Another Letter to the Editor from Tim HICKS F.C.A., on the subject of citizen journalists.
I read of the award of both the Newspaper of the Year to the Daily Mail and Website of the Year to the Mail Online with great satisfaction. I was particularly pleased to read that it was praised for its “strong and provocative voice, campaigning journalism and shaping of the national conversation”.
I have long admired the style of the Daily Mail for covering complex long-running issues in comprehensive in depth articles, that are direct and do not pull any punches. Occasionally I used Mail Online articles as background research information for some of my articles and I have tried to model the style of my North Yorks Enquirer (NYE) contributions on them. One of my favorite Mail Online articles is this one, which in conjunction with the book Jeremy Thorpe, by Michael Bloch, and other sources, I used to get the investigation into the suspicious disappearance of Henry Upon and the Thorpe case re-opened.
The award signifies a continuing trend in investigative journalism of relentlessly sticking with issues with long running campaigns, coupled with forthright comment that does not pull any punches. This has always been the style of the NYE, which is why I choose to write for it.
2nd Letter from Tim Hicks published in The Journalist
This is the second time that I have had a letter published in The Journalist on the topic of citizen journalism.
My first letter can be read here and emphasised my opinion that citizen journalism is not a threat to established print media, which should try to work cooperatively with citizen journalists.
In my second letter, I point out that the citizen journalists of Real Whitby and the NYE have been far more effective in upholding the public interest by holding public bodies to account than any of the local traditional print media.
Both letters respond to scepticism expressed from fellow journalists about the value of citizen journalism.
“an alternative and activist form of newsgathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a response to shortcomings in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals“.
However, the reality is that citizen journalism is going to be a permanent fixture that improves local democracy, giving local citizens a voice and exposing wrongdoing. I believe that, in the future, every area will be served by an internet news magazine like the North Yorks Enquirer and that every police force will be subject to effective media scrutiny by citizen journalists.
As with the Daily Mail, the NYE style is of a “strong and provocative voice, campaigning journalism and shaping of the national conversation”.
I am particularly proud of the exclusive exposure of the expenses payments made to Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the double dipping of expenses by some SBC Councillors, our determined pursuit of the Peter Jaconelli scandal and the NYE’s consistent support of the brave and principled Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) whistle-blower Ben Marriott. Follow up article here. NYE articles have shaped national perceptions by being the source of articles in the national media, regional press and regional television.
The NYE performs a vital service in North Yorkshire holding public bodies to account and covering stories on an ongoing basis as they develop that other media outlets will not cover. Citizens and Councillors are now able to use the NYE to voice their concerns openly in a way never possible before. The quality of the reporting by local print media has improved immeasurably over the last two years, because they have had to meet the standard of investigative journalism provided to the people of Scarborough and Whitby by the NYE.
The progress we have made and the service we have provided to our local community has come at a price. The citizen journalists of the NYE try to maintain high journalistic standards and to act in the public interest, even if that involves conflict with public bodies. The duty of a free press is to hold public bodies to account and consequently this has often brought NYE journalists into conflict with them. A few examples:
- The NYE publishes North Yorkshire Police (NYP) appeals for information to help them keep our communities safe and has assisted in a number of police investigations by NYP, and other forces. However, our coverage of the Chief Officer’s expenses scandal and the failure of the police to arrest Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile, despite the fact they were known to be openly offending in Scarborough and Whitby, has led to NYP adopting an entrenched position. Even now, the Police & Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire Mrs Julia Mulligan will not respond to our press enquiries, or implement the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) recommendations, that the NYE does comply with. To quote Chief Constable Andy Trotter, Chair of the ACPO Communications Advisory Group, writing in the ACPO Guidance on this matter:
“A successful working relationship between the Police Service and the media is vital. Moreover, working with the media to engage the public – either to help solve crimes or demonstrate police work is now part of the everyday business of policing. The relationship has changed in recent years. There is a greater degree of openness than ever before. Police forces have responded positively to the demands of the Freedom of Information Act and share a great deal of material that might have been kept from the public in past decades.
The rapid pace of technological change continues to bring new challenges, around the clock, for both media departments in police forces and the media. How the media report has changed dramatically over recent years – mobile phone footage, citizen journalists and social media such as twitter are all immediate, direct communication which sit outside the traditional broadcast and print arenas. They have become part of the mainstream.”
- Scarborough Borough Councillor, retired Chief of Scarborough Police during the Jaconelli years, double-dipper extraordinaire and former Mayor, Cllr Tom Fox (Conservative), stood up in full Council and advocated that NYE journalists should be subject to threat and retaliation for “saying what they like when they like”.
- SBC threatened to sue Tim Thorne, Glenn Kilpatrick, Nigel Ward and myself (the Whitby four) and tried to shut Real Whitby down. It was castigated for this in Private Eye and on BBC Inside Out
I hope the NYE will continue to provide incisive investigative journalism and satirical photoons, to the people of North Yorkshire. The photoon leading the article showing the NYE team hiding in a fallout bunker relates to one of my favourite stories broken by the NYE concerning Councillors who were members of the North Yorkshire National Park Authority, who were also landowners that could potentially make millions if an application for mining rights in the park was approved. This was followed by the resignation of Councillor Tim Lawn.