said the editor who leaked the memo should be ashamed, I can only suggest you get out of this profession at once because it’s clearly at odds with what you believe in. I wouldn’t think twice about leaking such a memo should it come into my possession. Just because someone is paying you money, does that mean they own you? Where are your balls, man? Dictatorships are founded on such principles, not democracies.