Making the difficult decisions on Derby's most important trial
SO, how would you treat the coverage of the Philpotts' trial if you were the editor of the Derby Telegraph?
Would you have it on the front page every day?
Would you update your website every 30 minutes from the courtroom?
Would you dedicate at least three pages a day to it? Would you publish the more salacious detail and profanities within evidence?
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And would you publish the distressing phone call by Mick and Mairead Philpott on the night of the fire on your website?
Journalists at the Telegraph have been through a gamut of emotions during the last three weeks.
That 999 call to the emergency services certainly brought a lump to my throat because it brought home what the trial is all about – namely, the death of six young children.
But my judgment has been that, if evidence has been put before the jury, it should be presented in the newspaper and on our website, the call included.
It is the most important trial concerning Derby in living memory and this has been reflected in how many of you wish to read about it. But, understanding the sensitivities of some readers, we added a rider on the web publication of the phone call, indicating that it could be distressing. I also wrote on Twitter that I found it uncomfortable.
But I could not bring myself to censor the news. This is a serious trial with serious evidence. It is our job to report it. There were no profanities on the call. It was simply upsetting.
What drives a story's placement in the paper and online is simple: its importance in terms of the news agenda and the reaction of the public.
As editor, it would be easy for me to be carried away on a tide of high circulation figures and burgeoning web use but I have been at pains to avoid the sensational reporting of which newspapers are sometimes accused.
So far, that allegation has not been made during the Philpotts' case but I would pose this question anyway: how could stories about such a case not appear to be sensational in some eyes?
I repeat: we are writing about the death of six children in a fire allegedly started by their parents and their parents' best friend.
Meanwhile, I was interested that BBC Radio Derby used a profanity in its coverage last week when it broadcast the precise word Mick Philpott was alleged to have used to describe his children in a hospital mortuary.
It was my decision not to use this word. We have omitted similar language from other evidence. This is because the newspaper must keep its family values while, at the same time, reporting issues which may distress.
The Philpott trial is set to last for at least another two weeks. Its subject matter means that it will provide difficult reading.
But our reporters will be in court for its duration, bringing you greater detail of the case than any other media outlet.
It is only right readers in Derby should be presented with the evidence that is presented to the jury.