By Alan Evans
In 2015 I began work for the Herald Newspapers as a freelance reporter covering the Llanelli area of Carmarthenshire. It was my home town and I had a lot of contacts. The paper was relatively unknown with a small circulation and in competition with the oldest newspaper in the area, the Llanelli Star.
I set about reporting on stories, which appeared to miss the eyes and ears of what few reporters the Star still had left in the town. It wasn’t long before the Llanelli Herald began drawing attention and a following. The editor Thomas Sinclair had already made a success of the Pembrokeshire Herald and he was hoping to expand the title’s popularity in Carmarthen, Ceredigion and Swansea.
It was an exciting place to work and the headlines packed a punch. Many who may have avoided the spotlight for nefarious activities found themselves on the front page on the news stands, which had been dominated by one title for so long.
HACKED OFF COMMENT
There are no excuses for a publisher failing to pay a reporter their agreed fee. So why has IPSO failed to take any action over this incident?
The truth is that IPSO is not just bad for the public – it’s bad for journalists, as well.
Many reporters are appalled at the thought of being accountable to a politician – yet IPSO’s Chairman is a politician.
And while IMPRESS’ code has a clause on attribution to ensure that journalists get credit for their work, there is no such clause in the Editors’ Code used by IPSO.
Perhaps that is one reason why the NUJ have backed IMPRESS, calling IPSO “toothless”.
The pay was reasonable although often I would have to ask for it a number of times. Suffice to say that my input raised the profile of the paper and contributed to pressure on the competition eventually seeing the offices of the Llanelli Star close down with this once great paper being reduced to a reporter on a small table and chair in a corner of the shopping centre.
Thomas Sinclair sped on looking to expand his empire but the cracks were beginning to show. He was hauled over the coals for a number of items he ran some of which resulted in a court appearance, which the Llanelli Star and other titles revelled in.
Sinclair himself had a large sales team driving the advertising team, which in my opinion became more important than the reporters filling the pages each week. Payment became staggered and eventually did not appear. I made the decision to resign and seek payment through the courts after numerous attempts to get the money I was owed.
Sinclair made some promises to pay but despite court judgements and the involvement of a bailiff, I have still not had the money he owes, which totals over £6,000.
Sinclair had the audacity to call me and blame me for the demise of the print titles through the bad press he received from journalism outlets such as the BBC.
Imagine my surprise when I saw that the Herald was IPSO regulated. I contacted them to ask if they knew the background of the company, the allegations of unfair treatment of staff, the outstanding money owed to reporters. In my correspondence I documented as much as I could and included links to news stories regarding the editor. I asked if they could justify regulating a company with an editor with such a track record. IPSO replied and said that they would look into it. I received a final email saying that IPSO could not do anything further and that they would continue to regulate the Herald newspaper.
If the Law Society came across a solicitor refusing to pay staff wages and unfairly treating their staff I am sure that somewhere down the line they would take action. I was contacted by ‘Hacked Off’ who looked at any form of avenue I could pursue further than those I had already exhausted. The answer to that was no but they have given me this opportunity to air my story, which if nothing else highlights the fact that despite concerns regarding the behaviour of newspaper editors, newspaper companies and journalists, IPSO is powerless to intervene and reluctant to adapt or change their code to include the most basic of human rights and add a small section on the requirements for editors regarding fair treatment of staff.
Alan Evans is now the editor of The Llanelli Online News, a hyperlocal publisher serving the residents of Llanelli in South West Wales.
Unlike the Herald, The Llanelli Online News is regulated by the UK’s only independent regulator, which protects the interests of journalists and readers alike, IMPRESS.