At the opening panel of last week’s Festival of News, news brand editors took to the stage to discuss the importance of a free press, diversity and inclusion in journalism and more
Broadcaster and journalist Cathy Newman opened up the first session at the festival, ‘Without Fear. Without Favour’, with a strong personal statement about the importance of our free press in the UK.
“This event is about championing trusted quality journalism and upholding free speech. Trusted quality journalism is a real passion for me,” said Newman. “Investigations, campaigns, breaking news, speaking to truth to power and shining a light where darkness prevails. This is what news is all about.”
The all-female editor line-up was quick to affirm standing up for truth as one of the key tenets of a free press. Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips said news brands are under increasing pressure from lawyered-up, rich individuals and are spending more time in legal meetings in their pursuit of publishing the truth.
“You only have to look at Russia over the last few months and you can see what life is like without a free press,” she added. “Losing a free press doesn’t happen overnight it happens in increments, over time. So we have to protect our free press.”
Victoria Newton, editor-in-chief of The Sun, agreed, bemoaning recently imposed reporting restrictions: “It’s now deemed ‘private’ when people are arrested and that’s a real change for us. I think there is a lot of public interest in naming someone when they are arrested for a violent crime.”
Charlotte Ross, acting editor at the Evening Standard, pointed out the need for very careful fact-checking while standing firm in the face of legal pressure: “With the opioids scandal, we came under a lot of pressure from some of the families to water down the story.
“We published in a confident way and actually helped to change the law around this.”
Looking beyond the importance of maintaining a free press, Newton spoke out about the need to drive fairness and equality in journalism. “When I started this job, one of the first things I did was to hire more women,“ said Newton.
“I also have very good representation now of LGBTQ staff. And we’re focused on ethnic diversity – we have various apprenticeships that we didn’t have before.”
Having diverse representation in journalism is about reflecting the society we want to live in and this discussion naturally led on to the types of stories that resonate most with the readers.
“The cost of living is huge,” said Phillips. “Every moment of every day, people are worried about money. It’s our role to tell people what’s going and to explain what’s going on.
“It’s showing that we are on the side of the reader in practical ways and campaigning on their behalf.”
Newton stressed the importance of human stories for readers of The Sun and said that the story of Deborah James had touched the hearts of everybody. Political stories might not reach the same levels of popularity, but they also form an important part of the news brand’s output. “We produce 500 stories a day, so we have to do the big political stories,” Newton said.
Meanwhile, Ross mentioned the part technology plays in editorial decision-making, saying: “We constantly refer to data throughout the day before we make our decisions. Ukraine is one of the most important stories at the moment. And politics does do well for us. And our readers love anything to do with royals.”