The Amanda Knox case is another blow to the press

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do.

News that Amanda Knox had been found guilty sent publishers into a spin. Nowadays we all want to be FIRST!!!!!, the irritating commenter who leaves their response first under a story, and first is everything, whether it's completely right or not. It was only a few minutes later, when those who had been patient enough to listen to the Italian translation of the whole verdict, realised that Knox was only guilty of libel, and not of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

It's embarrassing for the Mail Online, and others, who in their rush to publish, got it so badly wrong. It's understandable that a paper would have two versions of a story ready to go; and that legal teams and all other parties would provide quotes to the media based on both eventualities ahead of any decision. What isn't understandable is the making up of details: "She sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably", according to the Mail, but that never happened, because she wasn't found guilty.

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do, and quality can suffer as a result. This sort of thing has always happened in newspapers since the presses began to roll - remember the photo of a grinning Harry Truman holding up a front page saying he had been defeated in the presidential election - and many are the times when papers will have a couple of versions of a story ready to go when they know what the outcome is.

Sometimes, mistakes are made, and that's the product of simple errors and incompetence rather than malice. All that said, the guessing of details about what might have happened really isn't good enough. If you don't know, don't say anything; don't guess at what might have happened and then get it tidied up once you've had half a million unique users piling in to the story. That sort of thing isn't going to restore trust in journalism after the recent scandals, regardless of whether it's an honest mistake rather than a malicious one. The overly rapid handling of the Knox case is another dent in the credibility of our press and their ability to be trusted.

I mention Knox rather than Raffaele Sollecito because the popular narrative with this story has never been about him. This has been, for better or worse, the tale of a not unattractive white American woman embroiled in a murder which may have had sexual elements to it; who even remembers what Sollecito looks like? Or that Rudy Guede is in prison, serving time for the crime? It has always been the story of Knox, or 'Foxy Knoxy' as the tabloids have lasciviously called her, based on a moniker she once gave herself online.

No wonder Kercher's family feel she has been forgotten in all the attention directed at Knox, and to a much lesser extent, Sollecito and Guede. Knox's face stares out from all the newspapers, on one occasion photographed so that her face was framed with a light above it as a halo, while the victim fades away into the background.

Who remembers Kercher's agony and her family's pain of loss? But that is the way of these things. The very least the tabloids so joyously feasting on the gory details could do would be to be as accurate as possible, if they aren't going to be respectful. But they can't even do that.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.