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Newspaper absolved over car crash report despite note-taking ‘concern’

IPSO_logo_newThe press watchdog has dismissed a complaint over a weekly newspaper’s reporting of a car crash, but expressed “concern” over its reporter’s lack of note-taking during a conversation with a police spokesperson.

Caroline Westbrook-Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Warrington Guardian had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article reported that a woman had been struck by a car near to a primary school following a dispute with another woman over parking.

Ms Westbrook-Jones said that she was the driver of the car referred to in the article and accepted that she had been involved in a dispute in the car park, but maintained that the other party had not been “hit” or “struck” by her car, as reported.

She claimed the other party had fallen backwards and injured herself during the altercation and the article had been “one-sided” for failing to give her account of the incident.

The complainant said she had not been charged and the police investigation had been dropped, while the police officer who had taken her statement on the day of the incident had confirmed to her that the police had not given permission for the newspaper to publish the story.

She added someone claiming to be the other person involved in the altercation had left a comment beneath the online article, which she considered had given a significantly inaccurate, one-sided account of the incident, and exaggerated the extent of her injuries.

This led to the publication of further abusive comments from other readers.

The Guardian said the article was a routine news report based on information supplied by Cheshire Police. The information was supplied over the telephone, immediately written up, and published online. No notes were taken.

When it was alerted to the complainant’s concerns, the reporter contacted the police to verify the information. The newspaper provided an email in which the police confirmed that its 22 May 2015 records stated that an altercation had taken place between a driver and a pedestrian over parking, and that the vehicle had “collided with the pedestrian”.

The newspaper considered that it was unlikely that either party would be identified from the article because no one was named, but offered to publish a statement noting Ms Westbrook-Jones’s denial

It said if the police issued a fresh statement following the outcome of the investigation, it would be happy to publish it.

With regards to the reader’s comment, the Guardian said it could not be expected to adopt a position as to whether the account was accurate; if the complainant disputed it, she was free to post her side of the story.

IPSO said the fact the reporter had failed to take any notes during the conversation with the police was a matter of some concern, particularly as the article included a verbatim quote attributed to a Cheshire Police spokesperson.

However, as the police had confirmed that the article accurately reflected its records of the incident, the Committee was satisfied that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the information in breach of Clause 1 (i).

IPSO found no wrongdoing on any other point, and the complaint was not upheld.

The full adjudication can be read here.


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  • January 12, 2016 at 7:29 am

    As a shorthand tutor who has seen the decline of shorthand, I ask if this reporter had shorthand skills? , How can you attend something and not take any notes? No notes to be checked?
    How he world of newspapers has changed beyond recognition!

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  • January 12, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Surely the taking of a note is the most basic thing required of a reporter. Isn’t the importance of this stressed on your very first day in the job?

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  • January 12, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I can barely believe that no note was taken, albeit it made little difference to the outcome. I hope the paper has revised its procedures or it could end up in big trouble one day.

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  • January 12, 2016 at 11:07 am

    The info was supplied on the phone, it’s not unreasonable to think the reporter just wrote directly into a web template as the police officer/spokesman was talking.

    It’s really not that strange.

    Esp if the police is just giving a few lines.

    This is the 21st-century world where a web story can be done instantly.

    I’d back myself to write up two lines given over the phone in real time.

    You’re all blowing this massively out of proportion.

    No-one is suggesting the reporter never takes notes, just in this case they had no need to.

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  • January 12, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Maybe you are right, desker. But if you are busy writing the bare facts into a web template rather than having a proper conversation, then you are less likely to ask the kind of questions which may turn that routine filler into something more substantial. And can any of us be relied upon to type at the same speed as we can take shorthand? If this story had gone badly wrong, which would a court more readily believe, a written note or a reporter’s assurance that they accurately typed the facts of that conversation into a web template?

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  • January 12, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    What a load of rhubarb… Item published was accurate, based on what police released. Ends…
    However, ideally, it should have been a purist’s routine for him/her to have made a short/longhand note of what police said.
    But — we’ve all skipped doing that at times, haven’t we?
    Much ado abaht nuffink…. World’s gone mad.

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  • January 13, 2016 at 6:48 am

    All this could’ve been avoided if the reporter had done as they were told by the police, who “didn’t give permission” to print the story.

    Wait… what?

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  • January 13, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    As another sometime former shorthand tutor, but also primarily a journalist now working online, I often type a quick quote into an online story. And as I have 80wpm typing, it’s not that much slower than my 110wpm shorthand. Certainly quick enough for a two or three line from police.

    (Obviously if it’s a longer interview, or if I’m out and about, then the notepad and pen comes out.)

    As others have said, I imagine the same applies here.

    And yes, former crime hack, that’s the line which struck me the most! Although as it’s part of the complainant’s case, I am taking it with a pinch of salt . . .

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