News Shopper brands Woolwich ‘area of death, death, death’

Proper local newspapers champion their communities. We don’t have any in south-east London, though.

We’re lumbered with the News Shopper, which has decided to write off Woolwich as a ” a troubled area of death, death, death” after a man died in the train tunnel near Woolwich Dockyard station. The quote the line’s based on doesn’t even support the headline – a neighbour simply said: “We don’t want death, death, death round here.”

Not that many people around Woolwich Dockyard will see the paper writing off their neighbourhood – the title distributes precisely zero copies there; like my own street, the high-rises and council flat dwellers of post code sector SE18 5 aren’t considered valuable enough for the Petts Wood-based paper’s advertisers. As with the paper’s hysterical branding of New Cross as “murder mile” a couple of years back, it’s the Shopper doing all it knows how to – revelling in the grimmer aspects of urban life to satisfy the prejudices of a suburban audience.

With last night’s tragedy on a bus in Lee, and the stabbing outside the New Cross Venue, I expect there’ll be more of this to come in this week’s paper, for those of us they actually bother to deliver it to. While the council’s dire Greenwich Time is a terrible propaganda paper, it’s not the only one in this area with a cynical agenda. We’d be better off without both of them.

(Thanks to Adam Bienkov for the tip-off.)


  1. We’d be better off witthout a particular newspaper on the basis you don’t like their sensationalising stories of crime and death? What a shocking statement.

  2. This is a shocking presentation of Woolwich and the area I represent. I spoke to residents last week in Belson Road who were shocked by the incident and the tragic loss of life. We see far too often the appalling circumstances in which people lose their lives. Very easy for the Shopper or any other local paper to run down an area from their comfort zone. Little is said about the generosity or commitment of local people . The time is fast approaching for a real community newspaper to be promoted in Greenwich. By the community for the community giving pride and place to those who make the difference in their own locality

  3. @Darryl

    “Proper local newspapers champion their communities.”

    No they don’t. Proper local newspapers report local news in an unbiased manner. Good newspapers, whether local or national, engage in professional, well-sourced investigative journalism.

    “Championing their communities” is the job of PR rags like Greenwich Time.

    While it might be sensationalist, the use of the “death, death, death” quote is not inappropriate in this piece: the local resident said that s/he didn’t want “death, death, death around here,” implying that that’s what they think they have currently.

    @Cllr Fahy

    “This is a shocking presentation of Woolwich… We see far too often the appalling circumstances in which people lose their lives.”

    If we see people losing their lives in Woolwich “far too often,” then what on Earth is wrong with a local newspaper highlighting that fact? The crime and murder rates in Woolwich aren’t going to fall by ignoring or hiding the fact that people are being killed. Perhaps by drawing attention to these horrible events the News Shopper will embarrass the local police and the Council into actually addressing the underlying problems that lead to these horrible crimes happening “far too often”.

    “The time is fast approaching for a real community newspaper to be promoted in Greenwich. By the community for the community giving pride and place to those who make the difference in their own locality.”

    Are you kidding?? What is Greenwich Time supposed to be, if not a “community newspaper promoting Greenwich”? If it isn’t at the very least a “community newspaper promoting Greenwich,” then the Council’s justification for funding it has just been thrown out the window.

  4. Franklin – re-read the headline again. It calls it “a troubled area of ‘death, death, death'”.

    The gentleman quoted said he didn’t want the area to be one of “death, death, death” – a subtle, but important difference.

    As for quality reporting, I don’t think going to crime scenes and asking passers-by to speak their brains (which they’ve also done with the New Cross stabbing) adds anything to the story.

    I’m pleased to see Cllr Fahy comment, and agree with him – how about offloading Greenwich Time?

  5. I didn’t say that this was “quality reporting”. I said that the job of proper local newspapers is reporting local news in an unbiased manner, and that GOOD newspapers also conduct investigative journalism (as you do with regard to Council activities, for example). It’s not the job of local newspapers to “champion their communities”.

    On the semantics: if the interviewee says “We don’t want death, death, death around here” – that implies that he thinks they have “death, death, death” around there – and therefore the sub-title “troubled area of ‘death, death, death'” is entirely appropriate.

  6. I don’t agree with you there, Franklin – I can say I don’t want my street to be clogged with traffic, but it doesn’t mean it necessarily is.

    As for championing the area – obviously a diet of relentless positivity would be daft (see GT) but chasing everything that bleeds, and then asking non-eyewitnesses for non-relevant views just does the area down. It’s a cheap substitute for proper reporting.

  7. “… chasing everything that bleeds, and then asking non-eyewittnesses for non-relevant views just does the area down. It’s a cheap substitute for proper reporting …”

    Or in the case of 853 regarding this one right on our doorsteps – – any reporting at all. South-east London is a violent, crime-ridden area where 14-year-olds are knifed to death on the streets and there’s no ignoring it.

  8. Darryl –

    While your readers appreciate that this is a blog on local politics and Council governance, not a news website, it is a bit strange that your only reaction to these recent horrific events has been to slag off the ‘sensationalist’ reporting of them by a local paper.

    Surely events such as these deserve analysis and investigation – of police policy, for example, or crime trends in the Borough? Would seem a better use of your time than attacking the News Shopper.

    Just saying…

  9. I’m not sure what 853 could add at this point to the reporting on the tragic stabbing in Lee?

    And if anyone should be doing an analysis of “crime trends in the Borough” it surely should be the News Shopper itself, or the council, not this blog. (and anyway FWIW both the recent stabbings took place in the neighbouring borough of Lewisham.) God forbid that the News Shopper might actually do some investigative journalism of its own…

  10. Well, for a start, 853 could add a more substantive rebuttal to the News Shopper piece than simply “look at this crap journalism!!”.

    It should be obvious from my comments above that I fully agree that good journalists do good investigative reporting, and that the News Shopper isn’t good journalism.

    But I fundamentally disagree that “proper local newspapers champion their communities.” That’s not their job in a free society, and I find it concerning that a widely read local blogger and a local councillor would think that.

    So by all means criticise and rebut the News Shopper’s poor journalism using well-argued points and well-sourced facts, but don’t argue that the News Shopper should stop reporting bad news because it makes SE London look bad.

  11. I don’t think anyone is saying the News Shopper shouldn’t report bad news, but does it really need to seize on it with such glee?

    In my home area (in notLondon) the local free paper definitely used to have a role in speaking up for the community, rather than seizing on every bad thing that happened to kick it while it was down, what would be the point of that?

  12. We only receive the News Shopper sporadically, so I can’t comment on the balance of their reporting or whether they “seize on every bad thing that happens to kick the local community while it’s down” (and I personally don’t think my local commuity is “down,” but I live in Greenwich and can’t speak for Woolwich).

    But in answer to the question, “what would be the point of reporting bad news?”, I can do no better than to quote my reply to Cllr Fahy above:

    “Perhaps by drawing attention to these horrible events the News Shopper will embarrass the local police and the Council into actually addressing the underlying problems that lead to these horrible crimes happening “far too often”.”

  13. Perhaps Franklin, Michelle would like to come up with some evidence that south-east London is “crime-ridden and violent”?

    Local papers need holding to account as much as local authorities do. If the papers did their jobs properly, perhaps the council might be forced into doing the same.

  14. @ Franklin – I meant that my hometown was down rather than Woolwich or Greenwich. And I didn’t say there was no point reporting bad news, I said the paper didn’t need to seize on it with glee and I stand by that.

    And yes, lets see the evidence – the police publish local crime data so if the News Shopper had a mind to it could do something with it.

  15. Darryl –

    I never said that southeast London is crime-ridden and violent.

    I totally agree that local papers need to be held to account: as I said, “by all means criticise and rebut the News Shopper’s poor journalism using well-argued points and well-sourced facts”. I don’t think that slagging them off for their ‘sensationalist’ reporting of these tragic crimes is an effective means of holding them to account. It’s just unsubstantiated criticism against unsubstantiated sensationalism.

    Clare –

    From what I’ve seen of it, I don’t think the News Shoper has a mind to republish local crime figures or to do any serious local journalism. That’s one reason that I read 853 and not the News Shopper website.

    The Grauniad has a pretty good local crime stats databog: The Borough of Greenwich comes out about average in London – worse than average on violent crimes, better than average on burglary, but on balance about average.

    To my mind, rebutting the News Shopper’s sensationalism effectively would entail digging into the data and saying, “look, we’ve only had x numbers of murders in Woolwich in the past 10 years, and it’s therefore misleading to label it an area of ‘death, death, death’,” rather than cricising the piece for (arguably) misusing a quote and the fact that the newspapers aren’t delivered in Woolwich.

  16. That is a fair point, Franklin – but I still think sensationalism needs to be called out and labelled for what it is.

    I suspect we’re coming at this from different angles – my motivation for writing this post was frustration at the Shopper’s glee in reporting bad news, with that headline misrepresenting the quote in the balanced story below. If you don’t believe the headline misrepresents the quote, then the point falls apart.

    Incidentally, Surrey cricketer Tom Maynard died under similar circumstances at Wimbledon Park station earlier this year. This kind of death happens in lots of places, not just battered districts like Woolwich.

    As for the actual facts, if anyone wants to drill down into crime stats for Woolwich Riverside ward, feel free!

  17. One thing to say though is that borough-level crime statistics, while interesting, are not particularly practically useful as the variation within boroughs is probably as big as the variation between boroughs.

  18. Took all of 10 seconds to Google this:

    Unfortunately, Woolwich Riverside performs pretty poorly: total notifiable offences in August 2012 almost twice as high as the London average; violence against the person almost three times the London average; ‘most serious violence’ more than three times the London average; anti-social behaviour 2.5 times the London average.

    The good news: residential burglary and car theft only one-quarter of the London average.

    The Grauniad last year reported the murder map for London from 2006-September 2011. Greenwich and Lewisham were among the boroughs with the highest murder rates:

    The important point is that these data are not surprising: crime rates are highly correlated with poverty and social exclusion. And the Council and the national government need to be held to account for failing to address the poverty and social exclusion problems in the Borough, which in turn fuel crime, making areas like Woolwich more ‘battered’ than they would otherwise be, were poverty and social exclusion addressed effectively.

    So – again – by all means call out the News Shopper for their poor journalism, but – at least insofar as good journalistic standards should apply to blogs, which is itself debatable – it’s necessary to use well-sourced facts and well-reasoned arguments to justify labelling their reporting as ‘sensationalism’. In this case, the data suggest that they’re not being as ‘gleefully sensationalist’ as you allege.

  19. “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Eh? You’re moderating comments now? I’m not being abusive or off-topic… although possibly tediously pedantic. 😉

  20. Interesting. But like I said, Franklin, my post was derived from the way the Shopper misquoted the non-witness in the headline, rather than justifying it with use of some research.

  21. Sure. I’ll shut up now (*sighs of relief all ’round*). But just one final observation: I was surprised to find that my East Greenwich ward (Peninsula) has a significantly higher reported crime rate than Woolwich Riverside. The worst in the Borough, in fact. But I’m sure it’s all on the Woolwich side of the A102. 😉

  22. Peninsula stats distorted by the O2 and Millennium retail park – take a look at the sub-wards. Just like Woolwich Riverside’s distorted by the town centre.

  23. Chris –

    Err, well, the sub-ward that includes the O2 (sub-ward E01001667) is the number one crime spot in the Borough. It accounted for almost half (111) of the 229 total notifiable offences in Peninsula ward last month.

    The sub-ward’s pretty big – about half of Peninsula ward spatially – but I can only assume that these reported crimes are happening around the Dome. No idea whether it’s shoplifting, pickpocketing, post-concert drunken brawls or people being run over by buses.

  24. “subwards” (as they are described on the met site – they are actually called middle layer super output areas or something equally catchy) are designed to be roughly similar in population size (rather than spatial area) to each other, as opposed to wards which can vary hugely in population size. They’re also supposed to not change boundary so they can be used to (more easily) monitor trends. I’d guess though that the crime around the O2 bears fairly little relation to the population of the subward…

  25. Thanks Franklin – Yes, it is the Dome that’s the cause of the majority of the crime. A cop friend of mine says that the Dome really distorts the Borough crime figures.

    The bulk of the crime there is theft (purses/handbags/mobiles), public disorder (pissheads basically) and the occasional ‘lower-level’ assault.

    Most of the people nicked there do not live locally.

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