It's a cruel, cold business, the tragedy-porn industry. One minute it's the self-styled "Crossbow Cannibal" all over the front pages; the next, someone else turns up and dislodges him from the headlines. That someone is Derrick Bird, who has taken 12 human lives, and then his own, in a horrible series of events - each death as tragic as those now-suddenly-forgotten women who fell victim to a serial killer. Reading these tales stitched together by the Guardian, it's discomforting and moving to think of those ordinary days that suddenly turned to tragedy, those people whose hopes and dreams were snuffed out unforseeably, prematurely, and violently.
I can't help wondering where the line is between accurately reflecting the awfulness and unexpectedness of such a grisly sequence of deaths, and lingering a little too long on the bloodiness. Maybe you can see the line being reached, and perhaps crossed, here:
I don't know, call me squeamish or something, but I find it a little unpleasant to see a blood-soaked blanket with a dead human head poking out from underneath. And I feel compelled to ask a question: would such a graphic image be used if there was such a photo available of, say, a soldier, especially a British one? I am not so sure it would, though I could of course be wrong. I don't really know what justifies it in these circumstances. Of course it's an exceptional story but that's a real dead person under that blanket, with a family and friends. Do we really need to see it? Would we not fully understand the tragedy without seeing it?
You may be aware that the Press Complaints Commission includes some ambiguous (of course) mumblings on 'intrusion into grief or shock', and also states:
Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
It's with that in mind that I felt a bit uncomfortable reading this.
There's a photo as well, which I needn't repeat here, of Derrick Bird's son indeed looking distraught, as is entirely expected given the circumstances. And it's pretty clear that he didn't want to talk:
Today, Bird's eldest son [snip] appeared in public for the first time since the killings to visit his mother in the tiny village of Lamplugh.
He left without making any comment. Yesterday's tragedy came just two weeks after Mr Bird became a father for the first time. It should have been a time of pride and celebration.
Of course it's not only a tragedy for those relatives of the people who were innocent victims of the shooting, but for Derrick Bird's family too. But clearly they've already had to contend with reporters and photographers at this most traumatic of times. Why do we benefit from seeing a photo of this man? How does that help with anything? He looks like he's grieving - well yes, he would be. Again, like the body sticking out of the bloody blanket, I don't really see what we gain - apart from intruding a little more into a tragedy. (You can see why I never made it as a journalist, can't you? Just haven't got the guts for it.)
There's been a lot of good reporting of an extraordinary and awful event; but a lot of the rest seems to have enjoyed the bloodiness a little too much for this reader's tastes. The big face of the killer staring out of all the newspapers - I can't help wondering if this is just what those people who want to 'go out in a blaze of glory' would like to happen, if it isn't in some way making their grandiose dreams come true. Maybe putting the victims centre stage might be better, though I don't think, for the sake of their families, we need to see their bodies under bloody blankets. We don't learn anything new; we know or can imagine very well what happens to human beings when they get hit by bullets.
And then Derrick Bird will fade away, and the reporters will leave, and stop hassling his family, and the families of those who were gunned down, and it will be all forgotten, or as forgotten as it can be. And then there'll be a new Crossbow Cannibal, or Derrick Bird, and it will all begin again.