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Ex-news ed: Is it enough to say ‘approached for comment?’

IMG_20220303_151913148A former news editor has questioned whether journalists are doing enough to ensure people and organisations have right of reply in stories.

Bob Haywood, pictured, says he is concerned about reporters using “perfunctory” emails to obtain balancing comments on stories, arguing that “even rogues deserve right of reply.”

Bob, a former news editor of the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham, worked in journalism for 40 years and was twice named BT Midland Journalist of the Year.

He aired his views in a letter to HTFP which we are publishing in full below. Balancing views are of course welcome!

I am becoming increasingly concerned – and irritated – by local and regional newspapers reporting that complained-of parties in stories ‘have been approached for comment.’

The articles often make serious claims – sometimes at great length – with no rebuttal.

Is this fair – or even professional? Are the complained-of parties being deliberately evasive or do lazy reporters file the stuff with one perfunctory phone call/email – often at short notice?

Who knows?

This approach seems particularly prevalent with reader moans about parking companies when drivers make serious (often fatuous) complaints against them.

Even rogues deserve a right of reply – at the risk of the balanced facts torpedoing the story.

In my pomp, I was news editor of a major, multi-award-winning regional newspaper. I was well aware that complained-of parties could dodge questions and/or employ delay tactics to avoid (or scupper) publication.

If this happened, I’d insist the reporter made it clear that we would run the tale with or without their response if push came to shove.

In that eventuality, we’d we tell them – and our readers – that we had made repeated efforts to obtain comment – and had failed.

Internally, we would annotate the approaches – and non-responses – in detail.

We would NEVER say we had ‘approached [them] for comment’ – and leave it at that.

Thus we could prove that the complained-of parties had been given every opportunity to respond but had – inferentially – chosen to stay silent.

Were I to be the PR (heaven forbid!) for some complained-of companies in many stories I have read recently I’d be tempted to complain to IPSO.

Newspapers must always seek to expose wrong-doing – but they must always be fair.