Monday, 28 November 2011

media reporting - public interest vs what interests the public?

Yesterday Wales football manager Gary Speed died.  He was just 42 years old, and it is believed he took his own life. 

Within hours of reporting the news, the press had gone one further and reported the time he had been found, and the circumstances in which he had apparently taken his own life. 

This for me raises the question as to how much we really need to know when a story is reported.  I do actually think it absolutely right that it be reported that a man who was quite prominent in football, had a well-documented career, was well liked and well respected had chosen to commit suicide, at a time when people didn’t appear to know there was any indication he was planning to do so.  I think all too often that mental illness and depression goes unreported and that it’s much easier to sweep it under the carpet and to pretend that it doesn’t exist. 

However, there is surely a line between what is in the public interest here, and the issues that raises, and what it could be argued simply interests the public, in terms of the details that are provided. 

That a well-known public figure has chosen to end his own life is something I think we should be aware of.  After all, you can’t just report that someone has died, as often the circumstances surrounding their death may raise further awareness of particular issues, and in this case may bring the issue of depression to the fore and perhaps even bring help to others who are going through the same.  But the way in which that person chose to end their own life is and should remain personal to them and their family. 

This sort of reporting is fairly commonplace in the media.  It is not uncommon, for instance, when reading about a particular family’s tragedy, to also be told details which have no bearing on the particular issue, such as the value of their home, or their relationship status. 

How much someone’s house is worth or whether or not they are married or divorced, cohabiting or a single parent is generally not in the interest of the story being reported.  But the media would argue that in order to build a profile of the person they are reporting on, and to make that person more personable to the public, it is necessary to report on these details. 

I disagree.  The public may in some instances be interested to know how much someone’s house cost, or may form a judgement based on someone’s marital status, but it is not in their interests to know.  Just because something interests the public doesn’t make that in the public interest, and it is surely high time the press realized that and started reporting accordingly. 

Gary Speed’s family are no doubt going through their own personal hell at the moment.  It is bad enough that they know how he died, without that fact having been published in the national newspapers where presumably, his children will be able to read it, or even accidentally stumble across it in the future. 

And perhaps the press should question whether it is that the public wants to know, or whether they want to tell us.

Monday, 7 November 2011

when internet friends die. do you ever find out?

Over the years we have become more and more reliant on the internet in our day-to-day lives.  We use it for shopping/banking/keeping in contact with friends.  We read the news, watch videos, and keep up with the gossip on our favourite celebrities.  

But more and more we are using the internet to make the acquaintance of people we otherwise would never have met, through chat sites, message forums and social networking sites.  As such we are able to form friendships with people beyond our previously narrower social circle.

Sometimes those friendships go on to develop into more real life friendships.  I know people who have met their partners/husbands through the internet, either on chat sites or on dating websites designed specifically for the purpose.  I have personally met people who I originally met on the internet and who are now close friends of mine. 

But sometimes due to circumstances and/or often distance it is just not possible to physically meet up with people we meet online.  And as such I guess we now find ourselves in a position where friendships are divided into two groups – our physical friends, and our internet friends.

And this is where I find myself wondering about whether having internet friend’s makes us possibly more separated.  After all, if your means of communication with someone you’ve only met on the internet are limited to emails, online chat and possibly phone calls, it is, in fact, extremely easy to obliterate those people from your life, or in fact to be obliterated from theirs.  All you have to do is switch off the computer after all, and then they’re gone.

Which leads me to something I have wondered about a few times, but which has come up more specifically for me recently, what happens when one of your internet friends dies?  Or indeed, what would happen if you died – would someone close to you know to inform your internet friends?  Indeed, would someone close to you even know who your internet friends were? 

If one of your internet friends died, they would just disappear from your screen, never to be seen or heard of again, and it’s entirely possible that you would never even know they had died.  After all it’s not a natural conclusion to come to, unless you had reason to believe that death was a possibility. 

If I died I’m not entirely sure I would want someone close to me to announce it on twitter, or on any of the websites I frequent, but equally I do wonder if those people I have formed friendships with through the internet would ever come to learn of my demise, or whether they would in fact just decide I had left internet life for now and would eventually be back, only to forget about me in time when I didn’t return. 

I think the internet is a great resource for befriending people, but I do wonder as to whether those friendships are caught in the here and now, and are volatile in the sense that we can essentially turn them on and off with the flick of a switch, and that if life takes that ability out of our hands, whether the friendships we have formed through the internet in fact are considered worthy of the same consideration in terms of informing those friends that we have perhaps passed on.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

when the public grieve for dead celebrities

Last week British entertainer Jimmy Savile died.  He was well known for the TV programme Jim’ll fix it, as well as for the vast amount of charity work he did.  Next week, his coffin will be on display in a Leeds hotel, in order that mourners may pay their last respects before the funeral which will be held the next day.  No doubt hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people will file past the coffin in order to pay their last respects, even though most of those doing so will never have met him in person.

The public mourning of dead celebrities and public figures is something which seems to have become more prevalent in the past few years.  Perhaps the most memorable was the public grief which was expressed over the death of Diana Princess of Wales, after she was killed in a car crash in 1997.  Mourners went to Kensington Palace to lay flowers, and several books of condolence were filled with signatures.  People travelled from abroad for the funeral, even though they had never met her. 

While the public outpouring of grief for Diana has not since been repeated to the same extent, the death of any public figure does seem to spark an outpouring of grief on some level, with fans often going to lay flowers at the house of the deceased, or the hospital where they died.

But I can’t help wondering why people feel the need to do this.  I suppose that on some levels people do feel they know these people while they are alive.  After all we can generally read about their every move in the press, down to what they have for breakfast and how they spend their free time, and if one is a particular fan then I suppose you might be particularly touched if they then die.  However, given that most fans of celebrities don’t actually meet their idol while they are alive, it seems odd to me that they would feel the need to express a perceived grief once they are dead. 

Or is it that there is a greater acceptance of displaying emotion for someone who was known and loved by many, than there is of displaying personal emotion, and therefore the public grief for a public figure is more of an expression of feelings that relate to one's personal circumstances?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

They'll drink to that - children as young as twelve drinking too much?

This week a survey was published which revealed that children as young as twelve are allegedly drinking as many as nineteen glasses of wine a week.  Furthermore, it revealed that a quarter of children are regularly getting drunk by the age of fourteen. 

I think it’s been common knowledge for some time that young children do often gain access to alcohol and that some will do so to excess.  And in truth this is not a new phenomenon, as teenagers have been experimenting with alcohol for decades. 

However, while there will of course be children who have used alcohol to this degree, I can’t help wondering how much of this is just bravado on the part of those answering these surveys.  

If the results of this survey are to be taken at face value, then we have to believe that Britain has a serious alcohol problem among our teens.  What we also have to consider is that somewhere, adults are enabling this behaviour by either purchasing alcohol for these young teens or allowing them to purchase it.  And then what of the parents?  Twelve is still very young – they are only just in secondary school and for most will only just be given some freedom to venture out on their own.  Even at fourteen one surely wouldn’t imagine that they have enough freedom to be going out and getting drunk once a week.  If at fourteen 25% of children get drunk once a week, then should we not consider that 25% of parents are failing?  After all how could you not notice your child getting drunk that regularly?

While of course the prominence of alcohol among teenagers should not be underestimated, I think it is equally important that we not necessarily blow these findings out of proportion, and that we should allow some leeway for the fact that a large proportion of children, who are impressionable and easily led after all, will give the answers that make them look most favourable in front of their peers, and that if drinking nineteen glasses of wine or getting drunk once a week is seen as cool, then they will most probably want to be seen as conforming to that, even if they would be unlikely to actually do it.