20 years ago next year Princess Diana died. Two billion people watched her funeral. When the news broke people were in the streets hugging and crying, a friend had died. A friend they had never met. The odd thing was, we all had a weird feeling that we knew her. Maybe not so weird, every single day we saw her face. Every. Single. Day. I know for me I saw her face (in the paper and read about her or saw her on the TV) more than I did my own family. Every day since 1980 when she first appeared on the public scene we heard and saw stories and news about her. That must do something to the psyche. Imprinting an image on your brain every day for 17 years, why wouldn’t your brain tell you that you know that person?
Although Sky news started its 24 hr news channel in 1989, very few people were subscribing. The BBC 24 hour news started in 1997. Most likely people actually started watching these channels more in the early 2000s.
So back in 1997 Princess Diana’s death was announced as breaking news on the television, by interrupting a normal broadcast. Announced on the radio and then the following day in the daily paper. And the reaction of the British public was extraordinary. The news was announced and then silent until the next bulletin, news slot or newspaper edition.
Fast forward to today:
The newspapers still come out just once a day (although of course there are some late editions but generally it’s once a day). Most people have accessibility to 24 hour news, if not on the television then on their computers. And we still have the radio.
But we also have Twitter, we have Facebook. Everyone seems to want to be the first to announce the death of a celebrity or a tragedy somewhere.
When the Paris bombings happened, Sky news broke the story, but within minutes of the first shot going off it was already being announced on twitter.
When David Bowie and Prince both died earlier this year, their passing was announced on Twitter within the hour of it being public knowledge.
Added to this, we have forums. Everyone today has a voice. In the past it was the job of a professional journalist to craft the story for best effect. To ensure the details were correct. To be the first to hand in the copy to the editor. Not anymore. Today, someone reads a random tweet on Twitter, rushes over to Facebook and announces it (adding how it makes them feel, because after all it is all about them).
Should the incident be tainted with some air of mis-timed tragedy or scandal, It will then be added into a forum, with a comment. Then the world and his wife will pile in agreeing, disagreeing, adding facts (maybe true, maybe not) and generally discussing, debating, debasing the incident even further.
So, is this country getting ‘worse’? is this country becoming more dangerous? From everything we read it certainly appears so. Except the facts don’t actually bear that out. According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics) the figures are actually lower at present than they have been for the last 30 years.
It is accepted that it is difficult to interpret the statistics as the way they have been recorded over the years has changed. Many factors can impact the findings. For example, because of Jimmy Saville and operation Yew Tree more people report child abuse now than in the past. More people believe they will be believed and report rape than in the past. The actual number of incidences may not have changed, but the reporting of the crime has. The Guardian had a good article explaining some of the reasons for the disparity.
This picture shows at a glance how the crime stats have gone over the last 35 years;
So today, we hear the incident, and then it gets repeated and repeated, the same lines over and over. Then various ‘names’ are brought in to comment on how it has affected them. Authorities are asked their expert opinion. Tweets flow like a waterfall. Images get shared all over the internet, Facebook comes alive with ‘real news’ as opposed to the cake Nigel baked or Claire’s baby laughing. Everyone dives in with a comment. And so it goes on. Until the story has almost exhausted itself and the newsrooms are starting to scratch around for something new.
These last few weeks have been extraordinary in the UK. From the moment the Referendum result was announced the government and opposition has been in complete, total and utter turmoil. There have been resignations galore, scandals, back stabbings, leadership contests, new appointments, a new Prime Minister and an opposition in absolute disarray. Everyday twitter has gone mad, everyday the papers have churned out support, scorn, background details and opinion. Relentlessly. If you lived in the UK during this period you could be forgiven for wondering who on earth was in charge. How much of that was true and how much was for effect?
Two nights ago a tragedy in Nice. Reported, dissected, but then an apparent coup in Turkey, all eyes then turn on Turkey. The news moves fast. No scratching around this week for ‘news’.
What is the effect of this assault on the senses, this continual screaming to our eyes that the government has fallen apart, the country has gone to the dogs, the world is on fire? Going back to Princess Diana again, how seeing her everyday eventually persuaded people they had a real stake in her life, that they knew her, when in fact relatively few had actually met her – but the result was weeping and wailing. Having the crime, the failings of the leaders, the terror assaults constantly thrown at us, via twitter, via news online, via the TV, via the print media, is it any wonder people are feeling unsettled and fearful? How does that play out? What becomes the fix? More news anyone?
The feeling that we are being manipulated by people who can make money from our fear, is never very far away.
So, the next time you feel like wringing your hands in despair at what this country has become and what it holds for your children, do bear in mind, that maybe the noise of the news has gotten louder rather than the actual news.