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Care of the community

Gary Duffy | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

How does a community feel when it suddenly finds itself caught up in the whirlwind of a terrible tragedy that also becomes a major news event? My colleague Tim Fenton, who was brought up in Ipswich, gave the BBC News website a telling insight into the distress this can cause, even for those not directly touched by events.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe Suffolk town and the surrounding area have been at the centre of unwanted attention from across the World following the murder of five women. With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is in Tim’s words, "much like any town anywhere". As he points out it is big – but not so big as to be impersonal, and clearly local people have been sharing the sense of trauma. One reader wrote on our Have Your Say page: “I live approx 10 mins walk from the football ground - the area where the girls went missing from. I'm not normally a nervous person, but certainly won't be going out anywhere on my own anytime soon.”

As journalists we have been trying to reflect these feelings without adding unnecessarily to the fear that is already gripping many parts of this community. For reporters on the ground there is also the difficult balance to strike between accurately reflecting the mood of local people while trying to avoid being excessively intrusive.

There has also been a need to reflect carefully on the overall tone of a story whose consequences have spread far beyond the families most directly affected. It’s not possible to claim we always get that right, but we should be able to reconcile the journalist’s instinct to report the news while always keeping such concerns in mind.


  • 1.
  • At 07:11 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Peter wrote:

Well now, I think your job is to report the news in an unbiased, straightforward manner.

I do not think the "mood" of the people in Ipswich is, or could possibly be described as, news to anyone other than a tabloid journalist.

Over here in south Johor, Malaysia, we follow the news via Singapore's BBC World Service on the radio. It reminds us of Jack the Ripper. I hope the culprit will be caught soon.

  • 3.
  • At 10:52 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

Peter's comment - in message 1 - was succinct enough (...but I will add!:) Why is there a latterday propensity for getting all the angles on all the stories through use and overuse of speculation, irrelevance and this amazing desire to 'connect' with audiences as individuals! News - at the sharp end - is a one-way ticket: You tell us how it is and we assimilate the facts. All the insight (or is that - 'incite'?) can be saved for the panoramic(!) fallout in the final analysis at a later date. The scoop to be had is the data relevant to the criminal events (in the case inb question). Beyond this, the duty is to inform the public only of relevant detail that might prevent further loss of life. Ironically, I suspect that the tabloidees(?) have grown quite immune to the 'breaking news' tags relating to the Ipswich horros, leading to an immunity to further press outpourings, in the hope of some informative one-liners!

I'm sorry, but the Beeb has got this trendy delivery 'very wrong' indeed (or should that be 'well wrong'? - groan!). Dumming-down to grass roots might ironically cost you the licence fee battle - where's the added value in your delivery if it's as ill-leet(!) as everyone else in the news delivery game!

I think you;d ...'better think it out again!'

  • 4.
  • At 04:34 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

What a sterile and singular view of the news Peter and PeeVeeAh seem to have. I get as annoyed as anyone by tabloidese, dumbing down and speculation-as-news, but there has to be more to news than just "this happened, then that happened, then the other happened". It's not the job of the media to just present "data" - their job is to report the news, in all its rounded, ambiguous, human forms.

Tim Fenton's piece is a moving and interesting reflection on the impact of events like this on a community. Being written by someone from the town also gives it an immediacy missing from any external view. It's a great example of the best that the BBC, with it's huge network of local correspondents, can offer - more so than any other media outlet.

  • 5.
  • At 06:25 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Can I emphasise how good the coverage provided by Margaret Gilmore is.
Her journalism is exemplary, facts are given, background explained and the information and messages which the police wish to communicate delivered.

The interviews are conducted with the sensitivity and lack of sensationalism which is not a feature of other TV news. I trust this is used by the BBC as an example of how to cover a distressing story with relevance and integrity.

  • 6.
  • At 10:00 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

Being a student from east Suffolk currently living in Nottingham I find the BBC's coverage of places I know so well disturbing, but only because of the terrible nature of the story being covered. It is important to attempt to explain to audiences what people feel, I do not see this as a new and trendy from the BBC, in fact From Our Own Correspondent has existed for more than 50 years to provide this service. The bare facts are not enough for people to truly understand. I would like to thank the BBC for covering this story in detail and through the coverage allowing me to feel some connection. This is a tough story as any story such as this is and disscussions about public perception and safety offer me more than the simple facts could ever do.

  • 7.
  • At 03:39 AM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • leigh wrote:

Surely the comments posted here are getting a little ahead of themselves. The article if you can call it that, does not really seem like its trying to be the pinnacle of noteworthy news, but more like someones thoughts on the matter.

Stop being so stuck up. If you want unbiased reporting read the actual news. Not the editors column. Surely that's why its there. It's a journalists thoughts as opposed to an actual news item.

The last paragraph is based on thoughts of what a journalist should be doing when a case can be sensitive. That doesnt mean that 'The Beeb' as you like to say is going soft. Besides its hardly trendy being soft. If you actually read the tabloids its a lot more in your face. But completely biased.
You can;t have you cake and eat it.

  • 8.
  • At 02:19 AM on 16 Dec 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

“... we should be able to reconcile the journalist' instinct to report the news while always keeping such concerns in mind.”
Keeping intrusion in mind is not the same thing as not intruding, as we will see in the coming days.

  • 9.
  • At 01:27 PM on 19 Dec 2006,
  • Susie wrote:

I agree with Simon from Nottingham. I was brought up in Ipswich and to know how people are feeling is, to me, newsworthy. The murders have a strong human-interest angle. News from anywhere in the country has this appeal to people who know of, or who are connected to, a region. To say that how people feel is irrelevant, is ridiculous. Events like this affect how the whole nation feels. It looks like the welfare of prostitutes has moved up the political agenda and although it took five deaths to make it happen, it has to be a good thing.

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