Hard News by Russell Brown


Memories of the news

"What was the first major news story you remember as a child?" read the meme a journalist friend posted on Facebook yesterday.

The responses were intriguing to watch, and tended to have the effect of reminding me that I've been around a while. People I regard as peers cited infant memories of news events (the Falklands war, even Live Aid) that I experienced as a young adult. Others named events (JFK's assasination, Sputnik 1, the Suez Crisis) that I was either too young to recall or hadn't been born for.

What was striking was how many of them were international events. There were exceptions – Erebus, the Crewe murders – but in general the responses underlined how much even then, when the news wasn't instant and unbounded by distance the way it is now, we were still citizens of the world.

This kind of exercise can be useful. We tend to think of today's global perils as uniquely urgent and unprecedented, yet within our lifetimes we've faced calamity and carried on, over and over. I'm also often struck by how close my birth year (1962) was to World War 2. I grew up reading comics in which the bad guys were (German) Nazis.

And I wonder what memories today's small children will still have in 20, 30, 40 years' time. Will they be shaped differently to mine, given the sheer intensity and ubiquity of news in 2017? Will Trump tower over it all? Will the entertainers who make headlines now linger into the future?

For the record, the earliest news event I could definitely recall was the assasination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. I'd not long started school and I recall the teacher holding up a newspaper page and explaining why the people were crying. And then, much bigger, the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 – it was the era of maps and globes and novelty moon products. Curiously, I remember those more clearly than the historic TV pictures. It was through them that I grew up in the Space Age.

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