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Daily says sorry to cancer victim’s mum over story error

A regional daily has apologised after mistakenly reporting on its front page that the mother of a teenage cancer victim was herself now battling the disease.

The Express & Star, Wolverhampton, carried a printed correction and apology in today’s edition after reporting that Jane Sutton, whose son Stephen raised millions for the Teenage Cancer Trust prior to his death in 2014, had announced she had been diagnosed with the illness.

After the story was published in yeterday’s Staffordshire edition, pictured below, the Trust issued a statement saying there was “absolutely no truth” in the reports.

The story was also picked up a local news agency and by the national press.

ES Stephen

Express & Star editor Keith Harrison said: “The story was published in good faith, following a presentation Jane gave in Lichfield over the weekend.

“The correct checks were not made prior to publication and, clearly, there was a misunderstanding leading to the mistake.

“We have apologised to Jane and will also be carrying a correction and printed apology tomorrow. The Express and Star will also be making a donation to the Teenage Cancer Trust.”

The Trust said: “There is absolutely no truth in the mistaken reports that Jane Sutton has cancer.  She is well and training for her next challenge, climbing Kilimanjaro in October, to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust.”

Stephen rose to fame after beginning his Stephen’s Story blog, documenting his charity activism and his battle with colorectal cancer.

Since his death aged 19, £5.5m has been raised in his name for the Trust.

39 comments

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  • June 28, 2016 at 5:38 pm
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    A dreadful mistake, really am struggling to figure out how this could have happened.
    But at least the paper has been prompt in acknowledging the error and willing to correct it at the first opportunity.
    You can’t undo a story like this but you can at least react quickly.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 6:33 pm
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    There is and never was any foundation of truth in the story published by The Express & Star over Jane Sutton’s health.

    The paper has said it printed in ‘good faith’.

    If it’s editorial team had taken the time to wait for a response from Jane Sutton or Teenage Cancer Trust, it would have realised there was no story to publish and it could have avoided the inevitable distress and anger to Jane, her family and friends. The ‘error’ should never have been made!!!

    Shame on you Express & Star – get your house in order.

    I hope the individual from the Express & Star who attended the Lichfield Cathedral School Speech Day at Lichfield Cathedral last Saturday and took the so called ‘story’ to his editorial team is feeling sick this evening.

    To publish without verifying the facts is outrageous.

    Those involved in publishing this story should hold their heads in shame.

    Disgraceful journalism.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 9:52 pm
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    The Star has a reputation for being ruthless with its staff for the slightest error or discrepancy.
    If there is any justice and fairness then the person responsible for publishing this story, should receive a serious reprimand if not dismissal.
    Of course the honourable thing would be for that person to resign.
    It is shameful.
    You can’t help but ask yourself why?
    Why would they publish without checking?
    Why wouldn’t they want to wait for confirmation, or even better, see if Jane Sutton wanted to talk further about this?
    I am mortified as someone who worked as a journalist for 20 years and live in the Black Country and followed Stephen’s Story in the E&S and Evening Mail.
    We do not expect this in the regional press.
    And not from the newspaper “highly commended” in the press awards.
    E&S take a look at yourself.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 7:42 am
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    “The correct checks were not made prior to publication and, clearly, there was a misunderstanding leading to the mistake.” An all too common scenario in these diminished, post-sub, minimally staffed days I’m afraid.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 8:15 am
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    Something like this has been a long time coming all you need to do is look all the editorial staff that have jumped ship recently. The paper is now lacking experienced and quality reporters. Working conditions are appalling, long hours are expected with no extra pay. Poor flexibility for journalists with families. If staff where treated better then these disasters could of been averted it seems the E&S loss is the BBC gain.
    Hopefully the powers that be will take a step back, reflect look at how this happend to prevent it happening again.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 9:51 am
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    Thinking of stones and glass houses, could someone reveal exactly what went wrong.
    None of us is ever too old to learn.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:02 am
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    This is what happens when experience is designed out of newsrooms in favour of ‘efficiency’.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:15 am
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    Yipes! Some nice axe-grinding going on there @Stuart A! But you’ll be pleased to know I’m reliably informed the Editor, although taking responsibility, was away from the newsroom and had no involvement in the story. I think it’s safe to say those that did have been made fully aware of his feelings on the matter, as you can imagine!.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:29 am
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    Found the cached story online and it says:

    “In an emotional talk given to pupils, parents and staff at Lichfield Cathedral School, Jane Sutton announced that she had cancer, but that she would use it to fuel her future fundraising – including her Kilimanjaro climb later this year.”

    But there are no quotes to back up that statement.
    There are no quotes at all from the speech which suggests the reporter was not there so was, at best, relying on second hand information.

    However, the Express and Star’s UGC Picture Editor (!!!) tweeted he was at the meeting but made no reference to her announcing she had cancer

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:32 am
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    Why is the answer always to sack or resign for a mistake?

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:43 am
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    Check. check. check. Especially on cancer or death stories.
    This wasn’t an honest mistake. It was lousy journalism made worse by poor editing. Someone with more experience than the reporter obviously has should have asked: “Has this story been checked with the person concerned?”. Simple.
    Case of a story too good to check. (sadly). This really does journalism a bad name.
    Perhaps the stresses of papers running with minimal experience and staff levels are showing, though this is a particularly bad example.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 10:50 am
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    I am baffled about how this got into print and the so called “misunderstanding”. What exactly did Jane Sutton say? Or did she say anything? Were there no quotes from her? Did nobody ask why?
    My thoughts are with the hapless person taking the blame for this. If he or she lacked experience they should not have been let anywhere near such a sensitive story. This error was a real team effort: news desk, subs, decision making at the top, the lot.
    The apology (two+ pars) is a bit thin to say the least. http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2016/06/29/jane-sutton-article-apology/
    The fact that this error got through a sad reflection on the state of modern journalism, the people who are running newspapers and the way they are doing their jobs. A sad episode.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 11:00 am
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    Nightmare.

    Obviously a misunderstanding or mishearing of something said in a speech.

    That sort of thing could happen to any one of us.

    Although as it was going on the front page, a quick phone call to the mum would have saved everyone an awful lot of anguish.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 11:14 am
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    Let’s be realistic
    There are mistakes which are made because reporters are not robots and are operating in working conditions that are hardly ideal
    Then there are howlers like this one.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 11:38 am
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    Yes, I too think it would be instructive to know exactly how this mistake came to be made. I don’t buy into any of these whinges about dwindling resources. Getting the facts right is the be-all and end-all of the job no matter how hard-pressed or under-resourced you may be. I really don’t see how you can write about someone’s health without direct quotes or confirmation from that person.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 11:55 am
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    Well mistakes DO happen just like at what happened to the country in voting to leave the EU…

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm
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    someone should consider their position after this schoolboy error. Just mind-boggling in its incompetence for so-called professionals.
    I am not thinking of the reporter, who obviously lacked experience and should not have been allowed near such a sensitive story. Stick to cheque hand-outs until you learn the ropes is my advice.
    I agree with the comment that the misunderstanding might have happened because something was misheard. But any pro worth their salt would ALWAYS double check. This one truly mystifies me, but thank God I don’t work there with no safety net for legals.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm
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    If the reporter had been at the event, surely they should have made every effort to follow this up on the day and asking for an interview. Had they done this she could have clarified the situation there and then.
    At the very least the newsdesk should have been asking for a follow-up too, knowing it was sitting on a bigger story or a follow-up if this was the case which again would have solved this issue.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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    Slice of Life,
    Because mistakes like these cannot be recovered or learnt from. If you are part of the newsroom of a daily newspaper and you’re making catastrophic errors like this, then you shouldn’t be there.
    I fear that with the cuts on the scale of the ones being made by Trinity Mirror up and down the country, this situation will be repeated.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:38 pm
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    I don’t know the full background but to suggest someone should be sacked for what we are told is a geniune misunderstanding is cruel and vindictive.
    I’m glad a few of the above aren’t my boss.
    Don’t punish the unfortunate author for the anger we all feel over short-staffing at TM.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:58 pm
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    Steady stream of hacks to KH office today for ‘full and frank’ conversations *ducks for cover*

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  • June 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm
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    WTF? It beggars belief that something like this could happen. We all make mistakes but I’m at a loss over this one.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 1:04 pm
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    Even if the reporter misheard whatever she said, any newsdesk worth its salt would surely have suggested a couple of follow-up check calls to the individual and charity concerned before publication. Maybe it was decided to rush this out because they thought – wrongly – they had an exclusive and wanted to get in first before anyone else did.
    An appalling error all told. I just hope the reporter isn’t hung out to dry over it.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 2:49 pm
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    I can quite imagine the ashen white faces at Star HQ today a day on from one of the biggest f*** ups in newspaper reporting imaginable. It appears an employee attended Jane Sutton’s talk last week and simply for whatever reason got completely the wrong end of the stick. The employee has then passed it on to the powers that be who have in turn decided to roll with it despite not having the details confirmed. With such a sensitive story how they ever felt compelled to run with it without having had it confirmed with the Teenage Cancer Trust or Jane Sutton is beyond comprehension. You certainly can’t blame the reporter who was asked to put the story together. The fault lies with the newsdesk or someone in a higher position such as the deputy editor or editor. Mistakes happen in journalism but this is reckless and unethical. I am sure the person who gave the go-ahead is in turmoil about just what they should do now. Maybe stepping down is the only option.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 3:13 pm
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    Interestingly the correction and apology is not on the E&S Facebook page, despite the first story having being put on there.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 3:27 pm
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    Blimey, having just read Jane’s message on FB it was/is an appalling mistake and whoever the journo was is fully deserving to be sacked or forced to resign. It was a mistake but clearly they did not follow through with checking their facts. Shameful.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 3:39 pm
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    Thanks to tge link from Warren Wright, I’ve taken a look at Jane’s version of events. I’m sorry but there doesn’t seem to be any possible reasonable excuse for the reporter’s error. I trust the journalist and the newsdesk team are hanging their heads in shame – it was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever seen during my career in journalism.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm
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    Provincial. This might indeed have been a genuine misunderstanding at the start but someone needs to take the rap for what didn’t happen afterwards. Lack of on-site training, supervision and checking of story must be down to someone, and not the reporter. Shortage of staff does not help but is really no excuse. Someone on a paper must know what they are doing, surely? Who put this story on a page without a quote from the woman concerned about whether it was true or not? Fallen to the standards of some nationals, I fear. At some of my old papers this would have been a disciplinary matter, not a subject for academic debate.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm
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    I blame the accountants. Making savings might make a paper more economic, but not more efficient because if something does not work as well as it used to it is less efficient , As it blatantly obvious in this rather extreme case. I do hope the reporter does not suffer.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 4:02 pm
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    Given the lack of quality and experience left on so many papers of all companies I am surprised there are not more gaffs like this, though the example before us is extreme.
    It would be unfair if the reporter was hung out to dry and more senior staff escaped criticism. It’s supposed to be a team game, producing a paper!

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  • June 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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    @Unbelieveable Jeff: The editor wasnt in I hear. He is back today and apparently everyone knows it!

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  • June 29, 2016 at 4:11 pm
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    Some here have mentioned TM cuts, though this isn’t one of its papers. However, recently eviscerated news centres and hubs are rushing things through and it’s only matter of time before a similarly horrendous mistake is made. Quality journalism cannot be done on the cheap, so TM’s multi tiers of useless executives, “editors in chief”, etc. means that front-line, productive staff have to go to keep paying them in a shrivelling market. All very sad and the end is not far off now for the bloated corporate dinosaurs.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 4:46 pm
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    Sloppy journalism beyond belief. From what I can make out someone from the paper (not a journalist) misinterpreted this speech. This incorrect information was then passed to a reporter who turned it into a so-called story – based on hearsay without checking- and it appeared on Page One!.
    Unbelievable incompetence by whoever decided to publish if they knew the facts had not been checked. The fact that Jane Sutton is not quoted should have set the alarm bells ringing. Everyone makes mistakes but to ignore the basic rules and disciplines of journalism in such a cavalier fashion takes my breath away. There is an obvious hole in the story and those supervising publication have a lot to answer for. Who was to blame is un clear. To suggest national papers behave like this is absolute cobblers and I don’t buy the lame excuse that this was caused by cuts.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 5:10 pm
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    I’ve worked in newsrooms in the past where even the slightest hint of a decent tale is swallowed up in a froth of excitement and an overbearing need to “get the story out there”, no matter what. Facts become irrelevant in the fervour to grab an exclusive. Cost-cutting doesn’t help but the overbearing need to copy the worst of the national tabloids and their methods may well be to blame, though I can’t comment on this individual case, of course. Maybe deep breaths are needed all round.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 5:15 pm
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    I remember the late Bill Jolly when he was news editor of the E&S. Grumpy and a stickler for accuracy but I liked and respected him. This would never have happened during his rule which was fashioned on old-school principles. Those principles for whatever reason are sadly lacking in this case.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 5:41 pm
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    Agree Desker – nothing on social media, which in modern terms is as bad as not printing an apology.

    ” I hope the Express and Star donate a substantial amount to the TCT by way of an apology to you for this tasteless article x
    Like · Reply · 366 · 20 hrs”

    366 likes that comment has on the Facebook page for Jane Sutton.

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  • June 30, 2016 at 8:21 am
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    Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Feel very sorry for the reporter who hasn’t really got enough experience to be working on a daily. But there are plenty of other there who do and should know better. Probably an old-fashioned view but the buck with these things should always stop at the top – not being in the office is not an excuse. You should only ever appoint people you can trust.

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