In defence of journalism
By Alisha Rouse, Newspaper Journalism MA student | @alisharouse
In the age of Leveson, and at the start of months of hacking trials, Professor Heather Brooke made a robust defence for the troubled profession of journalism.
"Journalists are good at telling other people's stories, but not so good at telling their own," she told an audience at the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, City University London on Wednesday 6th November. "I want more journalists to tell their stories and explain why they are doing their work."
To begin the inaugural lecture of her 'In Defence of Journalism' series, Brooke invited Times reporter Andrew Norfolk (pictured, right), winner of the 2012 Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism and Orwell prize, to the University to tell the fascinating and powerful tale of how he exposed sexual grooming gangs in the north of England and elsewhere.
I want to see more journalism along the lines of the amazing work of Andrew Norfolk," Brooke explained.
Norfolk began by saying how he'd first heard about the story ten years previously but because of the disturbing nature of the allegations he was reluctant to go further. "I was growing increasingly uneasy as it would be accusing a certain subsection of men from a certain community." Norfolk explained.
The pattern Norfolk identified was of British Pakistani men targeting girls ages 12 to 15 in care homes for sex.
The story certainly got a lot of attention, not only for the horrific acts exposed, but because they identified that the culprits were groups of Asian men, an aspect Norfolk was quick to put into context: "The majority of sex offenders in Britain are committed by white men, acting alone."
But it soon became clear that was not the case with the cases in Rochdale. Despite it being a subject Norfolk was less than comfortable exploring, it brought real results. For current and potential victims. His articles made clear the severity and extent of the abuse and the collective failure of the police, social services and children's care homes to protect the children in their care.
In one case, Norfolk explained, "Police didn't question why one 13-year-old girl was drunk and alone with seven to eight Pakistani men at 2.30 in the morning. Instead they arrested her for being drunk and disorderly. She was the one convicted."
Norfolk went on: "A girl in a children's home went missing 19 times, and men queued up on stairs waiting to have sex with her, one after another."
This care home was paid 250,000 pounds of public money and the girl was its only tenant. Even though she was absent during an inspection by the care home regulator it was still given a good rating.
For Norfolk, these cases were harrowing, uncomfortable and deeply controversial. People knew it was happening for years, he claimed, but no one wanted to talk about it.
"One senior detective was brave enough to say, 'Yes, of course it's bloody true, we're all in denial'." Norfolk said.
The results of Norfolk's exposures led to two government-ordered inquiries, a parliamentary inquiry and a new national action plan on child sexual exploitation. Police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and local authorities were told to transform their approach to street-grooming offences, leading to extra resources, improved training for frontline staff and an explosion in the number of investigations and prosecutions of sex grooming offences. The government also ordered a sweeping review of protection for residents of children's homes.
Newspaper Journalism MA student Joe Sandler Clark wrote on Twitter: "Now every time someone asks me why I want to work in a dying profession, I've got plenty of ammo."
'In Defence of Journalism' wants journalists to tell the story behind their stories, and for the public to know that we don't do this for money, we do it for stories like these.