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Book Review: Reporting the Troubles - Journalists Tell Their Stories of the Northern Ireland Conflict


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Nowadays, Northern Ireland mostly figures in British daily news as one in many roadblocks on the path to Brexit.

Twenty years ago, however, what it covered was the Good Friday Agreement and the process leading up to it, which marked a happy culmination to the previous bloody decades of the Troubles. 

Images courtesy of The Oxford Publicity Partnership Ltd

From the late sixties and early seventies all the way up to the slow path to peace during the nineties, journalists from Britain and beyond went there to cover the Troubles, which had proven too big and too important to be covered just by local reporters.

Reporting the Troubles spans that entire period, starting with violence breaking out at a civil rights march in Londonderry on October 5, 1968, all the way up to the path to peace and the legacies of the conflict.

Each chapter is a reminiscence of a different reporter, covering a moment in time until it builds a somewhat coherent timeline of a conflict (those do not tend to follow a logical narrative). Students of journalism would be familiar with the phrase “writing the first draft of history” being used to describe what a reporters’ job is (especially in terms of conflict reporting). Now, some of those who wrote it come back to offer an “epitaph, of sorts”.

It is understandably a heavy read that looks at a time of news reporting when the slower pace of news from previous decades could not simply keep up with what was happening. Sixty journalists recollect the one memory that is still bright from their time reporting on the Troubles.

In that respect, this book does not offer in-depth analysis (or even an exhaustive collection of voices, for that matter), nor does it try to. However, it remains a great resource that reflects on the nature of the journalism profession (to what extent should and can a journalist get involved, or should they endeavour to remain impartial), as well as the effects of violence on a people. That makes it suitable for any student of journalism and of the Troubles.

The collection celebrates the work of many of the journalists covering the Troubles, who worked through incredibly heavy conditions to deliver up-to-date news, but also the subjects of their work – the people who suffered through the Troubles.

As a new generation, which doesn’t have direct memories of that conflict slowly fills out the workplace, it is worth reading this collection to be reminded that peace is not the default; it is not as stable or easily achievable as it might seem.  

Reporting the Troubles: Journalists tell their stories of the Northern Ireland conflict. By Deric Henderson and Ivan Little (Blackstaff Press, Oct-2018, £14.99, PB, 9781780731797) - buy here.

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