A media career

Any analysis of media images must be dynamic and there are several theories describing the way in which issues are reported. Downs (1972) suggests a cyclical pattern. Hilgartner and Bosk (1998) say that symbols compete which each other in a number of arenas. Anderson (1997) points out that such theories do not take into consideration the actions of the agents and she perceptively adds that the media lose interest once an issue is sucked into the bureaucratic process. There is little doubt that youth homelessness fell from media prominence after 1990. Several reasons for this can be suggested. Once the resources from the Rough Sleepers' Initiative had been announced, the immediate prize had been gained and agency attention necessarily moved to spending the money. Secondly, with the closing of the Bullring, access to homeless people by reporters and photographers was more difficult. One can also speculate that media attention moved to the outdoor activities of the road protesters to fill the 'outrageous youth' slot. A similar decline in interest in environmental issues is reported by Anderson (1997), quoting a BBC Television News correspondent, speaking in 1993:

You got to the stage, I think, where you got environmental fatigue..

People say 'not again, we've heard it before'.to sustain a news operation you have got to have new stories, and campaigns are all very well but they tend to lose their impetus after a while.

(A.Anderson 1997:176)

Interestingly, as the numbers of reports in the press dropped after the summer of 1990, there was a change in tenor (Wardhaugh 1996) which echoed a more vocal and negative government stance. Two high-profile statements about aggressive begging produced a flutter of media activity. In 1994, the then Prime Minister John Major said that beggars were offensive 'eyesores' who needed to be removed from the streets. In 1995 Jack Straw, the then Shadow Home Secretary, expressed concern about 'aggressive begging by squeegee merchants, winos and addicts' (Guardian 9 September 1995). Later Tony Blair, in an interview with the homelessness magazine, Big Issue, four months before his election as prime minister (13-26 January 1997), said of beggars: 'Yes, of course they are doing something problematic for other people.. King's Cross is actually quite a frightening place for people'. Over the same period, homelessness and begging was being increasingly criminalised, first with the use of the Vagrancy Act 1824 to make arrests and, later, through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill 1994. The link between begging and wider crime was consciously drawn in 'zero tolerance' policing, by both Conservative and Labour governments in the UK, following practices in the USA (Kelling 1995). As the government became more authoritarian, the media coverage shifted from 'street children' to older vagrants.

However, if we look at current media coverage of youth homelessness, we can see that the more positive agency reporting of 'street children' continued but was relocated from the press headlines after 1990 to the reporting of annual media and charity events. Youth homelessness enters the millennium as a popular UK charity cause, reaching the television screen at Christmas, on Red Nose Day or in the week of Children in Need. What was initially a media issue and what failed to become a sustained political issue has now become predominantly a charity issue. This reflects, no doubt, the fact that it was predominately children's charities which were driving the earlier media campaigns. Throughout our research, we have noted the propensity for agencies to migrate to new fields and to flag up new issues in order to gain new funding and further publicity. In a society where the media are so important in catching the attention of the public and the politicians, it is likely that voluntary sector charities will tend to follow mediagenic issues. For example, within youth homelessness, Foyers and Self-build are both such new directions bringing new potential for publicity (Hutson and Jones 1998).

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