Through the Airgates is a new series of articles in which we explore our most popular stories in greater detail. For the first time, readers will have unprecedented access to full interview logs and will discover more about the process of uncovering and developing the story.
The e-mail that started it all
After noticing a campaign on Twitter that accused Thorpe Park’s Asylum maze of stigmatising vulnerable individuals, I contacted the individual who appeared to be at the forefront of the campaign – a prolific mental health blogger and tweeter known as Sectioned (@Sectioned_).
I sent this e-mail:
My name is Michael, and I write for a website (Airgates.co.uk) about the UK theme park industry.
I’ve noticed your campaign to remove the Asylum maze from Thorpe Park: it seems like something we’d like to report on, particularly seeing as there’s been a recent controversy over Halloween costumes themed as mental health patients.
Did you initiate this campaign? In your opinion, what is wrong with Asylum? We’re looking to write a piece entitled (something to the effect of) ‘Is it okay to base horror mazes on mental health?’.
I’m looking for a quote from you about why Asylum is not okay, the effect it has on mental health patients, and how charities such as the ones you mentioned are helping to defeat the stigma.
She produced a succinct and brilliant statement capturing the beliefs of the campaigners under pressure from me (I was under pressure to get the story out as quickly as possible: the campaign was mounting and it wouldn’t be long before the nationals noticed the story). She added:
“And by the way, you are exactly right to want to be in at the start of this. If you’re not familiar with the changes that have been taking place in mental health activism, the tide has been turning for a couple of years and some big breakthroughs are happening. It’s an important breaking story, of which theme parks is one aspect, and you should be proud of your foresight as a journalist to be taking a lead.”
Sectioned was also able to put me in contact with spokespeople for mental health charities, and proved to be a vital source in our coverage of the AsylumNO campaign.
Sectioned would later congratulate Airgates and me personally on the story:
What can we learn from this story?
The best stories are well-sourced and impartial. Thorpe Park’s online team praised Airgates report, calling it “un-biased and objective”.
Mental health reporting is easy when you work with charities and affected individuals. I found sites such as Time to Change helpful: they always have a section with support for journalists.
Above all: maintaining the basic principles of accuracy, honestly, impartiality, sensitivity and opportunity to reply. We have published our code of practice here.
Prior to publishing, I sought permission from Dr Nuyan and Sectioned to publish private e-mails and messages and resurface this old story.
I did not seek permission from Thorpe Park.
* In order to prevent any individual attacks against staff at Thorpe Park, I have not included the full name of Thorpe Park’s head of Integrated Comms.
The statements from Surrey Police were crafted and sent to be published in 2013.
Next Week in Through the Airgates
‘Boltgate’: how we covered The Smiler’s bolt incident and the consequences of the story. Plus, the never-before-seen full interview with an ex-Oakwood employee who claims he and colleagues used to drop bolts to scare guests.