HIV piggybacks onto the front page

  • Kim Johnson - 31 July 2013

When it comes to making front page news HIV may not always seem newsworthy on its own but it certainly does add to the news value of other more newsworthy stories.

Last week’s most prolific HIV-related news story had to be the pending trial and subsequent police-holding-cell suicide of alleged serial rapist Sifiso Makhubo.

It is a complete no-brainer that it was not the HIV aspect of this story that landed it on the front page of multiple newspapers, because while HIV-related stories do make it into our papers they seldom make the front page purely on their own steam.

In fact another high-profile HIV-related story that earned a spot on the front page last year was the lurid twist in the Eugene Terre’Blanche murder trial, where one of the accused alleged that Terre’Blanche had raped him and infected him with HIV.

In the journaids blog on that story, we argued that the HIV never makes front-page news in its own right but piggybacks onto the front page with the help of larger more sensational conflict-driven issues.

And much like the Terre’Blanche murder trial story, in the case of the Sifiso Makhubo story, HIV snuck onto the front pages on the coattails of suicide, the serial rape of children and justice averted.

However, on the other hand it could very well be suggested that minus the criminal transmission of HIV angle and the tragedy of those he infected, Makhubo’s story (and the Terre’Blanche rape and HIV story) is less newsworthy.

In this case HIV upped the drama, adding yet another sensational side to this story and adding the punch that powered it onto the front page.

Highlighting the HIV angle of a story certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of ‘spicing up’ a story. However the HIV aspect of a story can be used as an opportunity to bring forward and perhaps spark a discussion about salient issues.

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“Highlighting the HIV angle of a story certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of ‘spicing up’ a story”