New Society of Editors president Neil Benson, pictured, also singled out an urgent need to alter the public’s perception of the industry.
In his first speech since he succeeded outgoing president Jonathan Grun, Benson – editorial director of Trinity Mirror Regionals – questioned whether journalists would be prepared to modify their behaviour to win back the trust of readers and viewers. “Are we prepared to look at ourselves and to accept that, if our credibility is to be maintained or enhanced, we need to act differently?” he asked.
“I would suggest that, if we are to rebuild trust and credibility, we need to think twice about the impact of our actions, our attitude and the way we report on ordinary people.”
He added: “The public expect us to show a greater degree of courtesy and sensitivity in the way we deal with them and in the way we present our content.”
The Editors’ Code of Practice had moved in the right direction in recent years, Benson said, by introducing certain amendments and additions.
But this needed to be reflected at every level of every newsroom.
“Rather than the usual Pavlovian reaction to ‘a cracking tale’, perhaps we would be wiser to stop for a moment, draw breath and try to put ourselves in the position of the average reader or viewer.”
Benson stressed he did not want journalists to turn into a “bunch of cuddly poodles”, since their watchdog roles were more important than ever.
“We would be well advised to develop our sense of perspective and to heighten our understanding of, and empathy for, the people who consume our media,” he said.