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.

Daily Mail and horrific deaths

I’m not sure if it is just me, or has the Daily Mail been making more effort to report in great, lurid detail more and more terrible deaths? It seems to me that thousands of people die across the UK each day for a variety of reasons and the vast majority of these deaths are not considered newsworthy. However, should you die in circumstances that raise a snigger, an eyebrow or tweak the horror senses then your death is news, your death sells newspapers.

The recent and utterly shameful reporting of the young woman who died from a heart condition whilst using a vibrator was splashed – complete with big picture – over the web pages of the Metro and Daily Mail was not an exception, but an all-t0 common example of how the press has no boundaries, no line that it will not cross in the abuse of someone’s death.

Today a strange story in the same vain appeared, it first aroused the readers with some ‘tragedy porn’:

Smiling shyly in his smart riding clothes as he sits astride his beloved horse, this is the last picture of the little boy killed in a tragic accident on a rope swing at his family home…

His mother Sarah Bray tried frantically to give him mouth-to-mouth – and thought she had saved his life when he started to breathe again.

But tragically the little boy lost consciousness and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Southampton hospital at 6pm on Tuesday.

And then follows it up with some ‘envy porn’, cramming in every detail about the house and lifestyle of the grieving family:

Nine-year-old Jamie Bray had been playing on the rope swing in the back garden of his family’s five bedroom country house…

A horse, horse box and stables are set to the left of the picturesque £800,000 home in Bishops Waltham, near Southampton, where Jamie lived with his mother, his father Richard and his older brother Sam.

The picturesque house is set at the top of a 20 metre dirt track and is surrounded by fields.

A Porsche Cayenne 4×4 and a silver-coloured Volkswagen were parked outside of the home on Friday, where a tree house by the front gate had flowers and a candle laid underneath as a tribute to the youngster.

Quite what relevance this extract from what seems like MTV Cribs has to the story seems utterly beyond me, but seems rather typical of the Daily Mail who seem to think that their readers absolutely must know the net worth of any protagonist, starting with the value of their house. The story doesn’t give the reader any particular advice to avoid such an accident – apart from don’t let your kids use a rope swing unsupervised, so it is hardly a shock story to warn parents of danger. Rather it seems that ‘freak’ deaths sell newspapers, especially if the victim lived a dream lifestyle.