In a guest blog for IPSO, the editorial team of IPSO member publication The Travellers' Times write of their experiences reporting on Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers.
The first thing I notice when I switch on the laptop to start a day’s work as an editor for the Travellers’ Times, is that a reader has flagged up to us a Facebook post being shared among Gypsy and Traveller groups and networks. The photograph leading the post shows a group of Irish Traveller men, facing the camera and standing in line, in a retail car park somewhere in the Midlands. It is night time, the men are masked, and behind them is a Transit van with its doors flung open and a pile of boxes and bundles are just visible inside. I can imagine how this image could be perceived; it could look menacing to some people seeing that photograph. They may speculate that the Travellers are gathering to carry out a feud against a rival gang and are taunting them through social media? Or are they fly-tipping? Or have they just robbed one of the retail warehouses?
Except I don’t perceive this at all. I know exactly who the men are without having to read the post. It’s the men and boys from the Catholic Traveller group about to do another winter run giving out woolly hats, gloves, sleeping bags and words of comfort and love – both from themselves and from Jesus – to the rough sleepers of Birmingham. They collect the money through their own networks and buy the goods, pile it into a van and just go for it. They have form for this and the Travellers’ Times covered their first ever run to London in December 2015.
“I admit I was a bit apprehensive at first,” organiser Declan O’Loughlin told us at the time. “There where so many homeless, more than we expected. I thought they would be ‘give me the sleeping bag but go away with your Jesus’, but they weren’t. That wasn’t what happened.”
It’s not just the Catholic Travellers that do this sort of thing; The Pentecostal Light and Life Gypsy Church more recently drove a few trucks of donated goods to war-torn Ukraine.
As it’s a busy news day at the Travellers’ Times, we just share the Catholic Travellers post on our Facebook page and Tweet the picture out. Within a few minutes a reporter from a Birmingham local news service gets in touch and asks us if we can connect them with the men. We contact Declan and ask him. He says yes, because after all, the Pope himself said in a special audience at the Vatican with thousands of Catholic Gypsies, Roma and Travellers from all over the world, that he knew they were all good people, but maybe they should make more of an effort to be seen to be good. Or words to that effect.
At the Travellers’ Times, Gypsies and Travellers doing good things has news value. As does government and council policy affecting Gypsies and Travellers, relevant High Court cases and special investigations, the launch of an association for serving Gypsy, Roma and Traveller police officers, Gypsies and Travellers doing more good things, Gypsies and Travellers challenging the discrimination they face, a youth section, Gypsy and Traveller related sports, lifestyle, music, profiles, health advice and historical features, and Gypsies and Travellers doing even more good things. Oh, and did I forget horses? Every Travellers’ Times magazine must have at least one horse. We then pump those stories out to our readers through our website, through social media, through our twice-yearly magazine and, hopefully, to the wider public (3/4 million hits on our website every year and a magazine circulation of over 20,000).
This means that we sometimes get contacted by members of the wider public asking, ‘Why don’t you cover Gypsies and Travellers doing bad things?’ Or words to that effect. Our stock answer is that firstly these kinds of stories have no news value for us; the Travellers’ Times is regulated by IPSO, and, like all print media we are partisan, and secondly, that we don’t need to report on Gypsies and Travellers’ doing bad things because every other national and local newspaper seems to do that.
Or do they? Is the representation of Gypsies and Travellers in the print media better or worse 10 years after Leveson? After a similar number of years working as a press officer for the Traveller Movement (my first job was writing their Leveson submission) and then as the editor of the Travellers’ Times, I’ve been too busy to work that out. However, the fact newspapers, like the Birmingham one mentioned above, often pick up our stories, gives us hope for the future, and sometimes we even follow up the national and local print media stories that have news value for us.
With all that in mind, the Travellers’ Times, would like to share with other IPSO editors our guidelines for press reporting on the UK’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people: Travellers’ Times press-pack , invite you to follow us online, and maybe pick up and have a look at one of our magazines the next time you visit the IPSO office.
By Mike Doherty (a Travellers' Times editor) and Team
About the Travellers’ Times
Travellers’ Times produces multi-award winning media focusing on things that matter to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.
For over 20 years, we have sought to provide high-quality news and information about these cultures, and enabled people from them to tell their stories through print and online journalism, film, and other media.