CASE STUDY: A POLICE OPERATION THAT ENDED IN TRAGEDY IN A DISCOTHEQUE IN MEXICO CITY
Have you read in recent days a story that you have found especially interesting? Is that same story shown in different kinds of media? Which media did you use for informing yourself about that?
Sometimes, the same story is covered in different ways depending on the kind of media in which it is shown. The way that stories are told is crucial for engaging an audience.
It is worth remembering that news tends to be less interesting as days go by. So, every news story faces a great challenge in keeping the receivers of the story interested in the event. Often, new information about an event stops being reported, but news media still carry the story. How can a story still be attractive to an audience when the information has already been said? The answer to this question lies in how an audience is engaged by the media maker. One of the elements that can make stories appealing is emotion, in other words, feelings. When making a story, the information about people’s feelings makes it stronger because the audience may feel better connected with it or might identify themselves with people in it.
Let us take a look at one specific example of how engaging people through an emotionally powerful discourse is always useful. On June 20, 2008, a police operation in a discotheque, called “New´s Divine” located in Mexico City, caused the death of twelve people, three of which were police officers. The other nine were teenagers and young adults between 13 and 21 years old. Some of them suffocated and others were crushed into a wall and left for dead on the street outside the place. Approximately another 16 to 18 people were injured. Reactions to this event are very diverse, since the survivors and the government have different perspectives of what happened.
The New´s Divine was selected for the police operation because there were indications the discotheque sold alcoholic drinks to minors. Since its opening in 1996, the venue had also been closed down at least two times before the tragedy occurred, as it didn’t follow certain basic safety rules. In fact, it was reported that the emergency exit was blocked with a barrel and several empty beer boxes at the moment of the police operation.
El Universal, one of the newspapers having the most circulation in Mexico even had a specific format for presenting information related to this event called “New´s Divine´s case,” in which information concerning that issue had a special space in the front pages of the newspaper every day for about 2 weeks. This format included a square framed in black that appeared in the same part of the page, allowing people to easily and quickly recognize the ongoing coverage of the event and also emphasizing its importance.
The up-to-date information was of the major concerns for the community and, more specifically, for the parents of the dead teenagers because it revealed the irregularities in which the discotheque was operating. So, this event was a detonator in denouncing corruption and also was the perfect scenario to show the inability of the police officers to coordinate themselves to address these types of issues and circumstances.
In the beginning, the news reported the number of dead people and the chronology of events. Information was stocked with hard facts, but as days passed the information began to differ. Everyday, new facts were added to what people knew, and sometimes, the important topics around the issue tended to change completely from one day to another. If in one account, the owner of the discotheque appeared to be guilty, the next day papers would say that it was the police. The day after, the lack of safety measures in place would be the point to highlight. Later on, as people were beginning to become distant from the event, the narrative of the story began to focus on the surviving testimonials and the grief of parents and friends of the victims.
In the particular case of this event, journalists tried to commit themselves to communicate concrete facts and numbers and purely describe events. However, as time went by, the information was exchanged for the stories of the suffering. The coverage turned to show testimonies of the survivors and of victims’ relatives and neighbors were shown becoming increasingly emotional with time and placing more emphasis on people’s feelings. When a group of people is filled by the emotional impact of death and tragedy as in this case, journalists can can shift perceptions of the event simply by shifting the focus of their coverage, from numbers to names to faces.
As a result of the tragedy, some politicians and even police officers were removed from their duties, others resigned. As the information fluctuates between facts and feelings, civil society is immersed in confusion. Who’s to blame? Who’s fault is it? Which kind of information are people getting from media? Well, it all depends on the action of that media.
Take a look at these two videos. Decide which one of them is more attractive to you, and why?
Video posted by “oscarher50” June 21, 2008. www.youtube.com.
Official version of the video, edited by the government.
Video posted by “luis25s” June 26, 2008. www.youtube.com.
A complete version of the video, not edited.