Monday, 10 October 2011

News Reporting in a year of Big Stories 2

Coverage of the riots on TV in the 1980s was nothing like we had this year. Back in 1981, hard though it is to believe, we only had three channels, there was no breakfast TV, and news was only on in the bulletin slot (6pm, 9pm, 10pm, etc). Technology for news gathering out on the streets was very different too and it was limited to the official news reporting teams- home video cameras were a real rarity at that time and the idea of people capturing the story on their phones was of course unheard of, because the mobile phone didn't even exist. Never mind spreading the story by twitter, facebook, blackberry messenger or the internet...

Over the next two blogs, I'm going to point to a range of examples that you might want to pursue in preparation for the A2 exam topics. The riots could be used as case studies for Collective Identity (how young people and black people in particular were represented), for WeMedia (how significant was social media during the riots and what has been claimed in the aftermath), for media in the online age (how did we find out about what was going on and how did this compare to the past?) and for media regulation (should TV companies have given their footage to the police and does social media need regulating in times of crisis?).

Firstly, newspaper coverage. A look at the front pages during the week of the riots gives an overview of the way the story was told. As the disturbances on Saturday night happened after the sunday papers had gone to press, the first opportunities for the front pages did not come till monday- which is one reason that rolling news on TV and the instant coverage from social media was so important. here are some of Monday's front pages:

The Mirror and The Guardian go with the image of the burning furniture store in Tottenham, whilst the Sun suggests those involved may be of primary school age. The Telegraph takes the looting angle, with an emphasis almost on the comedy of it (a reference to British 'carry on.'. films) which of course defines the riots in terms of greed rather than anger and had already gained widespread coverage in this footage from Sky News:

On the Tuesday, after trouble had spread much more widely, almost all the papers went with an attempt to personalise the rioting with the iconic hooded figure:

As you can see, mob/yob and anarchy now become the by-words but the images used are strikingly similar, if not identical. The hooded or masked young male (black in most, white in two) strides triumphant in front of a burning vehicle. The exception is The Telegraph's choice of a dramatic shot of a woman jumping from a blazing building, which became another iconic image of the riots.

By Wednesday, with the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson back in the country determined to show themselves in charge, thousands of extra police on the streets and things calming down a bit, the front pages had shifted emphasis:

Now it's all 'fightback' with exaggerated notions of what weapons might be deployed by the police, but also the riot clean up (sweep scum off the streets) which seemed to embody Cameron's 'Big Society' idea. There is also now an emphasis on the individual hero (personalising the riot stories) which develops further from Thursday to saturday, with heroes and villains identified to add to public outrage:

finally, celebrity advice is offered in the shape of the Rooneys, who like Rio Ferdinand claim to know what life is like on poor estates and ask people to stop rioting...

In the next part, we will look at some of the TV coverage and the issues around social media that were raised by some politicians.

Newspaper front pages all taken from

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