Death knock blogger Chris Wheal speaks on Today programme

Chris Wheal, a journalist who recently blogged about his family’s experience of the press following the death of his nephew, spoke more about the issue on the Today programme this morning.

Wheal spoke about his personal understanding of the journalists’ need to get their own story, but felt that rules need to be stronger to stop families feeling harassed.

As a journalist I understand the need to get a story and I understand from lots of comments on my blog that journalists have sometimes turned up and been welcomed by families in these circumstances who get a chance to grieve and are pleased that the papers are interested. But that’s not the case with my sister. They’re a very private family, they want to grieve in private. It feels like harassment although it’s not because it’s not the same journalist coming back again and again.

Presenter Evan Davies added that no family will ever be prepared for how to deal with the media in such a situation as nobody can forsee such a thing, but that they will face a “highly competitive industry”. Wheal responded that industry codes of conduct need to be strengthened.

The PCC code of conduct doesn’t really tackle it, “in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively”. I think for someone like my sister who is not a publicity grabbing person and would shy away from the press in normal circumstances, there has to be actually a stronger pressure on the press to not do that.

The NUJ code of conduct is much stronger, stating journalists should “do nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest”. But even thought this story its interesting to the public, I understand that, it is not in the public interest. I think journalists sometimes harden themselves in order to go make those calls and knock on those doors, but sometimes by hardening ourselves we actually forget the impact of our actions on the poor people we are trying to interview.

Hear the full interview here…

2 thoughts on “Death knock blogger Chris Wheal speaks on Today programme

  1. Richard Down

    I feel that the death knock has become an easy way for local and regional papers to produce headlines and exclusive copy.
    “You misery is our business” is the mantra of most newsdesks and reporters.
    It is seen as a remarkable coup if you bring back a “heart-breaking” chat with a close relative along with decent hi res pictures of the deceased. The hardest part is tracking down who they are generally. From then on it’s a case of following a formula. The human detail is often reduced to a series of cliches and reporters dine out of the depth of sorrow expressed by the grieving relative.
    Most reporters I know and work with are very skilled and sensitive on the door – if they weren’t there would not be a successful death knock. But back in the newsroom the family’s needs play second fiddle to the newsdesk’s desire for strong story lines.
    This need drives reporters out to claim the prize of the first death knock and then to come up with a more original line if beaten to it.
    But the lack of reporters in a newsroom means other more tricky stories are rarely followed up. The death knock provides a quick fix and a guaranteed splash or mention on the front page. Reporters skills could possibly be better deployed on a range of other stories now rarely seen and which would place less of a premium on the death knock and the risk of intruding on “shattered lives”.

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