This post was originally published on my old website matt-burgess.co.uk and originates from around December 2011.
We started out reporting a shocking, untimely and saddening accident outside our local student bar but since then the story has made it through the commercial media to be twisted into something to make money.
Forge Press have reported the facts in a story that happened very much on our patch, outside the building we are based in.
For the sensitivity of a very small community readership we do not sensationalise the story, we only reported what had happened, as many people who were out on the evening would have viewed the scene.
The facts stopped rumours spreading on Twitter and Facebook. It may be a very idealised view of journalism but we were there providing the information of what was happening to our readers.
There is no agenda.
The local press picked up on the story the following evening and reported exactly what had happened but then the picture began to change.
A new angle and a new way to grab readers was needed. So the sensationalism started and led the story to spread once and the way to make people interested was found.
The Sheffield Star got their quote, which made the story. The all day event was branded “grossly irresponsible”. A new line had been created and it was the one that would spread.
More information about the day was presented in the story from the local press.
References to the drinks prices, the times people were drinking from were mentioned for the first time. The story wanted people to make their own assumptions on what had happened, tying the cheap drink prices to the accident.
When the national popular press picked up the story for the first time they must have been rubbing their hands with delight.
A story fitting easily fitting social concerns of binge drinking, which everyone has an opinion of and most people can relate to in one way or another.
The facts begin to get lost.
The Mirror report it is the first accident of its kind at the event for 10 years. The official statement from the University says the event has been running for 14 years without incident. There is no evidence from the Mirror to prove the official statement wrong.
The Sun reports that students were queuing outside the bar drinking from 3am. I am not sure what time people did start this outside the bar but the earliest I know of was 5am and I heard rumours of 4.30am. Where did they get this fact from? Beats me.
The Daily Mail report the accident happened “during an all day half-price Christmas binge-drinking promotion…”. Pints were half-price between 10am-12pm. No other drinks were half-price all day.
Add to this the Sun, in their original article, manages to relate the incident to other, totally unrelated, ones involving alcohol.
The picture caption sums up the whole sensationalism and fear mongering of the whole article.
“Drunk … revellers on a Carnage event which is not related to the bus accident in Sheffield”
Why use the picture then? It’s used just to create an impression on the readers who will most likely be glancing over the page and be drawn in by the picture.
The last 80 words of The Sun article do not say anything to do with the article at all. Rambling on about Carnage drinking events and clubs with cheap drink prices only create a fear and a social stigma of drinking and are done purely to influence and outrage the reader.
This all happens on a daily basis. Every story run by the popular press goes through a similar scenario, finding a way to make it sensationalised to fit their ideals.
In cases like this the life of a young girl and her family has been altered forever. These things should be reported as they are news and people in the communities need to know what is going on in the area they are in.
But when the facts are so distorted by those with the most influence their responsibility has to be taken into account.
Hopefully the ongoing Leveson inquiry into media ethics will address as many of these issues as possible. Those at the top need to be getting things correct.
The student press have the most accurate and correct story of them all and we are the ones who aren’t “professionals”.
It is a depressing affair for those of us who want to break into the industry, there is nothing we can do to change the system.
We will be forced into the mould and have to abide by the what the organisations do to make money.
The desire to want to be accurate and truthful while informing and helping the public is still why I want to go into an industry riddled with flaws.
The nature of the industry is unlikely to change and unfortunately the most likely thing to change will probably be my attitude when forced into the environment.