Why only two editors in the top 10 most powerful?

By Alison Hastings

AS EXPECTED, I have had some (mild) ribbing about The 100 Most Powerful in Regional Newspaper Journalism list published by Press Gazette on 31 March (PDF).

Journalists are analytical beasts, so there was much poring over rankings, with plenty of smirking or sulking going on.

I have had to explain to a couple of people that there were a fair few of us on the panel, so they can’t hold me personally responsible for the fact that the editor they think shagged their wife years ago at a conference has got a higher placing (to add insult to injury).

What I found more worrying is that the panel was struggling on the day to come up with an editor in the top 10.

(My view is that once you get past 25, it’s much of a muchness.)

That is not to take anything away from Glasgow’s Charles McGhee (pictured) and Manchester’s Paul Horrocks, who rightly deserved their top editors’ placings.

But why just nine and 10? Of course, the big proprietors and chief execs are incredibly powerful in any industry, but if we were doing the same list in the national press, the number of editors at the top would be much higher.

And if we had done this regional list 10 years ago, the same would be true. Yes, there would have been Stuart Garner from Thomson Regional Newspapers, but he came through the editorial route. And there were definitely more big beasts editing regional papers.

Some will be glad those days are over, and some of those big beasts became arrogant and complacent, and were in danger of taking the piss.

But surely the ideal is to have regional papers edited by people who have a certain autonomy and who don’t have to check with head office every time they are asked for a quote or take a contact out for dinner.

ONE OF the jobs of an editor is to decide what is tasteful and decent. The Press Complaints Commission (which I train for) make it clear this is not its remit.

And rightly so. What is tasteful and decent to a Mary Whitehouse is not going to be the same for the lead singer of The Prodigy. And there are plenty of views in-between.

That’s why the recent adjudication on the female lawyer who was photographed plunging to her death was important.

Most media commentators have had a bash at this one, with the consensus view that the adjudication was right, but the pictures shocking and distasteful.

I too fall into this camp. Personally, I would not have used them, but that is my call — and based on a bit of human decency mixed with weighing up reader reaction.

Those in the regional press know they have to take this into consideration much more than colleagues on the nationals. Readers treat the two sides of the industry quite differently and they rarely allow their local paper to take the same sort of liberties as a national.

What might get a wry grin or small tut in a national title would get a deluged switchboard and cancelled copies in the local press.

But editors everywhere should now think carefully what they would have done with those pictures, because they will be having to make these decisions on a much more regular basis.

The lawyer’s suicide was photographed by a bona fide snapper, who just happened to be passing the scene.

That’s rarely the case. But passers-by are now regularly encouraged by publications (and the whole notion of citizen journalism) to use their mobile phones and digi cameras to take snaps wherever they are.

At the moment this is mainly celebs walking down the street, or youngsters on a train taking poor pics of the Buncefield depot blaze (which I witnessed), but there is no reason to suppose they will not also take pictures of people contemplating throwing themselves to their death in public.

As well as editors having to decide whether to use these images or not, picture editors will have to satisfy themselves and their bosses that they have been taken in accordance with the Code of Practice.

This is not always easy with agency pics: imagine the potential difficulties with voyeuristic 13-year-old schoolkids looking for £50 pocket money.

STICKING with the Press Complaints Commission briefly: In the past it has sent out briefing notes to newspapers and magazines, asking them to be mindful of the language they use when describing mental health.

This comes under Clause 12 on discrimination, which also covers an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical illness and disability.

I’ve been in the industry 20 years and it would be fair to say we have cleaned up our act with nearly all of the above.

But even though one in four of the population (and that surely must be higher for journalists) will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime, it is still stigmatised.

The media does not help with this stigma (who can forget The Sun’s "Bonkers Bruno" first edition headline?) and are often not great at handling their own staff’s mental illness.

I remember one member of staff saying that if they had suffered from cancer, rather than a hereditary mental illness, they would have been much more sympathetically treated by their colleagues and management.

So the PCC brings it upon itself to remind us occasionally, with the help of experts in the field, the sort of terminology that offends. Perhaps they could pass this on to the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron. He was quoted as saying on LBC recently that members of UKIP were a "bunch of, well, fruitcakes and loonies".

David, the pack is in the post.

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