In the caring, sharing newsroom of The Sun, they know what sells newspapers. And what sells newspapers keeps the advertisers happy. And keeping the advertisers happy keeps your job for another month.
So they dispense with the news, and retreat into lurid speculation. They give credence and a veneer of credibility to the knee jerk reactions of the armchair detectives. DFS sofas take an even bigger advert, and everyone is happy. Who said journalists weren’t professionals? Professional advertising salesmen.
Down in South London an unhappy family are making the best of life. Mum and Dad have divorced – it happens in the best of families. Grandma has stepped in to give the children a stable home whilst everyone else goes out to work to pay the rent. Even Grandma has a part time job. And a companion who does the housework for her. No news story there. Nothing to titillate the potential sofa purchaser.
Then Grandma comes home one day from work, and finds 12 year old grand daughter not at home. A worrying time. Has she gone to stay with a friend? Run away to join a circus? Got lost in the Arndale Centre? Grandma doesn’t know. She calls the Police. Sensible move.
Someone tips off The Sun. The Police? Post Leveson, I hope not.
Sun reporters swarm on the ground. They dismiss the innocent suggestions. The Police may not know what has happened, but Sun reporters are sharper than that. Didn’t the media know what had happened to Madeleine McCann and who was responsible – er NO! It cost them handsomely. Yeah, but Joanna Yates, the media knew who the shifty eyed guilty party was there…whoops, cost them handsomely again. Robert Murat? Oh dear! Lessons learned? Not a bit of it. Every penny of Leveson entirely wasted. For missing school girl is not sufficient to shift sofas. 100 Police engaged in the search doesn’t help.
What we need is colour! Emotion! That garage mechanic reading The Sun in his tea-break wants to slap his leg and say ‘Told ya, said it would be the step-father, dirty bastard, I’d string him up’ – when he calms down, there’s always the chance that he might register that DFS sofas have got a sale on this week-end…job done, everybody happy.
And so the innocent, reassuring, solutions to missing Tia Sharp fly out the window – are chased out the window. To be replaced by innuendo and speculation.
There is a witness who has come forward to say he saw Tia leaving her Grandma’s house alone, but that is a minor detail. Swamped by the media’s ‘belief’ that the ‘last person to see Tia alive’ was Stuart Hazell. Now Stuart Hazell has excellent potential to flog newspapers. Let’s see…post Leveson…
Oooh, 8 years younger than Grand-ma. That makes him Grandma’s ‘Toy Boy’. What’s the betting that neither Grandma nor Stuart helpfully disclosed their respective ages to the media?
‘Someone’s managed’ to get info from the Criminal Records Bureau! Past conviction for drug offences! Perfect!
‘Possession of a machete’? My cup runneth over! (The Telegraph particularly excelled themselves with that one – ‘ Missing schoolgirl left in care of ex-prisoner‘, with a sub reference to the machete).
So the ‘Drug dealing, machete wielding, ex-prisoner toy boy lover’ of Grandma is ‘led away’ by Police to a ‘waiting Police car’ through a scrum of photographers anxious to catch every shifty nuance in his face – a waste of time since the sub editors will routinely label him ‘expressionless’ or ‘stony faced’.
Or to put it another way, Grandma’s companion is given a lift to the Police station for unknown purpose – perhaps to identify pictures of someone who Tia has been seen with? The scrum have been tipped off though, and they crowd round taking the last picture of someone who might be charged and prove them all right.
Meanwhile you can complete your collection of Sun reward posters…a bargain £10,000 for fingering the killer of a ‘not completely white special police constable’, a measly £20,000 for Shannon Mathews safe return, £50,000 for Jo Yates’ murderer, £100,000 for the killer of Millie Dowler, £100,000 for the killer of a small white boy, a whopping £150,000 for the double billing of Jessca and Holly – and absolutely nothing for Jia Ashton. Jia was photogenic, but obviously not considered paper flogging material. Surprising what is actually. There’s £2,000 on offer for information about who mutilated a very photogenic horse, and a surprising £20,000 for the return of a CD containing Child Benefit details – I suppose the Sun would have been delighted to have that story for a mere £20,000.
As Roy Greenslade once said: There is a long history of popular newspapers offering rewards in such circumstances, though there’s precious little evidence of them having any positive effect. The offers are really made in order to sell more newspapers.
Whilst they are busy selling more newspapers, there is an odds on chance that they have just added to the distress of a family whose daughter may be merely hiding with a friend. The current speculation is not helping to find her. If, sadly, it does turn out that she is another in a long line of children slaughtered by step-father or step-grand fathers, there will be plenty of time to say so when it becomes fact.
If, on the other hand, there is an innocent solution – how does our knowing that Stuart Hazell used to sleep with Tia’s Mother before he moved onto her Grand-Mother aid the search for her?
Leveson – a Billion pound failure. Fair trial anybody?
Edited to add: Update. It seems the reward is having an effect – marauding bands of locals searching garages for Tia have been met by armed garage owners…and the T-shirts are out already…