Episode 110. In which I discuss journalism, and journalists.

Firstly, I apologise for the delay on this, it gets a bit serious in the middle and I wasn’t able to write it in one sitting, I just couldn’t find the words.  Not that it ended up any good, but this is just my opinion anyway, so what does it matter?

On 12 March 1996 I had a PE class in which we played volleyball.  I enjoyed volleyball, for some reason I was very good at it, but in this class a girl called Sarah and I both went for the same ball and clashed, and I went down on a badly twisted ankle.  I refused the offer of a wheelchair, not particularly wanting to go through the other half of the gym hall, in which the boys in the year above me were playing football, on what was essentially a normal blue canvas chair with wheels screwed onto the legs, and because I was going through a phase of wearing hiking boots (in the absence of a job to buy myself a pair of Docs) my ankle was well supported and I lasted the rest of the day as normal.

13 March 1996 was a cold day and the ground was icy.  There may have been the remnants of some snow on the ground that had frozen solid into spiky yet slippery terrain, and so I managed to persuade my parents to let me stay home.  It was a long walk to school, all up and down steep hills without handrails, so I stayed home and wrapped my ankle in a bandage soaked in Witch Hazel, and kept it propped up on the coffee table.

Around lunchtime reports started popping up of something awful happening in a primary school in Dunblane.  On that day, Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school and murdered 16 children and one adult, injuring several others.  He fired 109 bullets, presumably including the one he used to kill himself.

The “Dunblane Massacre” as Wikipedia calls it (in conversation it’s referred to as “Dunblane” or “at Dunblane”) hit me hard.  It was the first event of its kind I’d seen.  And it happened while I was sitting on my arse whining about my sore ankle less than 70 miles away.  That it happened in a primary school is doubly awful because not only were very young children the victims, but very young children were the survivors, left to deal with what had happened and the fact that they could have been closer to a violent death than many of us will ever be.

A few months ago some journalists befriended some of the survivors of the ‘massacre’ on facebook and very shortly thereafter articles appeared in the tabloids stories of how they were betraying the memories of their fallen classmates, by drinking and smoking and having sex, and talking about drinking and smoking and having sex.  And boasting about drinking and smoking and having sex.

I can hardly even bring myself to address this issue.  The journalists involved are the worst kind of scum. I believe they should be sacked and never allowed to make their own decisions for the rest of their lives.  That they think it is appropriate to give the children that lived through a gun massacre a hard time for being 17 years old and acting like they’re 17 years old, and that they think that’s news, would imply that they are completely lacking in any kind of soul, morals or talent in their chosen field.

When I was growing up, there was a girl in the year above me who I barely knew, but she lived near my best friend so we were acquaintances, through primary school and high school.  Friendly acquaintances, I mean, we didn’t hang around together or make plans to meet up but if we bumped into each other on the way home from school we’d walk together, have a chat, I distinctly remember helping her fix her Walkman once, she couldn’t get the battery backing bit open.

When I was seventeen, a few months before I turned 18, she committed suicide.  She’d left school at this point so I no longer saw her around, and we’d not stayed in touch, never having been friends as such.  I come from a very small town and that kind of thing didn’t happen a lot, hadn’t happened at all in my memory, it hit people hard and for the first time suicide became something less than an abstract concept for me.  I couldn’t get my head around what would lead someone to do that.  It’s not that I was unsympathetic, far from it, but I’d never had cause to wonder about a particular person, who I kind of knew, and it’s not like I was thinking “of all the people I know I thought she was the least suicidal one,” it’s that I had never thought of suicide in any context I had any experience of.

One day when I was walking home, two men approached me and asked me if I had a school yearbook for the previous year.  I didn’t, but I suggested they ask the teacher who was the yearbook editor type person.  At this point they looked at each other and one got out his press pass, and held it up, smug as you like.  I think I was supposed to be impressed.  Maybe I was supposed to offer to obtain the yearbook they wanted.  What actually happened was I wondered what they wanted, realised that they were trying to find out about the girl who had recently died.  This realisation, combined with the look of utter self-assurance on that wanker’s face, disgusted me beyond belief, and I walked on.

Shortly before my own sixth year finished, the journalists were back.  A feature appeared in the Daily Record about towns where the teenagers were out of control.  One of them was my hometown.  Apparently the teenagers in my hometown (i.e. me and my friends) were drunken louts. We hung around in the town square, and jumped onto passing cars in an attempt at bonnet-surfing, screaming obscenities the whole way.  One boy, who had a car, drove around slowly taking booze orders from the others, before driving to an off-licence and coming back laden down with alcoholic goodies.  There was a photo and everything, with part of the registration number pixelated out.

Everything kicked off shortly thereafter.  What started it all was the mother of the boy in the car, whose car was in the picture, taking offence at the article.  The boy had actually stopped to talk to his friends and, if memory serves, the other members of his football team, which had just finished playing in the school gym hall.  He took orders alright, and drove straight off to the nearest McDonalds to bring back their burgers and fries – unhealthy maybe, but nothing illegal or dangerous about it.  And as for the bonnet-surfing, a car had clipped a boy who was crossing the road, he landed on his hands on the bonnet and, fair enough, swore at the driver to be more careful.

That year, we produced an official yearbook and an unofficial yearbook. The official version had caricatures on the cover of that year’s 6th years.  The unofficial version had that very article on the back cover, and on the front cover was a collage of various controversial newspaper and magazine clippings.

But back to the journalists.

I’ve had one personal experience with journalists, in which they tried to get me to help them dig up dirt on a friend (because she certainly counted as a friend in that situation) who had gone through something (and to this day I don’t know what, it’s not my business just like it’s not yours) that she couldn’t bring herself to survive.

I’ve had one second-hand experience with journalists, in which they created a work of fiction, or possibly a “dramatisation based on real events,” that involved slandering my friends and classmates to make the point that me and mine were awful people, purely because of our age.

This Dunblane thing disgusted me beyond words. Teenagers will behave like teenagers, they have the right to do it, and say “I told you so” if you want, but don’t pretend you behaved any better at the same age. If you did, you were in the minority and probably spent most of your time wishing you weren’t.  If someone’s gone through something like those children went through, and still managed to grow up to behave like a normal teenager, then as far as I’m concerned they should get their very own park bench to drink on, they shouldn’t be held up as failures, in some sorry excuse for news with a filthy undertone of “did they deserve to survive, given how they turned out?”.

I’m sorry this has taken me a while to post, and I’m sorry that it’s utterly, utterly abysmally written.  I don’t really know how to express myself on this point.  It’s all a bit emotive, for several reasons that I hope I’ve vaguely shaded in, if not properly explained.

My point is this. If you’re going to be a journalist, try to maintain some kind of humanity while you do it. By all means, tell us what’s going on in the world. But don’t dig up dirt on the victim, that’s a very rapey thing to do. Don’t make up lies about the innocent, that’s a very corrupt and lazy thing to do.  And don’t act holier-than-thou, that shows a shocking lack of self-awareness and understanding of both your subject and your audience.

Diabetic moment of the day

Today I tried to make cookies with honey instead of sugar.  They’re not very nice, but they’ve got honey in so I’ll still be eating them.  And the flat smells of warm cinnamon now.  I also bought reduced sugar raspberry jam, so that’s breakfast sorted all week.

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2 Responses to “Episode 110. In which I discuss journalism, and journalists.”

  1. You are completely right. The journalist at the Express who wrote the Dunblane article is disgusting, and the article more so. I think it’s a sad indication of the depths those kinds of newspapers feel they have to sink in order to get a “story”. To my mind it should never have been a story.

    I think the problem is that a few bad apples taint the rest of the profession. We’re not all bad I promise, in fact some of us are pretty nice when you get to know us!

  2. diabetses Says:

    Oh I don’t doubt it!

    Unfortunately the good ones make the scummy ones look even scummier. Damn them.

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