‘A Look In The Mirror, Reflections in Tabloid Observations and Broadsheet Prejudices, 1980 – 2010’ by Lynsey Hanley
On 29th October 2013, Liverpool John Moores University were more than proud to welcome new Visiting Fellow in the Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History, Lynsey Hanley, to discuss her most recent work ‘A Look In The Mirror, Reflections in Tabloid Observations and Broadsheet Prejudices, 1980 – 2010’. Having previously heard of Hanley’s work with Estates her 2007 book published under Granta Books and acknowledged her contributions to The Guardian newspaper; it was interesting to hear her latest piece of research from the author herself.
When Hanley began her presentation to a room filled with Liverpool John Moores staff and students, she tapped into nostalgia to ensure that the entire room was entranced by her research. Introducing her research with the statement that The Mirror was the publication that she and her family grew up with, allowed us, the audience, to recall our own experiences with the publication whilst observing the reflections Hanley made. It was also interesting to hear how Hanley’s first memory was the headline ‘Death Of A Hero’ regarding John Lennon’s death.
There were several points within Hanley’s research that really captured my attention. The first of these being the way in which she regarded The Mirror’s relationship with its readers and how by the 1980s most of The Mirror’s readership thought they had the right to have their own feelings expressed. Hanley also explored how this then changed the publication’s purchasers from simply readers to collaborators. It was a new perspective for me, who, as a reader, has, for years, read numerous letters from readers in The Mirror yet never actually contemplated what this meant for the person who had submitted the article or letter.
The second point was the first of the periods that Hanley’s honed in on and that was the Miner’s strike from 1984 to 1985. Hanley highlighted how, by this point, political consciousness was fundamentally divided. She suggested that by 1984 The Mirror had already begun its transition to becoming more like The Sun highlighted by the removal of Daily from its formative title. She referenced the fact that whilst this strike was often a large news focus, the publication appeared to have twin obsessions, with Princess Diana as the alternative. It was captivating to hear how The Mirror approached articles of each nature, with Miner’s strike articles sounding very matter of fact and industrial whilst articles regarding Diana tended to sound more demure and like women discussing her activities. Hanley also made the point that whilst the publication was in transition to being more like its competition; The Mirror had begun to make assumptions about its readership.
The third significant aspect of the research article that fascinated me was Hanley’s analysis of the Shannon Matthews disappearance in 2008. The reason this point stood out for me was because, second only to the Holly and Jessica disappearance in the Soham Murders in 2002, the Shannon Matthews disappearance was a story that I remember reading daily in The Mirror until she was found. Therefore, it allowed me engage on a personal level with Hanley’s points. She stated that by this time The Mirror no longer had loyalty from its readers with only 42% of the country reading any newspaper at all. Hanley regarded the representation of Shannon Matthews case as reckless, which I agree, after hearing Hanley’s points, it was. Hanley acknowledged how the publication had characterised Shannon Matthew’s stepfather’s uncle to be a villain, yet when a local shopkeeper was interview by other press, the shopkeeper regard the man to be a loner who only ever used to come in with his two daughters. By doing this, Hanley highlighted the social criticisms that might or might not be made within the daily newspapers.
Following the completion of the reading, Hanley then took questions from the audience, the first of these being whether or not the fact that the publications are British influences these articles and social criticisms. Hanley went on to state how countries like Germany and France have begun to embrace the tabloid form of journalism as well and citing Scotland’s The Daily Record as a paper that has attempted to steer clear of falling in to the same traps as the others.
Hanley went on to describe where she wishes to take her research next stating that one of her fellow academics had asked, after regarding that there had been little difference in The Mirror between 1950 and 1980, if the publication had a golden age? Hanley expressed that she would like to write another book on social mobility, which would allow her to engage with as much of The Mirror archive as possible. When this book is published, I can only imagine that it will be outstanding and receive as much, if not more, critical praise than its predecessor and I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.
Craig is a student on the MRes in Literature and Cultural History, researching feminism and humour in contemporary writing.