IT is destined to become one of the most enduring news photographs of 2009: baby-faced Alfie Patten, 13 but looking more like eight, cradling his newborn baby.

The story moves on apace. Eight other young boys scramble out of the woodwork to claim to be the real father of 15-year-old Chantelle Steadman's baby girl.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) announces an inquiry into alleged payments by The Sun and The People to Alfie's parents for the squalid, but big-selling, story.

According to the PCC code of practice: "Minors must not be paid for material involving children's welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interests."

A High Court judge is moved to impose restrictions on the reporting of new details, but the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Alfie Patten awaits a DNA test to prove he is the father and, in the meantime, parades before press photographers in a hoodie bearing the slogan: "I'M THE DADDY. IF NOT F*** YOU ALL. I'M STILL HERE."

There was a time when the birth of a baby to a 13-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl would have been a source of shame. Local boys would have run a mile at suggestions that they might be the father.

Now, it's a competition to win the jackpot because there's a lot more cash in this yet from the coffers of the national press - irrespective of what the PCC concludes.

IT'S at times like these that I'm relieved that I work in the regional press where chequebook journalism doesn't feature. Any exclusives The Northern Echo gets are down to local connections, not whether we can pay more than a rival.

The Alfie Patten saga reminds me of the time we came across a story about a 14-yearold girl involved in a shocking ordeal after suffering a miscarriage five years ago.

The girl had gone to Bishop Auckland General Hospital, only to be told to take the foetus home and store it in a specimen jar in her fridge.

I know it sounds too far-fetched to be true, but it really happened.

We knew that it was a story certain to go national. How could a hospital display such appalling judgement?

But should the girl be named? Not in my view. She was a child, who had been through a traumatic ordeal. What additional public interest would be served by naming her?

The Northern Echo published the story, but kept the girl's identity secret.

The Sun took a different view. Armed with a chequebook, it persuaded the girl's family to go public, and her face appeared on the front page of Britain's biggest-selling paper.

The Press Complaints Commission, by the way, advised me that the naming issue was a matter for my own conscience.

My conscience is clear.

A POSTSCRIPT to the recent Best of Darlington Awards. . .

In announcing Robin Blair, the smiling face of Darlington market, as Citizen of the Year, I concluded by saying: "If you haven't tasted his satsumas, you haven't lived."

I arrived at work the next day to be greeted by a box of 100 satsumas. I don't normally accept gifts, but how could I send them back?

Here's hoping next year's Citizen of the Year is a jeweller or a dealer in luxury cars.