Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester bombing: the use and abuse of personal testimony?

Photo credit
The power of personal testimony was every where yesterday.

Radio 4 is effectively audio wallpaper in our house but throughout the day the voices of those who had been at the Ariana Grande concert or picking up their kids from it stopped me in my tracks.

Emotion surged through my body like an energy with no outlet for expression other than to prickle into a few hot tears.


But as is often the way with these kind of terrible events I felt hugely conflicted about the era of 24 hour news that we live in. Even the journalist on the radio sounded shell shocked yesterday morning as he said, ‘it’s hard to believe that this terrible event took place less than ten and a half hours ago.’

And here’s the thing. If it’s hard to believe for the journalists, if it’s hard to bear for those of us listening to the radio, watching the news, scrolling our twitter feeds, how much harder must it be for the people involved, the children, teenagers and families?

Is it therefore okay that almost as soon as it had happened reporters at the scene were interviewing the victims as they emerged from the arena?

Is it okay that adults and children who most definitely have not had time to process the experience are interviewed, albeit by sympathetic reporters?

News agenda

During our Journalism Masters programme at UWE we used to have weekly ‘news days’. We operated like any newsroom in the country, we came in with story ideas, the editorial meeting was held, decisions made about the days news agenda and we were each assigned roles.

On one of these occasions, two of our class were sent out to get footage for a story about a mugging that had taken place. They were encouraged to find the address of the elderly lady who had been attacked, go to her home and ‘doorstep’ her for an interview. As I remember it was known that she had said she was not interested in talking to the media, hence we couldn’t phone ahead to set up an interview.

Being good students the girls set off to do as they were told. And being good would-be journalists they got the footage. But none of us felt okay about it and over the next few days we raised our concerns (via our Media, law and ethics tutor) about the rightness of this action.

During the group meeting that was held at the end of our next news day we were encouraged to talk about how we felt. Our course tutors were both former journalists and editors who had worked for the BBC and ITV.

As good journalists they listened well. As good journalists they gently explained, ‘this is the job, whether you like it or not.’ As good human beings they shared the rationale that they had internalised over the years, no doubt as part of their own coping mechanisms. ‘The thing is,’ they explained, ‘it’s actually really helpful for people to talk, for people to tell their stories. It helps them heal.’

Storytelling as healing

I’m big on storytelling, I’m big on storytelling as part of the healing process. After the death of my dad and then years later after the death of my mum I know from personal experience that strange, pressing need to keep retelling the story. I know too how hard it can be to feel okay about the need to retell the story.

I also know that in the days immediately following the death of my father my journal falls strangely silent on the subject. There are no words to begin with.

I’m no expert on trauma and grief but I believe when those first words come out the kind of environment they emerge into is incredibly important.

Now the BBC and other news agencies may well have support teams in place to help the people they have interviewed afterwards, and I understand that Manchester as a city is doing its utmost to provide the survivors with all the help and support they possibly can.

So hopefully these children, teenagers, mums, dads, friends and family will have all the comfort and aid they need to help them in these first few days of staggering unreality.

My even bigger hope is that support remains in place in the weeks, months and years to come, long after the news agenda has moved on and the media machine has forgotten those voices. I really hope those people have someone to turn to then, someone who is still willing to listen to their story and to do so without any agenda beyond respect, care and love for the people who are talking to them.

Manchester, Ariana Grande, Manchester bombing, concert, grief, trauma, interview, #ManchesterBombing

No comments:

Post a Comment