Local journalists in Plymouth decide not to picture gunman - Press Gazette

'This is more than a news story for us': Why local journalists in Plymouth won't doorknock or show gunman's face

Plymouth shooting gunman

Local journalists in Plymouth have decided not to picture the gunman who killed five people in a rampage that shocked the UK last week, and said they won’t be contacting impacted residents straight away.

Journalists for Reach’s Plymouth Live website and newspapers, including the Plymouth Herald, told residents of Keyham that they would not be knocking on their doors after police cordons lifted on Sunday.

Despite images of shooter Jake Davison appearing in national media, Plymouth Live is instead centring its coverage on his five victims: his mother Maxine, 51, Lee Martyn, 43, and his three-year-old daughter Sophie, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66.

Digital editor Edd Moore told Press Gazette: “Without trying to get too emotional about it – this is more than a news story for us.

“We’re local people who live in and around the city and I’ve never known an incident that has had quite such a profound devastating impact on the city and quite frankly it’s just one of those where the residents deserve the space to grieve in our opinion.

“We’re journalists, of course, but on a local level we’re motivated by wanting to do the best by the city when all is said and done. With something quite as sensitive and as major as this, nothing matters more than that to us.”

The incident hit the Plymouth Live team particularly hard as one of their journalists, engagement producer Jess Morcom, was the cousin of victim Lee Martyn.

Moore said this was “a really tragic reminder that we’re custodians of the city but we’re all linked – this is our friends, our neighbours, our relatives that we’re reporting on day to day”.

“We know that and we take that approach with every story we cover, but particularly with something this sensitive it’s when it matters the most and when we feel more than ever that we’ve got a responsibility to the people that are most affected by it.”

He added of the decision not to doorknock: “We all know people who are affected by this. So as far as decision making goes it didn’t even feel like a decision to us – it’s just about doing the right thing.”

As Plymouth Live crime reporter Carl Eve told residents: “You need time and space to process this. If you want to speak to us later, we’ll be here to listen to you.”

Plymouth shooting gunman
Plymouth Herald front page on Monday 16 August 2021

Some local journalists have been critical of national media’s arrival in the area to cover the story.

Morcom tweeted: “…as someone who works in the industry myself, a large number of national ‘journalists’ need to be retrained with how to handle intrusion into grief. Turning up at family homes trying to hound is unforgivable. Appreciate the sensitivity shown by local colleagues.”

Aaron James, a Reach journalist for sister title Cornwall Live, added he had “equally never been more appalled to be a journalist when I’ve seen how national media have behaved but at the same time never more proud to be a local journalist”.

Moore declined to comment on any specific criticism, but told Press Gazette: “I can only influence what my team does. The local journalists are the ones that are there next week, next month, next year.

“We will be seeing the long term impact of what’s happened and actually living it with everyone else in the city… I can only say that our motivation is in standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Plymouth.

“We are journalists and we understand how these things work, but we’ve got a unique role to play in our community, I think, as local reporters.”

Moore said the decision not to picture Davison was expected to last at least several more days. The 22-year-old was named, however, to make sure the incident could be fully and accurately reported.

On Thursday night as police responded to the shooting, there was a “vacuum of information” of about three-and-a-half hours as journalists waited for information about what had happened from emergency services.

In the meantime social media was awash with footage from the scene and unverified information. Plymouth Live decided not to use any of it and instead wait for the facts. Moore described that night as “incredibly hard”.

“It was evident from the outset that this was a major, major incident, and one that we just had to stick simply to the known facts on,” he said.

“So again, it felt like an easy decision at the time, it wasn’t even a decision it was just the way it was naturally handled. It was immensely difficult because of course we were seeing all those pictures and videos from the scene, we were seeing all the same social media posts that other members of the public were seeing with eyewitness reports and speculation, but we just felt that at a time when panic and fear was obviously very high amongst everyone in the city we had a duty to just report what was known.

“It would have been helpful if the emergency services were able to provide more timely details but obviously we’re dealing with a critical incident and we can totally understand that their resources were rightly focused on dealing with the matter in hand.”

The coverage has garnered some “extraordinary” audience figures for Plymouth Live, but Moore said this was “encouraging not because it’s a high number, but because people are trusting us to tell them the information about what’s going on”.

Asked what lessons he has learned so far from coverage of the incident, Moore said: “Our readers appreciate the fact that we’ve been as sensitive as we possibly can be in our reporting of this. It’s just reinforced to me how important it is to listen to your readers and… consider what you would want to read if you were affected yourself.”

Plymouth Live has also started a fundraiser with a local charity to support the families, friends and communities affected by the shooting. More than £20,000 was raised in the first two days.

Picture: PA Wire/Ben Birchall

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9 thoughts on “'This is more than a news story for us': Why local journalists in Plymouth won't doorknock or show gunman's face”

  1. Ron’s sense of humour may be as funny as AIDS, but I do have some sympathy for his point.

    Everything in a newspaper has the potential to upset somebody. Reporting on a paedophile’s sentencing hearing might upset the paedophile’s mum or sister. Reporting on a car accident may be triggering for relatives of those involved. Reporting on a burglary could anger others in the street, who fear damage to their property values. Reporting on a new housing development in an insufficiently critical way may infuriate the locals who were opposed to it. And so on and so forth.

    If the starting point for all journalism was, ‘Could somebody be upset or triggered by our reporting this’, nothing could ever go in the paper. Even charity cheque stories might be triggering. Somebody somewhere might burst into tears every time they see any mention of Macmillan nurses, because it reminds them of their father’s cancer battle.

    The moment we start self-censoring in case it upsets somebody, where does it end? Give an inch and people take a mile.

    A case in point is the Samaritans guidelines on reporting on suicides, which grow more Draconian and ludicrous with each passing year. We gave an inch, wanting to be nice, and now they have essentially demanded complete censorship of all reporting on suicide inquests.

    You’re not allowed to say how the person took their lives or why they took their lives – which is the whole point of the inquest: to establish what happened and why, and thus whether similar occurrences can be prevented in future. You’re also not allowed to include any tributes to the people who took their lives, lest it glamorise suicide and inspire others to do the same. You’re not even allowed to use the word suicide anymore. You have to use mealy-mouthed euphemisms.

    It’s completely outrageous and positively Orwellian – but because it was introduced by a charity under the banner of ‘being nice/sensitive/not wanting to trigger people’, senior staff in newsrooms are frightened to push back against it. They swallowed the first guidelines in an effort to look sympathetic, and now they’ve been hamstrung by constant, ever-expanding updates to the restrictions. Adhering to the Samaritans guidelines amounts to self-censorship of public interest information, heard in a public courtroom, which the public has a right to know.

    So when I read stories like this, about newspapers self-censoring in case somebody gets triggered, I’m looking five years down the line. Where does this precedent lead us? It’s a brilliant way for authorities to cover up their failings – by using other newspapers’ ‘sensitive’ self-censorship as the marker, and pointing out, in a menacing way, how horrible and insensitive the a newspaper could be made to look if it reported on a particular story, given someone might find themselves ‘triggered’ by the subject matter.

    Is that a precedent we want to be setting for ourselves?

  2. Oh my sides. Well done Ron, making jokes after five people have been shot dead – two of whom are related to one of our reporters.
    #golfclap

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