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Hebden Bridge Times and the Press Gazette

Autumn 2001

The Hebden Bridge Times has featured three times this month in the journalists’ trade magazine Press Gazette. The first mention was in a letter by former Hebden Bridge Times journalist Issy Shannon which attacked the leading article of the paper’s 21st September edition.

In what many people in the town saw as a rather desperate attempt to find a Hebden Bridge link with the dreadful events of September 11th, the paper’s editor Sheila Tordoff, revealed that her student son Ben had been only ‘Days From Terror’ when he had visited the twin towers of the World Trade Centre a full week before their destruction.

Ms. Shannon believed that this story was not only laughable but could also prove offensive to anyone who had been bereaved or actually affected by the disaster. 'It displays a lamentable lack of judgement,' she wrote and, 'As a former reporter on the Hebden Bridge Times I can only hang my head in shame.'

The next week’s edition of the magazine carried a letter from a similarly head hanging Stephen Firth, the editor of Brighouse Echo. Mr. Firth stated that he believed Ms. Shannon was aiming to ‘cruelly humiliate’ Ms. Tordoff by holding up the article for ridicule by the whole profession. He felt that Ms. Shannon should have raised her objections at local level rather than through the letters’ page of the trade magazine. He impled that Ms. Shannon, as a former journalist on the Hebden Bridge Times had personal, rather than professional reasons for her disquiet.

On 12th October Issy Shannon replied to Stephen Firth’s accusations. She maintained that she had in fact first raised her objections to the article with both Sheila Tordoff and the Halifax Courier newspaper group Edward Riley by writing to them. She received no answer from Ms. Tordoff and only a ‘curt note’ from Mr. Riley expressing his full support of the Hebden Bridge Times’ editor.

Ms. Shannon reiterated her point that a story about a ‘near miss’ of the editor’s son when he was actually 3,000 miles away at the time of the atrocity was a story 'not even worth chip wrappings.' She also pointed out that Mr. Firth was himself a leading employee of the same group of newspapers as the Hebden Bridge Times felt that it should be left to her ‘fellow journalists to make up their own minds’ as to whether the story was an appropriate one in the face of such a terrible disaster.

The same day’s Press Gazette also contained a short article on the column of Bernard Ingham which contained the headline: ‘What our town was like BL’ meaning Before Lesbians. As the paper remarked, ‘Political correctness clearly hasn’t impinged upon the consciousness of Hebden Bridge’s most famous export — Bernard Ingham.’

The full text of Issy Shannon’s letter can be read below.

The Hebden Bridge Web would be delighted to hear your comments on these or any other issues in our Discussion Forum.

The following is from the Press Gazette, 28th September 2001:

Shame of “editor’s son in near miss” story

AS A REPORTER who has worked on many provincial newspapers, I can well appreciate the need to get a local angle on a big national story.

But this unbelievably crass lead in the Hebden Bridge Times, headlined ‘DAYS FROM TERROR’, about how student Ben Tordoff had a ‘near miss’ at the World Trade Centre, is surely a non-story even more risible than the classic ‘Nobody hurt in small Earthquake’.

It not only displays a lamentable lack of editorial judgement, it is also deeply offensive to all those genuinely affected and grieving.

An important fact omitted is that when the terrorist attacks actually occurred in the US, the student in question, who happens to be the son of Hebden Bridge Times editor Sheila Tordoff, was safely back home in the UK.

In fact, it is even admitted in the story that he and his US girlfriend, Jennifer, visited the twin towers ONE WEEK before the disaster. Perhaps ‘3,000 miles from terror’ wouldn’t have made such a good headline.

While many people in Hebden Bridge have treated the story with the derision it deserves — this is, after all, the paper which ran the immortal headline ‘Bus route stays the same’ — most have also expressed their dismay and concern that they are so poorly served by their local press.

As a former reporter on the Hebden Bridge Times, I can only hang my head in shame.

Issy Shannon, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

The following is from the Press Gazette, 5th October 2001:

Why hold ‘near miss’ editor up to ridicule?

LIKE ISSY SHANNON (“Shame of editor’s son in near miss” story, Press Gazette, 28 September) 1, too, hang my head in shame.

Not so much at the content of the Hebden Bndge Times lead she finds offensive but at the brutal way in which a member of the profession has set out to undermine a fellow journalist.

More than this, Ms Shannon has deliberately aimed to cruelly humiliate the paper’s editor, Sheila Tordoff, by holding up this story for attempted ridicule in front of the entire profession.

I will not defend or justify the article in question—that is the job of the editor should she wish to do so. OK, so the plot’s a bit thin, but surely it would have been enough for Ms Shannon to raise her concerns at local level, rather than through the trade journal.

It is disappointing that Press Gazette did not feel it necessary to seek a response from editor Tordoff; criticism of a colleague, past or present, that is both personal and vitriolic surely demands an opportunity to reply.

Subscribers questioning Ms Shannon’s motives for penning such a poisonous attack will not have failed to notice that she tells us she is a former reporter on the Hebden Bndge Times.

Whatever the background, it’s rather sad when the bitterness descends to this level.

Stephen Firth, Halifax

The following is from the Press Gazette, 12th October 2001:

Firth’s factual error

STEPHEN FIRTH (Letters, Press Gazette, 5 October), should have checked his facts. Had he spoken to Hebden Bridge Times editor Sheila Tordoff, he would have learned that I had written to her and Halifax Courier group editorial director Edward Riley, expressing my concerns over a story which I found offensive.

I have yet to receive any response whatsoever from Tordoff, and from Riley only a curt note stating that he had taken note of my observations and had every confidence in Tordoff as an editor.

It should not have been too diffficult for Firth to have ascertained these facts: he is, after all, editor of the Brighouse Echo (part of the Halfax Courier group which also includes the Hebden Bridge Times).

As to his allegations of my ‘brutality’ in ‘cruelly humiliating’ Tordoff in front of the nation’s press, I leave my fellow journalists to make up their own minds as to whether a lead story—in a week when thousands had lost their lives— proclaiming that the editor’s son had had a ‘near miss’ in the World Trade Center disaster, when he was, in fact, safely back home in the UK, is not even worth chip wrappings.

Issy Shannon, Hebden Bndge, West Yorkshire

The following is from the Press Gazette, 12th October 2001:

So you’re not into lesbians, Bernard?

Political correctness clearly hasn’t impinged upon the consciousness of Hebden Bridge’s most famous export —Bernard Ingham.

His latest column from the Hebden Bridge Times carries the headline ‘What our town was like BL’, meaning Before Lesbians.

Ingham, a resident of Purley, Surrey, made the journey north ‘to tell a TV producer what the town was like BL’ as part of a documentary about the town that has apparently become the lesbian capital of Great Britain.

Ingham is due to do a book signing this week. He will no doubt receive a lukewarm welcome from the girls.

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