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Did newspapers invent Jack the Ripper?

Did newspapers invent Jack the Ripper?

According to a new book published by Dr Andrew Cook, Jack the Ripper was an invention created by journalists to boost sales. Historian Andrew Cook claims that the murders of several women in Victorian London were the work of not one man, but of various men involved in a spate of unrelated attacks.

In his book entitled "Jack the Ripper: Case Closed," Cook draws on the evidence and accounts offered by police and medical experts at the time to argue that there were too many differences in the style of the killings to suggest that all the victims died at the hands of the one same man. Among the testimonies supporting this view include one from assistant police surgeon Percy Clark, based at the Whitechapel Division. Clark, who had unparalleled access to all the victims, told the East London Observer in 1910: "I think perhaps one man was responsible for three of them. I would not like to say he did the others."

Cook says that such accounts, however, were not favoured by news editors looking to get a good story and so it was that Jack the Ripper was born. The first time the name appeared was in a letter addressed to the Star, a paper which launched just before the murders began, in which the supposed murderer brags about the killings before signing himself off as "Jack the Ripper." Cook even has the backing of a handwriting expert who confirms that a Star journalist was behind the letter.

Nevertheless, the idea that one "evil" man could be capable of such brutality, soon took hold of the public's imagination and as the newspaper wars kicked off, balanced reporting was ditched in favour of sensational news stories guaranteed to shift papers off shelves.

The Jack the Ripper case has spawned myriad theories as to what actually happened all those years ago, many of which have been documented in numerous books and films, not to mention the various companies offering guided walks around Ripper's London.

The space of time that has passed since the killings, as well as the fact that the media spotlight on this subject is no longer as intense as it once was, means that we are able to look at the evidence from a more detached viewpoint. Although, given the number of newspapers that have reported this latest theory, there is as yet no sign of our appetite for Jack the Ripper abating.

Dr Cook has given us food for thought, however morbid, but also raises questions about journalistic integrity. Recently, the Editors Weblog looked at the unbalanced reporting of the G20 London summit by the UK press, as well as hyped media coverage of the Mexican swine flu which - despite having spread beyond the Central American country's borders - is, so far, largely contained.

Coincidentally, Eric Burns has just launched his book "All the News Unfit to Print," which is an in-depth study of misleading and invented newspaper stories, who "reintroduces us to a number of prominent journalists who, finding the news lacking, simply made it up."

In an audio interview with On the Media, Burns says that contrary to popular belief, journalists were once more responsible at reporting than they are today, there has never been a "golden period" in newspaper journalism and cites examples of misleading comments and articles from various periods in print news history to support his argument.

Sources: The Telegraph.co.uk , The Times.co.uk , The Daily Mail.co.uk , On the Media



Soraya Kishtwari


2009-05-04 16:58

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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