Graham Turner: Readers are our ‘regulators’

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The old saying about being tarred with the same brush has never felt so pertinent this past week as Lord Justice Leveson published the mammoth report into his inquiry into press standards.

Phone hacking, illegal payments, intrusions into privacy and other dubious practices are a world away from what we do in the local press.

Luckily, Lord Leveson seems to recognise this in his report and says regional papers’ ‘contribution to local life is truly without parallel’.

He adds: “Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this Inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised.”

Yes, of course journalists working on papers like the Bury Free Press make mistakes and we put our hands up and correct them as soon as possible. We closely follow the current code of conduct for journalists and no doubt we’ll adhere to whatever replaces it post-Leveson - hopefully it will not be so restrictive that we cannot do our job properly.

My fear is that local journalists will forever be tarred with that same brush which some national newspapers effectively used to daub themselves.

Much bigger fish than me put up a robust defence of local papers at the inquiry but I would have liked the chance to tell it about the dedication of local journalists – the hours spent in interminable council meetings and inquiries on behalf of the public and the skill involved in distilling the useful, interesting points for publication.

I’d also have mentioned our photographers who, rather than hiding behind bushes with long lenses, drive hundreds of miles a week recording the endeavours of schoolchildren and charity fund-raisers and spend weekends shivering on the touchlines at sports matches.

Finally, I would have been pleased to tell Lord Leveson about the ‘regulatory body’ that already holds us to account – our readers.

The national press is usually reporting from London or it descends on an area briefly when a big story breaks and then disappears, but local reporters live in the same community that they cover. If they get something wrong, they have to face these people in the street or at the next meeting - if that doesn’t keep you honest, nothing will.