Standards Officer Liam Tedds highlights good practice examples from three rounds of publisher annual statements and sums up what we've learnt and how we can use this to further improve press standards.
Since IPSO launched back in 2014, publishers have submitted three rounds of annual statements. In total, we’ve received 228. You might not have time to read through all of them and see what progress has been made in standards, so we’ve done it for you.
Here are the highlights.
We all make mistakes…
…but the important thing is that we learn from them. This is one of the most interesting things in the statements – information about how publishers have improved their editorial processes after a complaint was upheld against them.
Publishers may run training for all staff following an adverse adjudication, as The Times did when it arranged training on statistics for newsroom staff, with a representative from the Royal Statistical Society, after it ran a misleading report on an Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis of the main political parties’ tax proposals.
Some publishers have also changed policy over the years: Independent News & Media has improved communication between its offices either side of the Irish border to prevent the repeat of any potential regulatory issues posed by sharing copy; after Trans Media Watch’s complaint, The Sun made sure that any copy relating to trans people or trans issues was seen by the Managing Editor before being published; Lincolnshire Echo holds the Committee’s decision making in such high regard that they now use it as a guide for decision making in their newsroom.
One of the most pleasing things to see from the statements are the number of newspapers which now publish a regular corrections and clarifications column as part of their commitment to transparent complaints and corrections handling. Why is this important? Because the Complaints Committee will consider this when deciding whether a correction has been duly prominent (see complaints Wilson v Press & Journal and Black v Sunday Express). Watch this space for more information on the IPSO’s thinking about prominence later in the year.
It's never too late to learn
Although a lot of our members have told us their journalists have already got National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) or equivalent qualifications, we’re pleased with the additional training that is being provided to journalists. When IPSO was established, a number of publishers ran courses or seminars outlining IPSO’s powers and publishers’ responsibilities. Over the years, many other publishers have continued such training, and have created some good quality training materials – try MNA’s multiple choice quiz!
The three sets of statements allow us to see other improvements over the years. In 2014, PA created an online training module for their staff about IPSO. In 2015 and 2016, other publishers (mainly regional newspapers) licensed and used this training, meaning more and more journalists are clued up about IPSO and the Editors’ Code.
In its pocket guide for staff, Associated says “very few journalists are good at maths”. So, like The Times, they’ve run seminars on statistics for their staff with representatives from the Royal Statistical Society.
Since the first statements, publishers have revised and improved their editorial processes. Several, such as Archant, Baylis Media and The Jewish Chronicle, have now produced more detailed editorial manuals. Others, such as Slimming World and Tindle Newspapers both noted that they are in the process of developing guidance handbooks for their staff, with support from IPSO’s Standards function.
Good, better, best: the statements are improving every year
The first set of statements which IPSO received way back in 2015 were good. But they were also the publishers’ first try. No one had ever written an annual statement before and, understandably, the majority of the statements were missing some of the information which was required and publishers had to provide a slightly redrafted version, including all the necessary information, before they were published. In 2015, far fewer didn’t meet all the requirements. In 2016, almost every statement met all the requirements on first attempt.
At IPSO, we’re also very thankful for publishers’ continued engagement with the process. Each year, a greater proportion have arrived before deadline, getting to the pleasing statistic that over 90% of the 2016 statements were received on time. Great news for the Standards team – it’s one of our annual objectives to make sure the vast majority come in on time!