Stradivarius violins

The Times report starts by saying that the jet “cut” the wire, rather than “sliced” it. It continues by saying that twenty people “fell” three hundred feet – whereas the Mirror says they “plunged”. The Times spoke to an “angry” woman, the Mirror spoke to “furious” residents. The technician rescued from the second car was, depending on which report you believe, either in “shock” (Times) or “deep shock” (Mirror). These are examples of The Times trying to avoid over dramatising the incident, giving the facts, and letting the reader make up his / her own mind.

There is not as much of an attempt to appeal directly to our emotions (although the penultimate paragraph has presumably been included to appeal to the emotions of Times readers in particular. The news that the accident happened in an area known for the quality of the wood from its trees, which was used to make Stradivarius violins, is likely to be of far less interest to Mirror readers). There is more use of “official” information, either in the form of background details of US Air Force operations in Italy, or reaction to the accident.

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This language is much more matter of fact than a lot of the language used in the Mirror. Newsweek approaches the incident in a completely different way. It says that the jet “clipped” the cable – suggesting that it almost missed the cable, in addition to which the word “clip” does not in itself confirm that the cable was actually broken, much as if the words “brushed against” had been used. Instead of falling or plunging to the ground, the car is described as “tumbling”. This word is often used to describe something comical or childish.

The fact that it was a “yellow gondola” that tumbled, and that it was full of “skiers” (as opposed to people) again tries to divert the readers attention away from the seriousness of what happened – (most people in America probably only think of a gondola as something found on a canal in Venice, they can’t imagine it falling to the ground from the side of a mountain). Although this may technically be a correct way to describe a cable car, it is an attempt to reduce the impact of the sentence.

It talks of villagers having “griped” about the jets for years. The use of this word, rather than “complained”, or “protested”, for example, makes it sound like they were less justified in doing so. It’s the sort of word that you would use to try and dismiss something far less serious, like your neighbour claiming that your baby had kept him awake because of its crying. There is also an attempt to move the blame for the accident away from the US to the Italian authorities.

The commander of the air base is quoted as saying that his pilots “fly the routes they lay out”, although the paper feels that it also has to mention that the US Ambassador “finally conceded that the plane was flying below the minimum approved altitude”. This is one of the few occasions when the Newsweek article contains anything which could be considered damaging to the US case. The last paragraph of the Newsweek article is very puzzling. It contains the sort of theory that would be instantly laughed at if it were suggested by the average man on the street.

It starts by suggesting that European anti-Americanism is more of a problem that the potential loss of European lives due to low flying – you may well agree or disagree with this statement depending upon where you live, America or Europe. It ends by linking the accident (or was it really an accident? ) with the execution of a woman in Texas. The Pope had “personally pleaded for the convicted murder to be pardoned”, but his plea was not successful. The paper quotes the Italian President as saying that he hoped the “accident” wasn’t America’s way of punishing Italy for trying to interfere in its own domestic issues.

It is interesting to compare the endings of the three reports, as it could be said that, apart from the opening heading(s) and/or first paragraph, the way that an article ends is likely to have the most impact on the reader. I have just mentioned how Newsweek ends on a feeling of anti-Americanism in Europe. The Mirror tries to re-enforce the horror of the accident by describing the worst ever cable car disaster, and how two operators were jailed for manslaughter (hinting at an act of sabotage or neglect of duty).

The Times on the other hand diverts us with talk of Stradivarius violins and the fact that the area draws thousands of foreign tourists each year (is the accident likely to have an effect on the economy of the region)? As mentioned above, all three reports use quotations on more than one occasion, and for different reasons. The Mirror focuses heavily on the British tourists, with additional information from rescue workers and local residents, all designed to stimulate our emotions, almost as if we were watching the event as it happened.

There is presumably no TV footage of the accident, so it is trying to bring the event to life as vividly as possible. The Times relies more, though not exclusively, on people who were not witnesses, who can be expected to give more reasoned, less emotional statements. It quotes equally from both Italian and American sources, and tries more than the other two papers to give a balanced account of what happened. Newsweek has no quotations from eyewitnesses (to do so would raise the discomfort levels of the majority of its readers – Americans), and only the two already mentioned officials above in relation to the low flying.

It does quote Grace Potorti, of the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, who is highly critical of low-level flying, but her campaign is against low-level training flights in the United States (suggesting that it’s not such a serious matter to fly low elsewhere). The way that the articles themselves are laid out is very different. The Mirror clearly sets out to shock the reader. Being a tabloid, readers have to be encouraged, enticed, into reading an article, as its readers are traditionally “working class” people who are less likely to want to look in detail at a report.

Tabloids have sometimes been described as “comics”, and whilst that may be a little unfair, it is true that each article on each page has a heading designed to give you a snapshot of the main points, so you can decide if you want to investigate further. So The Mirror has the sensational heading and sub-heading. It also has a photo of a cable car with the caption “DEATH CAR: 300ft plunge”, and a main photo of the crash scene, the caption for which starts with the word “DEVASTATION”, and also includes words such as “crushed”, “doomed cabin”, and “smashed”.

The first paragraph is printed in bold, again using such words as “plunged”, and “sliced”. There is also a diagram, illustrating what happened in very simple terms. It is almost like Mark Dowdney, who wrote the article is challenging the reader, saying something like “you can’t possibly turn over the page without reading this first” The approach of The Times is somewhat different. There is just one heading, and no use of bold type. About the same percentage of the space taken up by the article in The Mirror is occupied by two photos and a map of the area.

The main photo is taken from closer to the scene of the crash, and has more impact on the reader than the Mirror’s photograph. Other than the main photo and the heading, there is nothing else that obviously compels the reader to read on, the paper is leaving it up to the individual to decide for themselves if the article is worth further investigation or not. It is relying to a certain degree on the intelligence of the reader. Not for the first time, Newsweek’s approach is completely different.

There are no photos or diagrams (to include these would risk bringing home the extent of the accident more than necessary) The heading doesn’t refer directly to what happened, instead it sounds more like the title of a Hollywood movie (and in those the Americans are always the “good guys”). The wording of the sub-heading has already been referred to earlier, with the use of words such as “gondola” and “clips” diverting attention and attempting to reduce the seriousness of what happened. The heading appears to be as equally concerned with America’s image as it is with the deaths of twenty people.

The whole article is written in such a way as if the paper is saying “look, I know that we have a duty to write about this, but if we do so in this way, maybe people won’t pay much attention to the article, and turn the page quickly”. I wonder what approach the paper would have taken if any American lives had been lost? There is nothing in the way that this article has been written which encourages the reader to read it, whereas the two British papers have the opposite effect on the reader.

I think that The Times report gives by far the best overall summary, as it deals not only with the accident itself, but also goes into more detail about the background as to why it happened, and the US Air Force operations in Italy. However, if you are looking for a report that brings home the horror of the incident itself, then you have to say that The Mirror does this most effectively. For all the criticism that the tabloid press receives about the lack of quality journalism, and the use of sensational language, there is no doubt in my mind that The Mirror’s report appeals more immediately to the readers sense of sadness at what happened.

I suppose that ideally, you would read The Mirror article first, for the “knee-jerk reaction” of what happened, and then read The Times for the more considered, overall view. Newsweek cannot really be considered in the same context as either of the two British newspapers in terms of reporting the accident or bringing home the full horror. It reports no more than is absolutely necessary to set the scene for its real purpose, that of defending the actions of America.