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Editor hits back after mayor attacks regional daily journalists

Pete Gavan newAn editor has hit back after a city mayor publicly attacked his newspaper and branded his journalists an “embarrassment to the profession”.

Bristol Post editor Pete Gavan, pictured, has defended his reporters after directly-elected Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees took aim at a story in the newspaper.

The story, by local democracy reporter Alex Seabrook, covered the launch of a major programme of bridge repairs and was run under the headline ‘Chaos crossing Bristol as seven more bridges in need of repairs’.

Its publication prompted Mr Rees, himself a former BBC journalist, to take aim at the Post during a Bristol City Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The fresh row comes after Alex and his LDR colleague Adam Postans were barred from attending mayoral conferences over a question the former had asked of the mayor, sparking a boycott of the briefings by media outlets across the city last year.

According to a report by independent title Bristol 24/7, Mr Rees told the cabinet meeting: “[The bridge story is] just a classic example of a city making responsible decisions and someone trying to generate clicks to sell advertising on their platform. It’s an embarrassment to the profession.

“The headline ‘Chaos crossing Bristol as seven more bridges need repairs’ makes it sound like there is just some kind of chaos springing out of the… I mean this is just embarrassing. And, you know, accuracy. This is what we mean by truth and accuracy.

“‘Commuters face years of chaos’. I mean, talk about trying to create more heat than light in the situation. It’s just, it’s just remarkable.”

He added: “In many ways, we give up on trying to get a top quality commentary on the complexities and challenges of running a modern core city.

“That’s why we have to use our own communications channels because it’s the only way of getting accuracy out into the public realm and making sure that people understand what it actually is that we are working with, with an older constrained city with a growing population facing a climate and ecological emergency.

“But, you know, we can but wish we get some quality in the minute-taking.”

Pete hit back at the mayor’s attack in an editorial for the Post and its Bristol Live sister website.

He wrote: “While of course, Mr Rees is entitled to disagree with our headlines and how we write our stories, we don’t believe he should be using his public platform to denigrate one reporter’s work when there are much more important issues facing the city. Especially when that reporter is sitting in the same room and cannot, of course, reply.

“His main objection was over the use of the word ‘chaos’ in the headline. But is it really over the top? The impact of the closure of Gaol Ferry Bridge cannot be overstated. It’s caused traffic problems, such as last year when three bridges were closed. That caused gridlock in the city centre.

“And we’ve reported on numerous businesses at Wapping Wharf saying it had a significant impact on their business. The owner of Woky Ko Larkin Cen said the bridge’s closure played a key part in his decision to shut his Wapping Wharf branch.

“We are not against the planned work for the bridges – far from it. It’s essential and quite right that it’s a council priority. But we also feel it’s quite right to highlight – based on previous history – the likely issues that will cause.

“We do stand by the story that we ran – it is fair and accurate, which are the standards we are held by. It might not be to the mayor’s liking, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

“And ‘minute-taking’ is certainly not the role of the local democracy teporters who cover the council. Their remit is to hold the council to account, ask the difficult questions and inform the readers what’s happening. So if Mr Rees is expecting minute-taking, he’s going to be disappointed.”