In memory of Hillsborough

This week I wasn’t sure what to blog about but when I heard about the Hillsborough Disaster report memories came flooding back.

I can’t actually remember that fateful day 23 years ago. I was 21, in college and didn’t like football so at the time I probably didn’t take that much notice.

By the next year I was a trainee journalist and it was a class on subbing and page layout that this morning’s radio report brought back to memory so vividly.

I remember standing next to the editor bending over a back copy of the paper dated April 16, 1989. The two of us were studying the photographs and he was explaining how the pictures came in, how the words came in, all over the wire and how under pressure to make printing deadlines, how the page sub and the editor made the decisions about which photos to use.

The Hillsborough Disaster memorial, taken by Ben Sutherland and produced here under Creative Commons Licence

He then asked me how squeamish I was and I said I could take whatever he was about to throw at me.

He pulled out a brown envelope and scattered the photos that had been rejected over the table.

The images were heart-rending. There were faces pressed hard against the wire, quite obviously in distress but one photograph in particular has stuck in my memory. In between two older taller men, there was a younger boy and to me it looked like he was dying. His eyes were vacant and his mouth was open – I had to turn away because I thought I was going to cry.

The editor had made his point. It’s a tricky job trying to choose the right photo to illustrate that kind of disaster scene and not show disrespect to the suffering. I silently hoped that I’d never have to be the one to make those decisions.

Skip forward 23 years and where are we now?

Heaven forbid it should happen again but imagine for a minute how the news would have panned out with social media.

There would be photos on Twitter streams, all over Facebook and uploaded to Flickr within minutes. There would be videos on Vimeo and YouTube almost instantaneously. There would be firsthand accounts all over blogs, walls and streams.

Would there be any respect for those suffering and in distress? I doubt it because now it’s all about getting it up for all to see, counting retweets, shares and hits.

Don’t get me wrong, you and I love social media.

You and I think traditional journalism has left it too late to wake up to itself.

You and I know it’s been a while since editors were the gatekeepers to the news.

You and I know that the genie is out of the bottle and isn’t for going back in.

Not that long ago I cried at my desk, tears streaming while I watched Collateral Murder. I don’t think I’ve ever cried watching the news. Maybe we’d get angrier at injustice if we saw the real thing instead of the edited highlights. Maybe The Sun wouldn’t have blamed the fans if they’d had access to films on YouTube and on the spot citizen journalism. Maybe we’d engage more with politics at home and abroad if we saw a truer version of the truth, rather than what journalists and editors perceive to be the truth.

I don’t really know where this post was going – I think I just needed to get it off my chest but please tell me what you think, then maybe I’ll understand why just by writing this I’m getting a bit angry again and a bit teary. Maybe it’s just my age.



  1. Pingback: In memory of Hillsborough | weeklyblogclub
  2. Janet Harkin · September 15, 2012

    Hi Carolyne

    I remember lying on my bed listening to the radio that Saturday afternoon, kicking my teenage heels waiting for going out time, when the programme was interrupted with the news from Hillsborough. To this day I can still hear the horror in the commentators voice as he reported what he saw, live. It was truly shocking and awful listening to events unfold – I was in floods of tears as I imagined what what going on.

    The media channels may differ today but one thing is still the same. Journalists – paid or otherwise – carry the responsibility to be honest, truthful and respectful when telling stories to others. Levenson and now Hillsborough have shown how hard this is, for some.

    Thanks for the post.


    PS. Do you know whether such a thing as a code of ethics exist for journalists?

  3. Pingback: Looking back, looking now, looking forward | weeklyblogclub

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