You're involved with the online content of a national newspaper. You have to summarise a story with the headline 'Teenager stabbed to death by 'drunk racist' during bloody weekend that claimed two lives'. You only have space for one picture to illustrate the story on search results. Do you:
a. Use a picture of the victim of the racist attack, since he's the subject of the main thrust of the headline (and the one sentence summary: 'A boy of 17 was killed in a racist attack in the street, his friends claimed today')?
b. Use a picture of the victim of the other murder?
Now, two bits of extra information before you decide. Firstly, the national newspaper in question is the Daily Mail. Secondly, the victim of the allegedly racist murder is Asian, and the other victim is white. Answer below the fold:
Naturally, it's the white guy in the picture. He's not the main subject of the headline and anyone who only sees this picture might think the victim of the racist murder is white, but there you go.
The story now has the headline 'Teenager stabbed to death by 'drunk racist' during bloody weekend that claimed three lives', and includes this sentence:
Some residents claimed Nilanthan was connected to Tamil street gangs but police said there was no reason to suspect the attack was gang-related.
Remember that - no reason to suspect the attack was gang-related. We'll come back to this later.
As well as the headline change from 'two' to 'three' lives claimied at the weekend, the article also completely replaces the original that appeared in the Mail on Sunday with the headline 'Knife Crime Britain claims another two teenage lives'(one URL that pops up in a Google search for that headline is:
www.mailonsunday.co.uk/.../Knife-crime-Britain-claims-teenage-lives-boys-aged-16-17-brutally-killed.html). It appeared in a spread across the top half of two pages in the dead tree version, which I've pictured below. But something's missing? What could it be?
Let's see. Big picture of victim - check. Big picture of scene - check. Close up of flowers at scene - check. Big picture of the non white victim - waitaminute! There's no picture of the victim who isn't white! There's space for a picture of the scene of the white kid's murder and a close up of flowers at the scene, and space for a picture of the white victim of another crime included under the headline although she's neither a teenager nor the victim of knife crime, but no space for a picture of the non-white victim. Why, anyone might think he's been deliberately left out.
Have a look again at the two page spread. See where the join of the two pages is? That's where the main coverage of the murder of the Asian kid starts. There looks to be roughly two and a half columns of text devoted to the white kid, plus a montage of pictures that makes the coverage total of around six columns. The Asian kid gets about one and a third, and two sentences in the story's introduction.
Remember the bit in the new version about there being no evidence the murder was gang related? Just over a third of the scant coverage of Nilathan Moorty's murder in the original article it taken up by attempts to link it with gang activity, starting with this in the intro:
The 17-year-old, Nilanthan Moorty, was stabbed to death in South London after apparently being caught up in a clash between rival gangs.And later, this:
Croydon councillor Mike Selva said the victim was a member of a Sri Lankan gang known as the Tamil Boys. The owner of a local dry cleaning firm, who did not want to be named, added that a bloody turf war had been raging between rival Sri Lankan gangs in Croydon and nearby Tooting.You get the picture. A turf war between rival Sri Lankan gangs led to this murder (and a mysterious three or four other murders that somehow never got reported to the police), except as we know from the new version, no it didn't.
He said: ‘It’s non-stop. There are fights between them all the time – the police are always splitting them up.
‘There have been three or four murders in the past year around here but they never get reported. It’s like living in a war zone.’
You might be tempted to give the paper the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe the bit about no evidence of gang involvement came later than this article and the two hacks involved had no idea who was involved and that was the most likely explanation at the time. But then, I've read the rest of the article and you probably haven't. It goes on to say:
Scotland Yard said in a statement: ‘ The suspect, described only as a white male, got out of the cab and was involved in an argument with the driver.The suspect is a white male - which kind of implies that he isn't involved in a turf war between rival Sri Lankan gangs. And yet the only explanation we're offered for the murder is the turf war and rival Sri Lankan gangs. No wonder the story's been replaced on the website.
The Mail's main claim to being anti-, or at least not-racist rests on its coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder. One of the most shocking aspects of that murder and the police's complete mishandling of the case, which led to the MacPherson Report and a massive shake-up in the way the police work, was the way that the police assumed that Lawrence must have been up to no good because he was black. Here, we have the Mail assuming that the Asian victim of a murder must have been the victim of a Sri Lankan gang turf war - even though the person accused was white.
The Mail's coverage of the Lawrence murder, which it still cites in its defence when being accused of racism, took place eleven years ago.
**UPDATE** The story no longer shows up in a search of the Mail site for 'Racist Murder' or any other term I can think of that should turn this article up at all. Could be that there'll be better coverage in tomorrow's paper to make up for this, since Moorty's picture didn't turn up in the Standard until today. Could be I've jumped the gun a bit. I hope I have.