the Sheffield Star Newspaper Article

on Bellringing at Ranmoor

14th May 2010

 Or how a good publicity opportunity of a newspaper article on bellringing backfired

  We published an article in the parish magazine inviting local groups to have a talk and demonstration of bellringing at Ranmoor. Rachael, a freelance journalist, responded asking for a demonstration on which she could write an article for the Star; this was arranged for the Tuesday before the General Election. In the meantime we brought our narrowboat to Sheffield Basin, and invited the Star to write an article about the journey: suffice to say the picture was fine but the words had all the facts wrong. This article was on the Ringing Chamber noticeboard when Rachael and the photographer visited: we specifically pointed this out, and discussed how we would avoid similar inaccuracy in our bellringing article; for this reason Rachel committed to check the article with us before publication; there was no equivocation and there was no misunderstanding between us at the time. This is of course not the standard practice of the Star and the Editor denied any such agreement "because there is the possibility that [interviewees] get the impression that they can edit the article; this is never allowed".

  After publication there was a series of telephone calls and emails, one of which asked us for an analysis of the errors in the article, on which this page is based. The Editor's view was that Rachael agreed to contact usat a later date if she had further questions to ask, her regular working practice and would check her facts with this website. But the Editor wasn't there ... Anyway, the article is factually wrong, it is damaging to our work and reputation as volunteer bellringing instructors, and its publication fails to meet the personal and professional commitment to us by Rachael.  

  We asked for an equal prominence reply, but this was refused. The Star did publish a letter finally on 29th June.


 The Star Article online and printed  

What she should have said

"It's not as easy as it looks" as pulling on ropes can have lethal consequences

This appeared only in the printed version, and was written by the subeditor from the copy supplied by Rachael. The Editor said "Headlines should never be read in isolation", but it is the first words on the page for the reader. The word “lethal” has a specific meaning: it is not just hazardous, not just something to be avoided as potentially dangerous. It means  “That may or will cause death; … deadly Did Rachael genuinely believe, on completing our teaching session, that she had just escaped from a life-threatening activity? That is what the headline tells its readers.

Learning ropes of bell ringing has real a-peal

Also only in the printed edition.

Photo: Peter teaching Rachael

Bell ringing - Rachael learns the ropes

Published Date: 14 May 2010 By Rachael Clegg [Star] News Reporter

Main headline was in both versions: attribution was the online version
Ringing the changes:

Reporter Rachael Clegg given expert tuition by Ranmoor bell-ringer Peter Scott.  Pictures: Steve Ellis

Accurate
THEY'VE been ringing the changes for decades at Ranmoor Church. Reporter Rachael Clegg went along to try her luck at campanology.   Accurate
"IT'S an important thing to be able to let go," says Elaine Scott. But Elaine's not expounding a life philosophy, she's teaching me the ropes - quite literally. I'm here with the Ranmoor Ringers at Ranmoor Church, for a quick lesson in bell ringing. It's not as easy as it looks Accurate
There are dozens of 'strokes' in bell-ringing, with names such as the Sally Stroke and the John Guild Association, each requiring a subtle variation on pulling the rope.

It is hard to find words adequately to describe the absurd drivel in this sentence. Taking unrelated words from five different conversations, and jumbling them randomly would make more sense. There is nothing on the Ranmoor Ringers’ website that remotely relates to these words in anything like this order. No doubt odd notes between our training sessions could not be reconciled. To publish something that makes vague sense for the interested reader is surely the purpose of professional reporting. Let's try some accurate sentences with these words:

The ringing action has (exactly) TWO strokes: ‘handstroke’ and ‘backstroke’.

The thicker part of the bellringers’ rope, iconically  red-white-and-blue, is called the ‘sally’

To maintain the regular and even gap between the striking of the different bells requires each ringer to adjust their bell with a small (maybe even subtle) variation of their pull, momentarily balancing the bell at the top of its swing for a shorter or longer time than the other ringers

Bells start with the highest to the lowest note, smallest to largest bell, in a basic sequence called ‘rounds’: There are many dozens of sets of rules (called ‘methods’) to ring the bells in different orders, eventually returning rounds after three minutes or thirty minutes or three hours or thirty hours, or any time in between.

Bellringers have historically joined together in Guilds: our local one is the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers: no doubt a squiggled “Yorks” can be read back as “John”.

"Just pull that down to your nose," instructs Peter, as a huge length of rope comes falling from above. Could be improved. It is the pull which causes the bell to turn, and hence rope comes through its garter hole
Practice sessions like this aren't heard by the neighbouring community. Instead a clever sensor system picks up on the movements of the bell and the ringing is mimicked by a computer. Accurate
And while bell-ringing seems fairly innocuous, it can be lethal.

This is the sentence on which the subeditor based the offending headline

 For Rachael, as with all trainee bellringers, we covered a standard safety briefing and demonstration. It is important that trainees understand that an instruction to ‘let go’ is immediately obeyed, however unlikely it is to be needed with proper training and practice.

There are risks in bellringing, as there are in getting out of bed or crossing the road. They need to be properly understood. We have a potential audience of local learners, whom we seek to recruit for the continuance of our ancient craft. To confront them in the first line of big type with the sentiment that pulling on ropes can have lethal consequences is wholly unacceptable scaremongering, as well as a fundamental misrepresentation of what was said…

"People have been killed before by the bells," says Ranmoor bell ringer Peter Scott, ...

… which was about people being struck by bells and killed when working among the bells. It is significantly more difficult to kill yourself in the ringing chamber while two floors and lots of steel girders away from swinging bells. Insufficient distinction is made between bellringing in the ringing chamber where the main hazard is ropes flapping about, the subject of the safety briefing and demonstration and bell maintenance in the bell chamber where it is unsafe to be within the swing of the bell itself

... from Crosspool, who along with wife Elaine has been ringing since 1971.   This is one of these archetypal “mother of three” journalist-sentences where personal information is included without relevance to the subject of the sentence.
"We haven't had any accidents here, but at other churches when people have been in the tower they have been hit by the bells."  The use of the word “tower” in its normal sense would mean to most readers  everything from ascending the tower steps to being in the ringing chamber. It is insufficiently specific to give the context to the quote about being hit by bells.
Weighing, as they do, more than a few tons each it's not hard to see how this is dangerous. Just plain inaccurate. Ranmoor bells weigh between 5cwt and 16cwt each. There are about forty thousand bells hung for full-circle ringing in the British Isles, in about six thousand different towers. Of these, the number of ringing bells of  “more than a few tons”, with  the generous interpretation of over two and and half tons is EIGHT.
Peter takes me up into the tower to look at Ranmoor's 10 bells. They are indeed much bigger than one would imagine, each occupying a small space of the beam-flanked tower. This still doesn’t make the proper distinction between the tower, the containing entity for everything, the ringing chamber and the bell chamber.Also “much bigger” and “small space” are juxtaposed confusingly. The tower is not just “flanked” (definition: at the side) by beams, but they go across the tower in both directions at right angles. 
"If you were up here without ear protection and the bells were ringing the sound would be a real hazard," says Peter. He rings one bell just one to demonstrate. It is incredibly loud. Accurate. The ringing was striking the clapper of a down bell: we viewed from a safe distance a bell being rung full-circle from the ringing chamber below
The sheer size and weight of the bells at Ranmoor Church means that, when the bells are swinging upwards, the power of the pull is enormous.  “swinging upwards” does not usefully covey the physical characteristics of a bell ringing full circle. Reading the sentence alone would not allow a reader to understand or accurately describe the motion of the bell, wheel, and rope when ringing
"We've had people pulled up as far as the door frame before," ... Not an accurate quotation, and derived from part of the standard safety briefing and demonstration. It goes something like “If the stay breaks the bell continues to pull up the rope and the ringer needs to let go. If you don’t, the bell is heavier than you and it will carry you off your feet. I was teaching Andrew,  he pulled to hard, broke the stay, and didn’t let go until his feet were at the top of the door …it was my fault as I was the teacher and he was learning” So notWe've had people pulled up” but “We’ve had Andrew pulled up”. Just the one of him.
...says Elaine, who has been bell ringing for 39 years. More of the “mother of three” journalese where personal information is sprinkled in sentences without relevance to their main subject.
"It's a wonderful feeling when you're pulling the weight of the bell. You can get the balance right quite easily and, when you do, like any physical feeling that you get right, it's wonderful." That was the purpose of doing a practical session, and is exactly the feeling we were attempting to convey. The session could have produced a good article if the errors had been ironed out.
Elaine and Peter met as novice bell ringers at university in Southampton. Since then the pair have travelled across the country bell ringing, and even run sessions at Ranmoor Church teaching children and adults how to ring. One of their students is Natasha Dikrin, 11, from Tapton, who has already learned almost a dozen strokes. Accurate: a strange linking of two unrelated issues. "[We] even run sessions" sounds odd
"I really enjoy teaching," says Elaine. "Ringers are very friendly - you could go anywhere in the country and join in at any church."   The “friendly” is accurate but not all churches have bells hung for full-circle ringing, and it is these that have the friendly groups of ringers. Of the six thousand different towers mentioned above, they are predominantly in Church of England churches, of which there are over sixteen thousand. Of other denominations, the chances of coming across one with bells hung full circle is small.
Peter and Elaine are part of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers, whose emblem is stitched into their jumpers. To be pedantic, Elaine had the Yorkshire Association emblem, and Peter had that of the Whirlow bellringing course
And, although the couple have been ringing for a long time, they confess they are not experts yet. "The Cathedral ringers are much better than we are," says Elaine. The point was that we all continue to learn new things in bellringing. The practice at Sheffield Cathedral is usually more technically advanced than the practice at Ranmoor. Both have a valuable role in giving ringers the chance to learn and practice new things.
* The Ranmoor Ringers practice on a Tuesday night from 7.30pm to 9pm, and ring at the Sunday morning service from 9.30am to 10am and the evening from 5.45pm to 6.30pm. This was the information on this website, although the Sunday Morning service on the third Sunday each month had been changed to a halfhour earlier, and all other Sunday mornings to a halfhour later. We would have welcomed the chance to correct the website before publication of the article
Pulling power: The huge bells at St. Johns Church Ranmoor, lift people off their feet. This appeared on the printed version as an overlay on a general picture of the outside of the church. It suffers the same problems as other headlines 

 

The Star letter of 29th June.

Dear Editor,

The Editor blames the Headline-Writer, who blames the Journalist, who blames the Interviewee. So you’re telling me it’s MY fault that my passion of forty years - teaching church bellringing - is, the Star says, a life-threatening activity for my learners.

But for the ‘lethal’ in your headline, I could laugh at the crazy inaccuracies in the rest of the article, however much my fellow bellringers think I have let them down, and I share their emotions about your journalism.

Peter Scott
St Johns Ranmoor Bellringers

 

 

Go to Parish Magazine article

Back to News Index

Go back to Homepage