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‘Aggressive’ reader caused reporter to quit weekly, editor claims

Andrew Harrod 1An “aggressive” reader prompted a reporter to leave a weekly newspaper, its editor has revealed.

Barnsley Chronicle editor Andrew Harrod has said “vitriol” from a woman who had complained to press watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation about a story “played a major part” in the journalist’s decision to leave his paper.

The reporter’s departure has prompted Andrew, pictured, to repeat his previous demands for IPSO to take more action in order to protect journalists whose stories are under complaint.

In the Chronicle’s annual statement to the watchdog, he called for a new code of conduct to be set up to which complainants would have to agree before their case was investigated.

Andrew told the watchdog that the complaint had eventually been resolved by a correction but prompted his reporter’s departure.

He wrote: “The aggressive manner in which the complainant pursued her grievance with the reporter resulted in the journalist concerned tendering her resignation and there seemed little point in contesting the matter once the reporter had ended her employment with us.

“Undoubtedly, the vitriol from the complainant played a major part in the decision of the relatively inexperienced reporter to leave after less than a year in the job.

“As well as pestering the journalist repeatedly during the weekend after the story was published in the paper, the complainant also sent connection requests via social media to myself that weekend – and it was plainly obvious her sole purpose in sending these was to vent her anger.

“She also repeatedly called and messaged my former colleague – indeed had we subjected the complainant to the same kind of treatment in pursuit of a story, I have no doubt that she would have been accused of harassment.

“I have raised this worrying development in my previous IPSO reports as the behaviour of complainants is getting more and more aggressive and inflammatory.

“I believe it is important that people who register complaints with IPSO should now be asked to agree to a code of conduct themselves before their complaint is investigated.”

Andrew suggested that the proposed code of conduct should include a commitment not to discussing the matter on social media until the investigation is completed, and not to persist in contacting the journalist once the IPSO complaint has been logged.

A spokesperson for IPSO said: “It is unacceptable for staff handling complaints, either on behalf of IPSO or our regulated publications, to be subjected to harassment and intimidation. We have a policy in place to address unacceptable behaviour by complainants, which is published on our website.

“We will not hesitate to warn complainants about their actions where appropriate, and to take further action if needed. This can include placing restrictions on the way complainants communicate with us or declining to consider their complaints further.

“We are aware of the Chronicle’s concerns and were in touch with them about this at the time their annual statement was submitted.

“We would encourage any publisher with concerns about the way a complainant is pursuing a complaint to let us know so that we can consider how to respond.”