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Monday, 7 June 2010

Let Cumbria Grieve

Picking over the bones of catastrophes is commonplace.

Ever since the Victorian age when information became readily and quickly available the public have had a fascination with disasters, both societal and domestic. Every case that stood before the Divorce Court fed the inquisitive nature of the masses, giving rise to illustrated editions of papers with full explanations of proceedings. These papers were the heat and OK! of their day; thriving on gossip, misfortune and sheer stupidity.

Human beings are nosy, there’s no doubt about it. We like to know what other people have done wrong because it makes us feel better about ourselves. I'd say we writers are the nosiest of the bunch. But we do go a little too far at times.

Take the recent Cumbria shootings, for instance. Events like this are rarer here than in America so it’s natural the case has garnered a fair bit of interest. More than that, the circumstances around it being unexplained to date heightens the mystery. But as a country we need to learn a lesson – leave them alone. Last year when Cumbria was rocked by severe flooding our journalists did the same thing: camped there for days on end, reporting the disaster but not really helping. No one’s denying the right of the British public to know what’s going on in the country but must it be so flamboyantly cruel?

As in the Victorian era people are hunting for salacious details; reasons and excuses. It isn’t just a case of getting to the truth either: people want to examine the victims, know their families, to get inside a tight-knit community which is struggling both with their losses and the unwanted limelight.

Of course I watched the events unfolding on television and I’m definitely interested in the case. But the film crews camping at the sites of such tragedies needs to stop. If news must be reported from the site and absolutely requires a prolonged stay in the location why not advocate a greater sharing policy between news crews so that only one major operator needs to be there? I know that won’t happen – I know Rupert Murdoch is too money-hungry and self-aware to let the BBC steal his thunder in any such situations.

But it shouldn’t be about money and it shouldn’t be about nosiness. If we could let the police investigation proceed and the community heal then we might get the answers we’re looking for in the long run. But maybe that attitude has little place in a ‘now, now, now’ society… I don’t know.

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