Rochdale: ‘a really tricky story’

Anita Saigal,
Engagement Manager,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

I watched two pieces on television recently about the Rochdale Child Sex Abuse Ring, the dramatization, “Three Girls” and the documentary “The Betrayed Girls”. Although these programmes were very difficult viewing they were very interesting from an information sharing point of view. My colleague, Emma Hart, has already written a blog about this in relation to the way in which multi-agency information sharing is represented.

These programmes also made me think about why people choose to share or not share information. Many of the decisions to share or not were very personal decisions based on fear, conscience, knowledge and awareness as well as cultural and political factors.
For some girls, their initial silence was because of fears for themselves and their families, fear of their school and parents and fear of the consequences of what was happening to them getting out.

For others, there was a fear of “rocking the multicultural boat” and a fear of the wider political ramifications of exposing such a story in an environment where right-wing parties could capitalise on it to their own ends. As one journalist put it, this made for “a really tricky story”.
This led me to think about the similarities between being a good journalist and being a good information sharer. A quick search on the internet threw up some characteristics of a successful journalist.

Honesty is the primary characteristic of a respectable journalist and a good information sharer alike as readers, viewers and partners must feel you can be trusted. Likewise, dishonesty is the surest way to violate that trust. Trust has a number of different aspects, there is trust in obtaining and receiving and relaying the information as well as using the information correctly.

In the Rochdale situation, at least one of the girls initially trusted the police and shared what had happened to her with a police officer. She trusted that the information she shared was going to be used in the correct way. When she felt she wasn’t being listened to or her information was not acted upon, then the trust disappeared and the flow of information ceased.

A good journalist and a good information sharer must be bold. In the documentary, Andrew Norfolk, who was then a journalist with the Times, admitted to having reservations about releasing the Rochdale story publicly due to a number of fears he had in relation to the potential political repercussions. In the end his conscience got the better of him and he took the risk, published his article and told the story. To share information well you need to be prepared to ask uncomfortable questions and share uncomfortable stories.

A good journalist needs to be tireless in their search for the truth. If you know there’s a story to be had, tracking down the right sources, convincing them to speak to you, crosschecking information, and spending hours researching can be crucial. This is also true of a good information sharer. Identifying the right people to obtain information from and relay information to, in a manner that is accessible and engaging is key.

Compassion is a good quality in journalists and information sharers alike. Hard news, like the Rochdale story, is hard because it often involves pain or loss. Someone who understands the human element and sympathizes with and listens to their subject or source will not only produce a story that resonates with readers, but will be able to rest easy at night knowing they didn’t hurt or misrepresent anyone for the sake of that story. Their compassionate telling of the story may also inspire others to act.

Information sharers, like journalists can be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades but a master of none. Because we often write about a variety of different subject matter, we often have a wide, if sometimes shallow, breadth of knowledge. This gives us the advantage of being able to “cross pollinate” from different areas both geographically and in terms of subject matter and draw out learning and common themes. We can bring our expertise from one area to support the development of another helping people, sometimes those most vulnerable in our society, along the way.

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