First Pictures and other intrusions into death

I know that the Daily Mail and other newspapers have always scrabbled for ‘first’ or ‘exclusive’ pictures of the recently deceased as if it is a sign of what a great newspaper they are if they first to intrude upon someones private grief, but recently it seems to be getting worse. I wanted to write a post a while back on young girl who died in a banana boat accident, news considered worthy of a front page photo for the Mail – you can probably see why:

Yes, the Mail takes pains to describe her as ‘beautiful’, that she went to ‘the private school to which Mick Jagger sent his children’ – which costs ‘£4,000-a-term’ and that:

She lived with her wealthy South African-born parents Andries and Ancia, and her brother Andre-Pierre, about a mile away from her school in a £1million five-bedroom home in Putney.

Mr Cronje, 44, is a director at UBS Wealth Management.

Mr Cronje made a statement shortly after this horrific accident and it is included in the Daily Mail article:

Our beautiful 11-year-old daughter was killed in a tragic water sports accident on Saturday afternoon at Princes Club, Bedfont, near Feltham. She was a guest at a children’s birthday party.

‘We are still battling to come to terms with the news.’

I feel sorry for him, and his family, not only for the loss of a loved one, but also that a national newspaper feels it is appropriate to turn their private grief into a front page piece of tragedy porn for their readership. The story is dripping with unnecessary details about the family’s wealth, as if somehow this makes the story really interesting; I really do wonder if the child had lived on a council estate whether they would have been worthy of a place at all in the Daily Mail, let alone the front page.

I don’t know what this kind of story exists for, is it really news? It seems to me that there is no journalistic justification for printing this intrusive kind of story, even more so when you consider that the Daily Mail spends so much time mocking ‘elf ‘n’ safety’. It isn’t as if there is any message to take away from the story; the article makes clear that accidents involving this activity are ‘very rare’ so it is not as if the Mail is trying to highlight some kind of preventable risk. It’s just wallowing in tragedy porn.

All this brings me to the current lead story on the Mail website – the story that the Mail website editor currently considers the most important in the world:

Suicide

Somehow the story is important because it now has a picture attached. I’m not sure whether this is responsible reporting, given that suicide is generally committed by vulnerable people how healthy is it to have infamy given so easily to those who commit suicide? Like the wall-to-wall coverage of lone gunmen elevates an unknown person to worldwide fame and encourages others to do likewise, what exactly does this story do to the mental state of others considering suicide.

I’m not saying this type of reporting does lead to more suicides, but I am saying that really does not seem to be any justification for the scramble for the ‘first picture’ or the publicity given to such stories. It’s just intrusion into death, it isn’t news and the sensationalist, shallow and quick turnover that such reporting represents teaches us nothing about death or life. It only teaches us that tabloid newspapers will do anything to shift a few extra copies.

5 Comments

  • mr tompkins says:

    And they say “this is the first picture” as if they’re pointing out “look, see, we got it!” You’re right, what difference does the picture make except to anchor the story visually and drive home the point about who has the story, not story itself nor how it’s handled. I’ve just done a bit on another stupid elf’n'safety reference today, and the more I read of these rags the more I think they’re a modern day disgrace. But do the people get the tabloids they deserve or are people heavily manipulated by said tabloids?

  • Richard Morris says:

    I wonder how the picture ‘emerged’? Lazy writing or code for something else?

  • exilednzer says:

    If that girl had been part of a council estate family I bet the story would have had a ‘were the parents neglectful by letting her take part in dangerous water sports?’ slant.

  • ACG says:

    i’m finding the coverage of the “suicide pact” story very strange in general. it’s been reported from the outset as “woman died in suicide pact with stranger”, surely they both died in a pact with a stranger, why the uneven focus on one half of the pair? she is an “angel” whilst he is a “stranger”, it makes the true rubber necking nature of the coverage all the more obvious. they have slipped in only a minimal reference to the samaratans and their drive to get search enguine results for suicide to direct to free councelling services, if there is national reporting of this at all, that should be the focus, as it is, it’s just being used as a justification for more irrelevant and intrusive detail.

  • Kate says:

    Um, I’d noticed they’d become even more gratuitous.

    The Mail is absolute filth of course: the very worse kind of sleazy, pernicious tabloid, self-styling itself as a quality product and the very voice of decent Middle England.

    I’ve occasionally day dreamed about having sufficient financial power to completely ruin it’s, er, brand and make the world just a little bit better for that. A wishful thought.

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