Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All in a day's work

My conversations today illustrate why being a newspaper editor is such a good job.

I know this wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea, but I spent an hour and a half talking with the chief exec of the soon-to-be defunct East Midlands Regional Assembly about the issue of getting people interested in a body which covers a region that nobody believes exists. The Assembly is currently made up of about 110 members drawn from the various local authorities across the 'East Midlands' which stretches from the south of Northampton to the edge of Manchester. On March 31st next year, the Assembly disappears. The next day, April 1st - I kid you not - the 110 members will be replaced by 14 council leaders who will form the new Local Authority Leaders' Board.

This board will be responsible for putting together those strategies which are too small to be described as national, but too big to be left to individual councils, such as housing or transport. Perhaps the most interesting thing from Leicester's point of view will be how our city council leader, Ross Wilmott, reacts to being party to decisions made by a board which is dominated by Tories ... I think I'm right in saying that there will be 11 Tories and possibly only two Labour leaders.

Ok, ok, I know that doesn't sound like the most interesting start to a working day ...

But look at these three decisions I had to be involved in afterwards:

Firstly, I had a letter - yes, a real letter, hand-written on paper and sent with a stamp on it (I get quite a few) - from a reader who had attached a website article. What he wanted to know was why the Leicester Mercury had not reported on the attached article. 'I can see no reason not to believe it,' said the reader.

What was it that they believed and wanted us to report?

It was a report about an allegedly fearless Austrian investigative reporter, Jane Burgermeister, who has filed filed criminal charges against the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations (UN), and several of the highest ranking government and corporate officials concerning bioterrorism and attempts to commit mass murder. She has also prepared an injunction against forced vaccination in America. These actions follow her charges filed in April against Baxter AG and Avir Green Hills Biotechnology of Austria for producing contaminated bird flu vaccine, alleging this was a deliberate act to cause and profit from a pandemic.

In her charges, Burgermeister presents evidence of acts of bioterrorism that is in violation of U.S. law by a group operating within the U.S. under the direction of international bankers who control the Federal Reserve, as well as WHO, UN and NATO. This bioterrorism is for the purpose of carrying out a mass genocide against the U.S. population by use of a genetically engineered flu pandemic virus with the intent of causing death. This group has annexed high government offices in the U.S.

And all of this for financial and political gain.

How do you reply to that? What do I say to the reader who can see no reason not to believe it? How do I reply without insulting the reader?

Then on a more serious note I had to deal with a complaint from another reader who was furious about something we carried in the paper on Monday which he said made someone in his family look like a white supremacist and, therefore, put them in danger.

He demanded that we carried a full and prominent apology, setting the situation right. The problem was that we could see nothing wrong with our report and could see no way it could be interpreted in the way that the family was interpreting it. We checked with our lawyers - they agreed with us. We even rang the Press Complaints Commission to discuss it with them and, although they couldn't actually comment as they could end up adjudicating on any complaint, we are confident that we have not breached the code.

I showed the offending article to several people and none of them agreed with the reader ... but the reader countered that everybody he had shown it to thought our reporting was outrageous.

That's a very difficult situation. I have often said that when we are in the wrong, we should admit it and apologise, but what happens when you are sure you are not in the wrong. It's easy to be bull-headed about it - go ahead and sue, we'll see you in court. Take it to the PCC, we're confident.

But there's the other side to this - these are readers who are upset. Why would want these people telling everybody they know how horrible we are? We wouldn't. I suggested a half-way house - we're not going to run a correction and apology when we don't think we've done anything wrong, but I would consider publishing something from the family explaining how they feel. The reader wasn't overjoyed by the suggestion - he'll still probably complain to the PCC - but he did say he would have a go at writing something. My fear is that he'll write something I won't feel we can publish ...

And then finally ...

We were faced with deciding how to deal with a story about Miss Leicestershire, Jade Elliott, who suffered, what I believe is euphemistically referred to as a wardrobe malfunction while competing in the final of Miss England. You can probably imagine what happened from the picture below ... what we had to decide was how to report it in a family newspaper (which is clearly not something that was bothering plenty of websites last night!) Suffice to say, we're not using the pictures that many others are.

You've got to admit, my job's nothing if not varied!