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"I'll go to the papers since it's the most appropriate thing to do."

I received this email not long ago from a blogger. (He is Scottish by origin.) He was complaining about plagiarism of an article written by one of the members of the team. (The article was later declared free from plagiarism.)

SOP of my company dictates that any issue with a potential of a lawsuit or negative publicity must be escalated.

That time, I figured his sentiment fell into that category. Upon escalation, the team leader called my attention, saying that she was not particularly sure if it warranted the action. Apparently, that was the first time she heard of go to the papers. (She is American.)

I told her the same was true for me. (English is not my mother tongue.) And that I only deduced what the words meant in context. I assumed go to the papers could mean:

  • to publicize, as in approach a press member to put this on paper;
  • proceed with a legal case, as lawsuits involve a lot of paperwork.

I doubt the latter is the case. It is both pretty silly and far-fetched. Still, as I am not 100% certain with the first one, I included this here just in case.

I searched almost everywhere on the Internet. But there seems to be only one reference to this: here. Unfortunately, Randy Orton does not seem to be an authority based on the comments of the video.

  • It appears that the expression is used referring to possible legal implications : "And we will go to the papers if necessary. ... I personally look at the press in a friendly way" -- "He would have no choice but to pay her, but there was no guarantee she wouldn't hit him for more at a later date, or even go to the papers anyway once she had the money". books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Jun 5 '15 at 8:24
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    @Josh. No, sorry, not in the UK. And you've misinterpreted your own quote, no lawyers involved here. The Scotsman is threatening to report the matter to a journalist with a view to getting it in the newspapers. For a Rightpondian, this is, as OP wants to know, a standard idiomatic expression. – David Pugh Jun 5 '15 at 8:28
  • @DavidPugh - lawyers will most likely be called later, once the stuff has been published, but generally they will assist you also before, and tell you what to say to the press. – user66974 Jun 5 '15 at 8:43
  • I doubt that in the OP's context, @Josh. Generally Rightpondians "go to the papers" on their own. It's a different world. You could ask the OP whether the Scotsman would get legal advice prior. After publication, no doubt lawyers would be involved, especially if the other side cries defamation. – David Pugh Jun 5 '15 at 8:55
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    @DavidPugh Heh, Rightpondian. FYI, we Leftpondians do the same. Also, I think Josh is also on the right side of the pond (so to speak), though he probably considers himself a Leftadriatican rather than a Rightpondian. – Dan Bron Jun 5 '15 at 11:26
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The expression 'go to [some authority / power]' in the sense 'go to [some authority / power] in an attempt to achieve satisfaction with regard to the matter under discussion' is quite standard.

go to a higher authority : 'Luckily I was able to go to a higher authority and get the issue quickly resolved'

go to court : ' ... go to court to stop Mike Ashley getting security over Ibrox'

Ian did go to his parents about this

[all internet]

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    And it's usually understood that you're going to this authority or power because the current way of dealing with things isn't working out. This is especially true of going to the papers, since press publicity rarely has any real, legal influence on the matter, but can be very undesired for the party being hung out to dry in the papers. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 5 '15 at 9:19
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In American English, "Go to the papers" usually means "call (something) to the attention of the news media". For example:

Boss, if you don't stop putting asbestos in the children's toothpaste that we sell, I'll take it to the papers!

The "Papers" here refer specifically to the newspapers, but more generally means the media.

I can't speak to any differences in UK english.

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