The PA Trust was set up to provide an independent and broad view of editorial standards in the agency. It meets three or four times a year with the Editor-in-Chief and the editor of the newswire to review developments and progress in the delivery of PA’s services. The past year – of general election, rugby world cup, longest serving monarch and royal baby – has seen the unveiling of the strategy of the new Editor-in-Chief Peter Clifton, who has impressed the trustees with the open, transparent and comprehensive way he has shared his thinking and his plans. Those plans are true to the traditional PA values of providing a fast, fair and accurate news service, now enhanced with a stream of enhanced digital offerings to cater for the changing requirements of both traditional and new customers.  

The trustees see staffing, resourcing, training, regulation and communication as all central to their remit to assess the maintenance of high editorial standards. 

The period of some editorial staffing economies seems to have abated and the ability of PA to cover, for example, significant court cases all over the country, where regional and local publishers have cut back, is welcome and makes an important contribution to dealing with concerns about the ‘democratic deficit.’ The appointment of a Social Media Editor, running a social media team, underlines the agency’s commitment to exploiting digital platforms both as source material and publishing opportunities. PA’s first data journalist also shows recognition of the importance of skills in handling data in today’s journalism.

The trustees have inquired regularly into training at PA, and regretted the ‘resting’ of the training scheme. So they welcomed its return last year and indeed its expansion. PA has always been a place where young journalists are developed and with so many new multi-media skills required training must be a priority. The trustees feel that once again this is the case, with the Editor-in-Chief reporting the hiring of eight trainees in London and Howden. They also welcomed efforts made in the area of diversity with the inclusion of two traineeships for recruits from the black and Asian minority ethnic communities, this in association with the Journalism Diversity Fund.

Equally important is staff development, training, updating and refreshing for established staff. Here again the trustees welcome increased activity, with courses in social media, data journalism, video (with special relevance for Snappa – the new, popular and more immediate video product) and even media training to equip PA journalists to give effective interviews on broadcast media, when they are asked for their insights and expertise on specific stories. 

All PA journalists undertook the online Ipso course developed in-house. The trustees welcomed this contribution to the post-Leveson world of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the new independent regulator. PA, like so many of its customers, has signed up to the PCC successor, and the training in the editors’ code and complaints procedure underlines the importance the agency attaches to making the new system work.  It should be repeated each year.  Ipso itself, responding to the statement on maintaining editorial standards it required from all members, praised the fact that PA met all requirements and were ‘pleased’ with the code training PA gave its staff.  

A year of great sporting moments: Barcelona manger Luis Enrique is lifted by his players after winning the Champions League final

Emphasis has been given to internal communication with PA staff, another policy the trustees recognise as contributing to editorial standards and success. Presentations on the then new Editor-in-Chief’s action plan for 2015 and the later plan for 2016 were made to all staff (and seen by the trustees). Weekly emails from the Editor-in-Chief keep staff up to date with developments and celebrate successes. Awards for exceptional contributions incentivise, and are popular with, editorial staff.  The trustees see all these policies as good practice.

PA has traditionally campaigned on behalf of the media against restrictions on freedoms to report. The legal editor frequently supports PA reporters in challenges to unwarranted reporting restrictions. The main battle of the past year has been the review of the Freedom of Information Act. The Editor-in-Chief made a robust appearance before the government appointed commission taking evidence on FoI, and clearly influenced the report which suggested that current legislation should be left alone, rather than watered down as some government ministers, senior civil servants and various public bodies thought desirable. PA, together with national and regional publishers, has made good use of FoI to dig out stories in the public interest which others would prefer undisclosed. PA’s media freedom campaigning is respected by its customers and contributes to its reputation.

John Bryant, the first chair of the Trust, who did so much to establish its status and legitimacy, has retired. I have replaced him as Chairman. The process for selecting a third trustee is underway.

PETER COLE
CHAIRMAN OF THE PRESS ASSOCIATION TRUST