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News chief explains why journalists approached family after teen’s death

Jeff ReinesAn online news chief has written a piece explaining why his website tries to speak to the families of children who have died.

Jeff Reines, head of content at Cornwall Live, has published the article after unfounded claims that journalists were approaching children without seeking permission from their parents.

Cornwall Live had been reporting on the death of 15-year-old Shakira Pellow, who died after taking what she thought was ecstasy.

The Truro-based site sent a reporter to Camborne, where Shakira was from, to find out more.

Jeff, pictured, wrote: “These tragedies also often quickly trigger a rumour mill which can be painful for the bereaved and even dangerous for the community. Part of our intention is to quash this and share the truth.

“We took some criticism over the misinterpretation that we were approaching children on [Camborne’s] Pengegon estate without seeking permission from their parents.

“But we work to very strict guidelines, as set down by the Independent Press Standards Organisation in its Code of Practice, and ensure that we do not speak to anyone under 16 without parental consent.

“As is the way in an era pervaded by social media, we soon knew Shakira’s name but that doesn’t mean we go rushing to her family’s front door. They needed and deserved to be left in peace.

“When we approached them a few days later, her mum Rita and her partner Lee Butcher welcomed us into their home, shared their heartbreak and cherished memories, handed over favourite photographs of the ‘young, bubbly girl with her whole life ahead of her’.

“They wanted people to know the real Shakira, wanted to celebrate her short life, and we helped that happen.

“Arguably more importantly, they wanted to convey a vital message about the dreadful effects of taking illegal drugs; a message which could save the lives of others and spare other families their deep and lifelong grief.

“They even asked us to publish the shocking photo below of her in her final hours. This is often the result of a sensitive, empathetic approach to loved ones of the deceased.”

Jeff’s piece follows a number of similar explainers he has written recently – including articles on why readers should think before accusing journalists of having a “slow news day” and why the regional press covers inquests.

In it, he admitted that, while working in a previous role for a “city tabloid,” its “aggressive” policy when it came to dealing with such situations “played a role” in his decision to leave the newspaper.

However, he noted there are “few accomplishments are more professionally and personally gratifying than the heartfelt gratitude of a heartbroken family” and went on to provide an example from his reporting days of a couple whose cyclist daughter died after being hit by a bus.

He recalled: “By the time I wrote a front-page story about the pitiful sentence handed to the bus driver for a relatively minor traffic offence, those parents said they considered me one of their family. I’ll never forget them, nor them me.”

Jeff added: “By no means are these kind of outcomes always the case. We are often told to go away, politely or otherwise. And we do. And we don’t go back.

“My previous employers didn’t always take such a reasonable approach – go back until you are unequivocally told ‘no’ was the general rule.  But, again, we see it differently.

“Stories like Shakira’s grab the attention of all the national papers and websites, which can employ a no-holds-barred approach to ‘getting the story’ at any cost.

“But they won’t have to look the people involved in the eye at a later date, either to carry on working with the families or for completely unrelated stories and purposes. We, however, are part of our community. “

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  • July 23, 2018 at 10:25 am

    HTFP. what’s an “explainer”. explanation maybe?
    Actually, let’s not dress all this stuff up.
    The reporter went in search of a follow-up story. Nothing wrong with that, but too often these things are dressed up as some sort of social service. seems like the paper did a reasonable job though.

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