THERE are scenes in the film All The President’s Men, where reporters repeatedly knock on doors and work their way through phone directories to gather information for the story that will eventually lead to the resignation of American President Richard Nixon.

The news we gather here at the Oxford Mail serves the local community and is unlikely to bring down the Government.

But reporters use the same dogged determination shown by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein more than 40 years ago.

And if organisations, including local authorities, health trusts, and Thames Valley Police fail to answer our questions first time round we go back to them time and time again until they provide a detailed response.

If press officers still refuse to answer questions on a matter of public interest, Freedom of Information requests are submitted to ascertain the facts within 20 working days.

And if organisations try to stifle our attempts to report the news from council chambers or the courts, editors will step in to defend our right to do so as part of the democratic process.

This happened in March when Witney Town Council tried to bar one of our reporters from attending a meeting for the fourth time. The council met to discuss its plans to sell Langdale Hall, to help pay for a multi-million pound renovation of the Corn Exchange, but councillors said our reporter could not stay to report their discussions.

They cited concerns that the paper had “misrepresented things” in the past, yet offered no clarification.

But the newspaper had previously received no complaints about its coverage of the Langdale Hall or Corn Exchange issues.

Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill said: “As well as informing people, one of the roles of newspapers is to scrutinise and hold those in power to account for their actions on behalf of their readers.

“Especially in this day and age, people are extremely busy and do not have the time to be fully aware of what public servants are doing in their name and funded by their taxes.

“A lack of scrutiny can then lead to organisations, such as councils, to intentionally or unintentionally make decisions that are either not what the public would expect of them, or are unlawful or illegal. That is where newspapers step in.

“Our recent dispute with Witney Town Council is a prime example where councillors excluded the press and public from a meeting about the sale of Langdale Hall and repairing the Corn Exchange because they wanted to control what was in the public arena.

“But that is not their legal right and it was down to the media to bring this culture of secrecy to the public’s attention.

“This council is now looking at a policy that would ban elected councillors from speaking to the media without permission, and that is not democracy.

“We have also had a coroner holding an inquest in public without naming the deceased, which is just a nonsense, while it is unlikely that Alan Armitage would have stepped down as the Lord Mayor of Oxford without the public exposure of his inappropriate comments to a schoolgirl.

“Sometimes these might seem small battles to fight but we do that on behalf of the public because when these breaches of transparency and accountability go unchallenged, they become accepted as custom and practice and a culture of secrecy becomes entrenched.”

There have also been occasions when a reporter has made successful challenges in the courts so the paper is able to name offenders aged under 18 found guilty of serious offences.

Reading drive has increased literacy

The Oxford Times:

Stanford in the Vale Primary School marking the first anniversary of the start of their reading campaign. County council cabinet member Melinda Tilley with pupils, from left, Sofia Seijido, Owen Hill and Lilly Amies

OVER the years, the Oxford Mail has been at the forefront of long-running campaigns to get results on behalf of our readers.
Improving literacy levels of primary school children across the county has been an important issue for the paper in recent years because of the previous poor performance of primary school pupils in the Oxford area.
In September 2012, we backed the Get Oxfordshire Reading Campaign, a scheme launched by Oxfordshire County Council and run by the National Literacy Trust, Oxford University Press, and Edge Hill University.
The reading intervention programme was created in response to Key Stage 1 results in 2010 where Oxford City performed more poorly in reading and writing than any other area.
There are more than 60 schools across Oxfordshire involved and in 55 per cent of schools on the scheme, more than 80.8 per cent of children achieved a Level 2b or above in KS1 during the first year
By September 2013, 95.4 per cent of children involved said they liked reading more than before.
Latest figures show those achieving good levels of progress between the ages of seven and 11 rose from 85 to 90 per cent in the most recent year.
Working with Year Two pupils, it is delivered by teaching assistants in school, using the Project X Code books produced by Oxford University Press, alongside a one-to-one volunteer reading scheme.
And its success has been hailed by headteachers and education leaders alike, with county council cabinet member Melinda Tilley announcing in February that a further £500,000 was to be pledged by the Oxfordshire Schools Forum to continue the scheme for at least another year.
It was due to end in July after two years.

The Oxford Times:

Julie Gibbings, above, Oxfordshire Reading Campaign programme manager, said: “The campaign has been successful in supporting over 800 school pupils in Oxford to increase their reading levels at Key Stage 1.
“Improving children’s literacy levels early on in their education will have a positive impact on their future lives.
“The support of the Oxford Mail in our drive to raise literacy levels in Oxfordshire’s schools has been invaluable.”

Campaigning for our patch over the years

The Oxford Times:

The Oxford Mail report in April over Witney Town Council’s gagging order

THE Oxford Mail has been involved in many different campaigns.
It was at the forefront of a prolonged struggle to prevent a large gas holder being built in the centre of Abingdon.
The Oxford Mail also campaigned against the destruction of large parts of Jericho and a policy of preserving and renovating homes was adopted.
One campaign was launched by two reporters, Susan Price and Stuart Weir, who were shocked at an inquest when it emerged that a girl had died after taking the drug quinine to abort her child. In an investigation, they made the case for quinine to be put on prescription and this was achieved after the then Oxford MP Evan Luard raised the issue in the House of Commons.
When plans for the Wheatley-Stokenchurch section of the M40 were published, the Oxford Mail discovered that millions of tons of gravel were going to be transported on Oxfordshire village roads.
The paper launched the Great Lorry Trail campaign and joined villagers in fighting the proposals.
The construction firm eventually caved in and agreed to bring in the building materials by rail instead.
The Mail also campaigned for improvements to the busy A420 between Oxford and Swindon, dubbing it the Road to Hell after several fatal accidents.


The Oxford Times:

Crime reporter Ben Wilkinson, pictured, has been nominated for a Society of Editors Regional Press Awards’ Daily Reporter of the Year award for his coverage of the Bullfinch trial at the Old Bailey last year.
Seven men were found guilty of abusing six girls in Oxford between 2004 and 2012, following the four-month trial.

The Oxford Times:

The Oxford Mail has also been nominated in the Supplement of the Year section for its 24-page Bullfinch Trial Special Edition.

Better care for children

ONE of the Oxford Mail’s most successful campaigns was to raise millions of pounds towards the cost of Oxford Children’s Hospital.
It cost about £30m to build but it would not have been built to such a high standard without the help of Oxford Mail readers and other benefactors.

The Oxford Times:

Runners at the start of this year’s OX5 Run

Former editor Jim McClure drew the Little People Big Needs logo for the CHOX fundraising campaign, which achieved its aim of raising £15m towards the cost of the hospital, which opened in 2007 as part of the new West Wing at the John Radcliffe Hospital. The campaign launched in September, 2002, and continued until the facility opened.
Until the children’s hospital was built, some young patients were treated at the Radcliffe Infirmary in the city centre.
Part of the fundraising came from runners taking part in the annual OX5 Run, at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock.

The Oxford Times: Graham Brogden, above, head of the hospital trust’s charitable funds, said: “The partnership we enjoyed with the Oxford Mail and sister titles helped to generate funds from the local community and we simply could not have reached our targets without them. The OX5 Run started as a result of the CHOX campaign – to date it has raised more than £500,000 for the hospital and helped tens of thousands of young patients.”