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Editor says sorry for 1996 front page which ‘ostracised’ city’s black community

A regional daily editor has apologised for a front page published almost 22 years ago which featured headshots of black men looking like “slaves in cages.”

The Bristol Post splashed today on an apology for the offending front page, published on 17 April 1996, which featured pictures of 16 black men jailed for drugs offences under the headline ‘Faces of evil’.

Explaining the reasons for the apology, current Post editor Mike Norton said the splash had “essentially destroyed what little credibility and trust the Post had within Bristol’s African and Afro-Caribbean community”.

In an editorial, Mike said the effect of the page was “so powerful that it offended and ostracised a large section of the city’s community”, but admitted he would have also published it had he edited the Post then.

Bristol 21

Wrote Mike: “I don’t blame the journalists who conceived it. I wasn’t the editor then but – if I had been – I’m sure I would have published the page, too.

“But it was a huge mistake. That one image essentially destroyed what little credibility and trust the Post had within Bristol’s African and Afro-Caribbean community.

“So, today, I want to apologise for that page. I want to say sorry for the hurt it caused – and continues to cause – to an entire community of my city. Moreover, I want to try to make amends for it.

“I’m sure there are many people reading this who will be wondering why I’m saying sorry. Weren’t these men crack dealers? Pedlars of evil? Yes, they were. But the problem was one of context.

“The Evening Post – as it was called then – was already disconnected from the city’s black communities. It was another Bristol institution that the people in those communities didn’t feel was for them. They were already wary of telling the Post about their news or their successes. They already had a suspicion that the paper wrote about black people only when they committed crime.

“The Faces of Evil front page, with its black faces arranged in rows like slaves held in cages, cemented that view.”

Mike admitted in a column last year that the Post has “too few” ethnic minority journalists, adding the paper has contributed to a “cultural divide” on his patch.

The newspaper is currently supporting a campaign aimed at tackling the under-representation of ethnic minorities in Bristol.

The 'Faces of Evil' front page from 1996

The ‘Faces of Evil’ front page from 1996

In today’s apology, Mike said that when he became editor 12 years ago, he was told the ‘Faces of Evil’ page was a reason why “some people didn’t interact with us or read the paper”.

He added: “Of course, I am only too well aware of how this will go down with some of some of the more vociferous contributors to the bristolpost.co.uk comments section. I await their inevitable hate. They will probably call me a snowflake – the word adopted by right-wingers when they want to belittle millennial entitlement. Or a bleeding-heart liberal who’s been got at by the politically correct brigade.

“I am neither. If only I was a millennial – I’d be at least 20 years younger. And I am certainly not a liberal. Dealing with politics for 30 years has made me cynical of any political stance. In fact, I’m actually like many of the people who read the Post in print and online. I’m a mongrel, working-class Bristolian, born in Easton and bred on the wrong side of the tracks in south Bristol.

“I want my city’s institutions to represent everyone in the city because there is still a perception that they don’t. As I’m lucky enough to run one of them, I can at least start with this one.

“Of course, the other thing the commenters will tell me to do is to move on, to stop dwelling on the past. And that is exactly what I want to do. Only not in the way they would prefer, which is by not talking about it.”

The Post will now host a series of what it is calling ‘city conversations’ aimed at finding an appropriate way to commemorate Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade – with the first public debate being held on the 22nd anniversary of the ‘Faces of Evil’ page’s publication.

11 comments

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  • March 7, 2018 at 11:06 am
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    Call me cynical but this smacks of trying to claw back some readers (or viewers). Cannot see any other reason for it.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 12:47 pm
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    Mike says he has been editor for 12 years, but has onloy just got round to apologies for something which he sees is clearly important?

    Agree with paperboy, sounds like a desperate measure to secure readers.

    From what I can read of the 1996 page, there is no mention of race, just that they were all serious criminals, which is still worth remembering.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 1:14 pm
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    Notwithstanding slight puzzlement as to why apologise now (though that may just be a hole in the HTFP story) I think Norton & the post deserve credit. It’s never too late to try to put something right; never too late to say sorry. I applaud them for acknowledging the nuances at play. Technically nothing wrong with that front page back then. In its full effect, however, it’s a horror. And yes, paperboy, I will call you cynical!

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  • March 7, 2018 at 1:50 pm
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    For the record, this was before my time as editor, I would never have sanctioned a Cooper Black Italic wob strapline.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 2:13 pm
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    Am I missing something here? These are pics of convicted criminals arranged not like slaves in cages but like convicts in prison cells, which is exactly what they were. I have seen countless front pages on similar lines, and I would think nothing of if If I saw the same layout and headline on a front page tomorrow, regardless of the race of the subjects.
    I’m sure the Evening Post did have difficulty gaining the trust of the African-Caribbean community, as anyone who has worked in the media in a diverse urban area may also have found. But I doubt this front page was crucial to that lack of trust and, surely, the vast majority of people in that community would be glad to see drug dealers banged up, not worrying about the presentation of the story in the local paper.
    Apologising so long after the event is not only the wrong thing to do, it is an empty bit of virtue signalling. And exactly how is the Evening Post going to handle the next big court case which involves several defendants from the same ethnic minority? Willl they not run the mug shots? Will they handle stories with multiple black defendants differently from cases with white accused?

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  • March 7, 2018 at 5:51 pm
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    WOB? Is that ray-chist?

    And does using a Cooper Black strapline implicitly condone cooping up black people like slaves and strapping them in line?

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  • March 7, 2018 at 5:53 pm
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    The Bristol Post is no longer daily, even in the conventional newspaper sense of publishing six days a week. Since ditching its Saturday edition in May 2012, it has only appeared Monday to Friday.

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  • March 7, 2018 at 6:06 pm
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    Mike Norton and the Bristol Post still have many far higher-priority apologies to make, for:

    * Discontinuing the Post’s Saturday edition shortly after Norton pledged to keep producing a daily paper

    * Welshing on its guarantee of 300 job advertisements every week (then 200, then gradually lower numbers, before quietly dropping the promise)

    * Slashing the letters section from three pages to one

    * Ending art, nightlife and general-events listings in the abysmal (with the exception of the food section) Weekend magazine

    * Printing what’s-on listings for events which took place the previous day; or at very short notice, giving readers little time to prepare

    * Adding insult to injury by charging 25p extra on Fridays

    * Seldom printing submitted corrections for the Post’s constant errors, despite a prominent page-2 policy statement vowing to do so

    * Luring subscribers with the Plus benefits scheme, which was nice while it lasted but seems to have been quietly shelved

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  • March 8, 2018 at 10:51 am
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    Hackflack. I accept the title cynical. After 12 years at the helm editor wakes up in the night and has sudden pang of guilt over something he had nothing to do with. Hmmm.

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  • March 8, 2018 at 2:10 pm
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    This generated a great deal of publicity for the Post on local TV – leading the Points West programme.
    All good for this diminished paper. But in 1996 they were simply publishing the truth. Has anything changed?
    Of course back then the Bristol Evening Post was a locally owned and controlled paper as part of Bristol United Press and was seen as an important part of this city – along with HTV west and the Bristol and West Building Society. All parts of the fabric of the west of England that has been eaten away by the greed of corporate drones.

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