03 June 2009

The hardest word

"SORRY" was the theme of a recent London Evening Standard advertising campaign, to promote its relaunch under the new stewardship of Alexander Lebedev. It was a mea culpa admitting to having been, amongst other things, too negative in its coverage, and promising a new approach to its journalism in the future.

One tradition that seems set to continue without any apology is the indecent rush to be first to publish pictures of ordinary people caught up in news events. Frequently evening billboards will announce: "Crash victims: First pictures", as though the very act of publishing the image of hitherto unknown people is especially newsworthy, helpful or adds to the story in any way. It is the print version of an invitation to a rubber-necking or Victorian freak show: be the first to gaze upon old holiday snaps of someone you don't know who is now dead.

Something about this approach seemed particularly sordid in yesterday's coverage of the tragic story about a suicide couple who leaped from a cliff, unable to cope with the death of their child. "Beachy Head Suicide Boy: First Pictures" leered the ES publicity machine. I don't know what I am supposed to do with this advertisement - I wasn't going to buy a newspaper, but the prospect of seeing the image of a dead child before I get home is simply irresistible? Similarly irresistible is the conclusion I must draw that the Evening Standard is somehow applauding itself - basking in the glory of its own prurience, and asking us to endorse this with a purchase.

Sorry, indeed. Plus ca change...

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