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Time for us the media to talk about how we cover tragedies like the Manchester terrorist attack

PUBLISHED: 09:04 26 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:46 26 May 2017

Armed police on patrol in King's lynn, as the terror threat was increased to critical. Picture: Chris Bishop

Armed police on patrol in King's lynn, as the terror threat was increased to critical. Picture: Chris Bishop


The terrible events in Manchester this week have put a focus on various aspects of the way we live our everyday lives.

Up and down the country police forces, working with other authorities, are reconsidering the methods used to keep the streets safe.

As a society we are faced with the difficult question of how to balance the need to protect the public, with a desire that many of the things we take for granted in this country are not lost.

On a personal level, meanwhile, people are having to make choices about things they previously took for granted.

Should I go to London this weekend? Should I still attend that gig or festival? Is it worth heading somewhere where you know there will be crowds of people?

Personally I aspire to the belief that to drastically change the way we live our lives is to let the terrorists win.

So I’ll still be off to Glastonbury Festival next month, but I’ll be honest, there will definitely be a little piece of my brain wondering about ‘what if?’. I guess that is only human nature.

That sort of decision is a personal one however and should be left up to individuals to make. We shouldn’t hold it against someone if they take a different view on the subject of safety, what to do and what not to do.

I also believe (and hope) the events of Monday night will lead to some soul searching from the industry I work within - journalism.

The rise of social media, and the fact that everyone is a publisher and everyone can have their voice heard, has led to increased scrutiny of the way all professions (not just journalists) behave.

Should a delivery driver throw a parcel over a garden gate, smashing the item into pieces, within minutes someone can upload a photo and we can all know about it.

Similarly, if someone in our profession misbehaves, the same thing can happen.

This has come to the fore this week with regards the way families of the deceased are approached in times of tragedy.

Some have complained about being besieged by journalists on their doorsteps or through social media messages, often dozens at a time and with many coming back repeatedly, despite being told to leave well alone.

How to cover tragedy is something the media, and this newsroom, has given a lot of thought to. From our point of view it’s vital our journalists behave in the right way. We are a community paper with a community reputation to maintain.

Our own policy is clear. If a tragedy occurs where there are unique circumstances (road death/fire etc), we will only publish the identity once confirmed by police and once they have said the immediate family have been informed.

We will not simply lift photos off social media without permission and we will only approach the family once. If they say no, we take that as a no.

Some would argue we shouldn’t even make that approach, but in my experience a large proportion of people are often prepared to pay tribute and then say afterwards that it helped with the grieving process.

That tends to be the approach adopted by local media, but problems can often occur in more high profile tragedies, such as this, when dozens of journalists are sent off to cover the story.

It’s these circumstances the media need to do some navel gazing over and decide a better approach. I’m sure no journalist in a similar situation would want to face up to multiple approaches as they were trying to get their head around a life-changing piece of news.

I’ll admit I don’t know what the answer is. One thing to consider might be a pooled approach, as often happens with Royal visits.

It might stop some media outlets from getting an exclusive story - but in the long run I think the need to maintain (and in some cases rebuild) our reputations might be more important.

* A hat-tip to @paulbradshaw who has written a fantastic column on this subject, which can be found on his Twitter feed.

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