Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Clapham shooting: media hype or worthy debate?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 18, 2007

Billy Cox, the fifteen year old boy who was shot dead on my estate on Wednesday, was one of the fifty people who are killed each year in gun crime. For the British media however this was something much more.

“WARZONE UK….NIHILISTIC ANARCHY!” screamed the Daily Mail.

“NO END TO GUN CRIME?” was Sky News’ dubious headline last night.

I could go into the journalistic flaws in a headline including “no end to…” but that’s beside the point. The point is I am apparently living in the centre of nihilistic anarchy.  Really? If I was, would I have been able to pop down to the shops for a pint of milk yesterday? Would my mate Jimmy have been able to come round to watch the Reading-ManU match?

Surely we would need to have been wearing flak jackets and I would have expected to have been airlifted to safety by Friday at the latest.
The series of shootings in the last fortnight are, as far as the police know, unrelated. They’re a statistical anomaly, which, if they continue, would boost the average number of shooting fatalities year on year.  But we don’t know that yet.

I’m not accusing the media of lying. Every report I’ve seen has dutifully reported the facts, but the events of the past week have revealed a meta-level of news: the stringing together of several unrelated events to create a narrative of gun crime anarchy in the UK.

But on the flip side, although it’s a distortion of the truth, the media hype has sparked a high level debate about the UK’s gun laws. The Met Police held and emergency meeting on Thursday, and Tony Blair appeared on BBC One’s Sunday AM programme this morning talking seriously about updating gun crime laws.

And that can only be good.

Has Billy’s death come a month ago or in two months time, it would have hardly warranted an inch in page 10 of the Metro. But that’s news I guess…as someone far wiser than me said to me last week…in news you simplify and then exaggerate.

Clapham shooting: the interest continues

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2007

The quiet South London estate I’ve been living on for the past five months has become an extraordinary hive of media and police activity. The far entrance, near the high street, which was the original spot for reporters has been sealed off, and someone figured out the next morning that the best location was the small car park inside the estate, which my flat overlooks.

So today there have been 5 satellite trucks parked outside and at least 2 TV crews doing live 2-ways from near Billy Cox’s home. A pile of flowers have been growing today as well, and joining police and journalists have been scores of locals coming to pay their respects.

Interestingly I’ve seen a lot more gangs in the area today – that’s to say groups of teenagers in hoodies etc. They’re not normally from around here, so I guess they’ve come to pay their respects to (as one tribute put it) a fallen soldier.

Apparently there are several big gangs around South London. There’s the Peckham Boys and the Young Peckham Boys, Man Dem Crew and Peel Dem Crew – they’re the closest to Clapham – plus the Ghetto Boys near Lewisham and the appropriately posh sounding South Man Syndicate operating in Tooting Bec.

None of the gangs visiting Fenwick Place tonight seem threatening; rather they’re here to pay their respects and move on. Or it could be the fact that you’re never more than 10 feet away from a police officer.

It’s interesting that the media glare is still here so much – 15 year old Billy Cox’s body was taken away yesterday, and the story has moved on now to the government response. But BBC News and ITV London both got hold of teenagers from the estate today who were surprisingly willing to talk on camera. The juxtaposition with BBC posh man Daniel Boetcher was odd to say the least.

They usually say communities “unite in grief” during times like this. People from Fenwick Place are coming together but, it seems, more to watch the TV reporters than to mourn together.

Certainly Wednesday’s killing has shocked this relatively quiet and crime free estate. It looks rough from the outside, and we all moved in with some trepidation – but this is the first incident in five months and as a resident in the middle, I don’t feel any less safe after this weeks sad events than I did before.

[edit: and just minutes after I posted this entry, the TV trucks have all moved away. The three kids from the family on the floor below us are back out, happily playing football in the carpark.]