Sinking of Titanic
At 11.40 p.m. on the 14th of April, 1912, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, RSM Titanic clashes with an iceberg and starts her final journey into deep waters. More than 1,500 passengers are dragged with the Titanic.
Since that fateful night, the story of the ship of dreams has been spread the world and conquers its place in the cultural imagination.
A few hours after the accident, the Associated Press issues a statement that accounted for the collision of the RMS Titanic against an iceberg and the request for immediate help. The news breaks the tranquility of a quiet Sunday night in the American newsrooms. In the absence of more information, the editors decide to address the news with caution; after all, the Titanic was the largest and most modern ship ever built. Journalist Carr Van Anda is the exception.
Carr Van Anda leads the newsroom in a frantic search for the Titanic and prepares the front page that would become iconic. The managing editor of The New York Times realises that the silence of the Titanic communications did not bode good news for the vessel.
From across the Atlantic, there were those who chose to publish a cautious version. The International Mercantile Marine, responsible for the White Star Line, brings his opinion to the newsrooms, describing the ship as “unsinkable.” The statements contribute to the increasing confusion and contradictory reports.
The time difference benefits the American newspapers, which have more time to gather as many facts as possible and build a narrative. But even the more moderate versions fail to foresee the true scale of the tragedy.
In the days following the wreck, the news spreads around the world and arrives to Portugal.
In several daily newspapers, the coverage shows the use of innovative techniques on a graphic level, which allows to illustrate the scale of the tragedy in a way that’s more understandable to readers. Technical and geographic details of the accident come to life through illustrations and laboriously drawn graphics, providing a visual reference point.
With the release of the full list of passengers, the tragedy gains faces. The society’s elite of the time that travelled on board of the ship is the Media coverage’s main target.
Their wealth, connections and the role they assumed before the catastrophe fill pages and pages. The idea that neither wealth nor power was enough to save the ill-fated passengers from the unstoppable force of nature is inherent to the Media coverage.
The stories of the shipwreck
The Media coverage of the shipwreck is made of short stories. From the passengers to the crew, through the ship builders, the newspapers’ pages are filled with new players.
But the most awaited protagonists are aboard the Carpathia. The ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic is not authorised to communicate with the press about the details of the tragedy. Journalists can only wait.
The arrival of the Carpathia to New York was scheduled for Thursday, the 18th of April. On board come the survivors, the only witnesses of the horrors of that fateful morning. To access a first-person account was the main aim of the journalists, crowded in the New York harbour.
After the innovative coverage of The New York Times, in the hours immediately after the shipwreck, Van Anda has his sights set on a goal – to talk to Harold Bride, the Titanic telegraph operator. If there is anyone with knowledge of the events of the dawn of the 15th of April, it is Bride, and The New York Times had to hear his story.
The Carpathia docks at 09.30 p.m. and the issue would close three hours later. Van Anda is not intimidated. The New York Times occupies an entire floor of a hotel near the docks, turning it into his headquarters, with telephones connected to the newsroom. Sixteen journalists are deployed to try to collect not only testimonies of survivors, but also small stories involving the arrival of the Carpathia, the reaction of the crowd and the police measures.
In a stroke of genius that proves fruitful, Van Anda sends the journalist Jim Speers to interview Guglielmo Marconi, known for his work on the development of the wireless telegraph. The reporter follows Marconi into the Carpathia, restricted to journalists.
The adventure results in an interview that goes down in History, and a piece that crowns the work of The New York Times, considered by experts the first real Media coverage of disasters.
However, The New York Times is not the only one to challenge the Carpathia black out. In that distant night of April, The Evening World is unexpectedly confronted with an interlocutor located, precisely, in the most desired location: on board of the Carpathia.
A journalist from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch– a publication that, such as The Evening World, is owned by the Pulitzer family – is on board of the vessel in leisure, when the ship deviates from the route to provide assistance to the survivors of the Titanic. From its privileged position, Carlos F. Hurd gets firsthand accounts from the victims of the tragedy. Nevertheless, getting around the ship’s silence policy in order to deliver the exclusive story to the newspaper becomes a more challenging task.
In his inability to access the ship, Charles E. Chapin, city editor of The Evening World, rents a boat to get as close as possible to the Carpathia. Leaning over the railing, legend has it that the journalist Carlos F. Hurd throws the manuscript to Chapin’s expectant arms, a set of reports that helped reconstruct the tragic night in the Atlantic.
During the decades that followed, and to this day, the Titanic and the lives of the deceased passengers fascinate the world.
A timeless event
With the development of the communication Media, the accident gains several research and dissemination platforms. Footage of the era survives the passage of time and contributes to immortalise the story of the disaster.
Over the decades, BBC gathered reports from survivors, fragments of one of the greatest maritime disasters of the twentieth century.
On television, documentaries use the latest technology to explore the mysteries of the ship and to discover the yet untold stories.
From the proven facts to popular imagination, the story of the Titanic sails throughout the sea of memory and is one of the most mediated events of the twentieth century. From early on, this tragedy inspires cultural events of several kinds.
The most famous adaptation arrives in 1997 by the hand of James Cameron. The feature film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio is a blockbuster. With 11 Academy Awards, it is one of the most award-winning films in the History of the Seventh Art.
The Media attention it gathers makes the film a true classic of modern times. Over a hundred years later, the sinking of the Titanic continues to produce narratives and to conquer interest throughout the world. Immortalised in memory and in pop culture, the maiden voyage of the ship conquers a place in the imagination of several generations.
Going back in time and exploring the Media coverage of that time means understanding how the tragedy becomes public, which information is disclosed and which information sinks with the ship on that terrible night of April.
A atenção mediática dedicada ao Titanic é crucial para garantir que a história e as estórias do “navio dos sonhos” não tenham permanecido para sempre submersas nas profundezas do Atlântico.