This year’s first panel spoke to the JournoFest audience of emerging journalists about the fragile relationship between police and the media.

JournoFest brings together News Associates and The School of Journalism trainees for a day-long festival of high-profile speakers and special guests from the media industry.

Our trainees heard from Evening Standard crime correspondent Anthony France, Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt, The Sun crime editor Mike Sullivan, Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Pippa Mills, and police communications manager Vicky O’Hare.

Here, trainees Clara Aberneithie and Giorgia Bianchi share what they learnt from the panel …

The panel discussed how the tragic case of Nicola Bulley’s disappearance last year had cast a light on the need to repair the relationship between police and journalists.

Brunt, speaking on how the watershed moment taught police forces how important a role the media plays in criminal investigations, said: “It could have saved a lot of heartache.”

Police faced criticism for withholding crucial information about Bulley’s personal life from the press, with many suggesting it could have guided the investigation more appropriately.

France summarised the relationship between police and the media as that of a critical friend.

Social media has stepped in to fill the resulting information vacuums, a move that the panel highlighted as having dangerous consequences.

Sullivan said: “The TikTok detectives are a pain in the proverbial.”

O’Hare, who was previously a journalist, added: “When I started my career as a journalist, social media wasn’t a thing.

“It makes the job of police communications really difficult, and we need to bring in reporters and build back trust.”

She added: “We need to get back to those days where things worked really well.”

Mills, echoing this sentiment, said: “A two-way conversation is absolutely critical.

“We need to be proactive and front-footed, and we’re conscious of the difference between the media and social media.”

While journalists can speak to who they want, the panel highlighted the importance of protecting ongoing investigations.

“Balance is key,” said O’Hare.

“The reality is sometimes our hands are tied.”

The panel suggested that fostering personal connections and maintaining realistic expectations about the information journalists can obtain as pivotal steps towards enhancing mutual trust.

While the speakers appreciated the recent signs of improvement in the relationship between the police and the media, they agreed that much progress is yet to be made.

You can read all the highlights and top tips from JournoFest 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 here.