My papers: Who tells us what to print?

You won’t understand anything on the notepad. I’ll explain at a later date..

I was out and about a couple of weeks ago and someone clocked I worked for the local paper.

These inquisitive beings crop up all over the place, like a granny sensing a nearby baby.

This generally goes one of two ways: intrigue about an interesting career or an ear bashing for a terrible cock-up.

I could usually get away with swerving the latter but now I’m in a position of responsibility, as content editor, it’s likely to be my fault.

My new job didn’t get off to the best start when an innocent letter about spending ‘pennies on a local attraction went in as ‘pennises’. I read the page and missed it. It went viral. We couldn’t even spell the inadvertent rude word right!

But the question was: “Do you ever get told not to write about something?”

The story was one we knew about – and certainly newsworthy. Its absence led the questioner to wonder if someone had influenced us not to print it.

In reality, the reason was far more boring. It came down to the fact it was a busy day, with a reporter on holiday, and making a choice whether to cover one or the other.

In the end, the winner was covering the Arundel bypass announcement, one of the most significant news events in years. We had to be there. I won’t reveal the alternative to protect the identity of the questioner.

Sadly, sometimes things slip through the net. We can’t always be everywhere at once and we have to prioritise.

That’s one of the toughest things about my job. If there’s a choice to be made, it’s down to me.

One thing for certain is there is no agenda. All papers should pride themselves on ensuring the editorial is separate from the advertising side. We don’t do stories because a business has taken out an ad.

In Littlehampton this week, a story about a car garage’s controversial planning application was prominent. An advertising ‘wrap’ around the front and back of the paper happened to be for the same garage. Although the piece was balanced, it was hardly positive.

As an editor I don’t dictate to our reporters. I’m there to advise – and will chip in if I think the story can be developed. They all have to present a list of stories they’ve found and the strongest make the cut.

We’ll have stuff in diary, meetings to attend and the odd court case. Readers will tip us off and we’ll all have different ideas for investigations or features.

It’s not a case of an autocratic owner or editor-in-chief angrily telling us to ‘write this, criticise that’. I don’t know where the common generalisation comes from but it’s not my experience of the local press.

We have no agenda. We are a group of normal people doing our best to cover what we can.

And we’re always keen to hear your stories, good or bad.

Comment below or on my Facebook page if you have any questions.


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