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Wales Online team spent a year creating digital tribute to Aberfan disaster victims

By Freddy Mayhew

Wales Online spent a year creating its digital tribute to the victims of the Aberfan disaster that claimed the lives of 144 people, including 116 children, fifty years ago today.

The website joined Welsh dailies in remembering the tragedy, when a waste tip from a coal mine slipped down a hillside and engulfed a primary school and 19 homes.

The South Wales Echo called it “The Darkest Day” on a black front page. The Western Mail carried the image of a clock stopped at 9.13am, along with the words “they will never be forgotten”.

See front pages below

The clock image also features in Wales Online’s digital “centre piece”, which was created using Smartphone software by a team of twelve at the Trinity Mirror-owned site.

Reporters Katie Sands, Huw Silk and Tom Bedford carried out interviews with locals in the Welsh village for the piece, some of whom had spoken for the first time.

The piece took 12 months from inception to live microsite.

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Wales Online editor Paul Rowland told Press Gazette: “What I said to the team was that no words that we had or could come up with could ever do justice to this or could describe it accurately.

“The only way we could describe these stories is to put it into the words of the people who were there.”

He said he felt a “responsibility” to the victims of the disaster, saying: “We sat down this time last year and started talking about what it took to cover the 50th anniversary of something so significant and still so emotionally raw with a sense of occasion and sensitivity and respect that it deserved, but also with a story like this that has been told so many times, how to cut through the noise of it and tell the stories of the people who really matter: the people whose lives changed that day, whether they had loved ones involved in the disaster or they helped with the clear up.”

Rowland said his team “wanted to do something ambitious” and had considered creating a physical memorial space and a virtual reality story to mark the anniversary.

But, he added: “In the end our thought was the last thing we wanted is to look like we were showing off because that couldn’t be further from what we wanted to achieve.

“This is about allowing the stories to shine through and anything that distracted from that wasn’t desirable.”

He added: “Of all the things I have worked on here, I’m enormously proud of what the team have accomplished, because it’s a difficult thing – a lot of people don’t talk about it anymore.

“It’s still a village that has to live with the stigma of the disaster and is still more known for it than anything else. There’s a reluctance to talk about it.

“Finding people willing to share those stories, some of them for the first time, and then tell the story through what they said, I think it’s a tremendous bit of journalism that they have done here.”

Coverage in Welsh dailies:aberfan-the-darkest-day-front aberfan-sw-argus-front aberfan-western-mail

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