Tragic journalism (1927) – Antoni Rovira and Virgili

HISTORICAL PIECES CHOSEN BY JOSEP MARIA CASASÚSFrom the article by Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, 1882 – Perpignan, 1949) in ‘La Publicitat’ (7-I-1927). It describes a chronic journalistic disease: the relevance given to crimes. An atavistic phenomenon. Tobies Peucer, author of the oldest known doctoral dissertation on journalism, presented in Leipzig in 1690, already analyzed the morbid attraction to crime that a part of newspaper readers feel. Three hundred years later, Nordenstreng attributed it to the fact that journalists prioritize “subjective information needs” (what the public wants to know) over “objective information needs” (what the public needs to know). Image: header of a page mentioned in the text.

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The question of stories and reports of crimes and misfortunes in the Press has been discussed many times. Should the newspapers publish the facts of the tragic chronicle at length? Do they have to serve the readers, at every moment, the blood and liver dish? We have come into our hands a copy of Freedom, from Madrid. We were at the Ateneu Barcelonès table. Mechanically, we have been retracing the epigraphs of the Madrid leaf. And we have been struck by the enormous abundance of epigraphs of a tragic nature. We found them in all plains, and of all sizes. It was a museum of crime and catastrophe. We want to quote the epigraphs that moved us the most… On the first page we find “A crushed family”. In the third – the most horrible – we read in large letters in two columns: “Horrible tragedy: at the Ribadeo Hospital three elderly people are killed by another patient”. On the same plain, we read other large letters and two columns: “Bloody day”. These are car accidents, with deaths and injuries. […] Let’s look at the fourth plana, and see among others “The crime of Aravaca” […]. And even in the last plane, playing the ads, we read: “Destroyed by a train”. All this in one issue. And if we were to quote all the similar epigraphs that this issue contains, we would fill half the space reserved for this chronicle. We are not in favor of suppressing or systematically reducing the news of the black chronicle, which is part of the very diverse set of social life, to a few lines. But we are even less in favor of inflating them and making them stand out. What effect must the sight of these tragic epigraphs and the reading of this information, of a muddy and often grotesque melodramatism, have on the reader? If the importance given to this information is profitable for the newspapers, we must form a very sad concept of the mentality of the public. In any case, the journalistic exploitation of the voracity of bloody events does not honor the Press. “The public wants it,” we will be told. But not all the tastes of the public – of a part of the public – can be catered for. While pleasing readers with bad taste, one spoils the taste of the reader who keeps it healthy. Paris newspapers have a reputation for being “criminalists”. They are, in fact, much more so than those of London, Brussels, Geneva, Berlin, Rome or Milan. However, “criminalism” tends to decrease in the French press. On the contrary, some newspapers in Madrid and Barcelona show a growing tendency to report blood. Is life like this? No, no! As a whole the citizens’ life, crimes and misfortunes represent a much smaller part than the proportion of space devoted to them by horror journalists.

Source: – Portada by

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