Anatomy of a news story

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 110.

A fairly commonplace article appeared in the Cambridge News at the end of August. I think it says a lot about how cycling is viewed. I think it illustrates victim blaming.

Article - see accessible text below

[Attribution: Featured article written by Raymond Brown, Cambridge News]

(Text version of image)

Cyclist injured in collision with van amid rush hour traffic in Cambridge

A cyclist1 has been injured amid rush hour traffic today when he was in collision2 with a van on a busy3 Cambridge road.

The man, who was wearing a helmet4, was riding along Milton Road just before the junction for the guided busway when he was struck5 by a van.

Paramedics treated the rider at the side of the road and called Cambridgeshire police6.

A force spokesman said: “We were called by the ambulance service after a cyclist7 was in collision with a van on Milton Road. The cyclist suffered minor injuries and did not have to go to hospital.”

  1. Notice ‘cyclist’ the person but ‘van’ the inanimate object. The van did not do it all of its own accord. At least it wasn’t described as an ‘accident’.
  2. ‘He was in collision with a van’: It’s always phrased like this. Why not ‘when a van collided with him’?
  3. So the road was busy. What is this trying to say? That collisions are inevitable if it was busy? That the cyclist shouldn’t have been on a busy road?
  4. What is the relevance of this? We are told the cyclist had minor injuries treated at the scene. If he had had head trauma, perhaps this would have had some relevance, but here it is completely irrelevant. Why aren’t we told that the van’s tyres had the right amount of tread,or that the driver was not using a mobile phone at the time?
  5. ‘He was struck’: the use of the passive here suggests it was serendipity, just ‘one of those things’, like ‘he was struck by lightning’, not the result of one or other party’s action. I would have said: ‘The collision took place on Milton Road just before the junction with the guided busway.’
  6. So the police were called, quite rightly. But what did they do? This section of Milton Road has a particularly wide mandatory cycle lane, so was the van driver in the cycle lane when he or she hit the cyclist? And if so what action are the police taking? That would have been the interesting part of the story. Or was the cyclist outside the lane, and if so, why?
  7. Three times we are told now that it was the ‘cyclist’ who was ‘in collision with the van. In that order. Are they really trying to say it was the cyclist’s fault? Do they think this phrasing sounds neutral and non judgemental?. I don’t, especially when repeated three times in an article of only 100 words.

David Earl