Death of a Watchdog: Reduced Coverage of Coroners’ Inquests by Local Media

Binns, Amy orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9173-3108 and Arnold, Sophie (2021) Death of a Watchdog: Reduced Coverage of Coroners’ Inquests by Local Media. Journalism Practice, 14 (10). pp. 1460-1478. ISSN 1751-2786

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This research project has four strands: quantifying reporting of inquests; quantifying publicly available information from coroners’ offices; investigating reasons for lack of coverage; and establishing solutions for making accounts and verdicts of inquests more accessible in a changed media landscape.
Results show an overall reporting rate of only 11 per cent. Coverage varies wildly, with some “news deserts” where inquests are rarely reported. Deaths of younger people are more likely to be reported, as are male deaths.
Information provided by coroners’ offices also varies wildly despite national guidelines updated three years’ ago recommending greater transparency.
This report investigates the reasons for a lack of public scrutiny of coroners’ courts by local media. Deaths may go unreported due to: the collapse of local newspapers and reduced staff in surviving organisations; the centralisation of police and newspaper offices, leading to fewer direct contacts between police and journalists; and a general cultural shift of passing media inquiries to a "communications team" which means news is filtered to give a more positive sense of police success.
Recommendations: better implementation of existing guidelines: routine release of information regarding all deaths at which emergency services attend; and closer relationships with coroners’ officers at inquest opening stage.

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