Covid-19 has dominated the headlines this year and will continue in 2021. Mostly unrelated to the pandemic, it has been been a year where much-loved friends and family have passed. Like everyone, social contact has been limited, unless it’s taken place over a screen. There has been a lot of sadness, that’s for sure. It doesn’t need dwelling on, which is why I thought I’d make this review a look back at things to be grateful for.
JANUARY – MARCH
Life continued relatively normally up until March, although the virus was starting to spread more widely. At work I was out and about, reporting on stories. Then, the week before lockdown, I achieved a long-held dream which was to studio produce the breakfast programme.
A holiday of a lifetime had been planned for April to visit New York City to watch a Broadway show and see the sights. It wasn’t to be this year but I’m glad to have took the plunge to book something I had wanted to do for so long. The plans will hopefully not go to waste, when life gets a bit more normal and holidays can resume.
STAYING AT HOME
I started working from home on 19 March 2020, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the nation to do the same, during the first lockdown. Underlying health conditions mean I’m classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. As restrictive as staying at home for such an extensive period may seem there are advantages.
Not having to commute to work gave me extra time in each day. It’s been lovely to spend this with my fiancé, who has been shielding with me. When we both worked together in Blackburn we were able to take our lunch breaks together and it’s been nice to do this again, usually with our cat sitting on one of our knees!
In a busy life it’s all too easy to overlook some of the simple things that bring joy. I’d never paid too much attention to the changing of the seasons before. Noticing the plentiful flora and fauna around us and the way it transforms and continues – despite what nature throws at it – became a metaphor for the year. This enhanced awareness of the world around us is something I hope to take with me beyond 2020.
One of the best things I did at the start of the first lockdown was to set my parents up on an iPad. Something we won’t look back on because it’s been a great way to communicate. I normally visit my family in Manchester a lot and vice versa. To have this contact restricted has been difficult. Video calling on FaceTime has helped massively to feel a sense of connection, for which I’m grateful.
Using Zoom and Microsoft Teams has kept me connected to colleagues too. I was delighted to give a talk to journalism students at my former university, UCLan, remotely using this technology. Video conferencing also enabled me to be involved in BBC’s England’s Diversity Action Group. Connecting people and ideas across the north. I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality and am glad I can be involved in this important area, alongside my job as a journalist.
This blog was updated more than I expected, as a way to document and diary my time, particularly as I was shielding. It’s been cathartic to do this and I hope one day I can look back on these posts when Covid-19 is a distant memory. This year has allowed me time to expand the pages on this website and very soon the content will all be able to be accessed by visiting www.katybooth.com.
A DREAM COME TRUE
In this challenging year, for so many reasons, a career ambition of mine was realised…
I’ve had such a varied career in broadcasting and journalism which has given me valuable experience. For the majority of time, this has either been as a freelancer or via fixed term contracts. I’m at a point in my life where I want to settle, which is something I can now do thanks to becoming a permanent member of BBC staff on a continuing contract. I’m delighted this can be in Cumbria – part of a talented team at a fantastic radio station.
The positive reactions to my posts on social media about this step in my career have been phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with kind comments It’s been nice to share such a joyous moment with so many people.
2020 has taught me not to take anything for granted – to take a day at a time. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid-19 or other causes. Just because the date changes doesn’t mean the problems of the pandemic will go away. We all need to be as vigilant as ever. However, a new year brings new hope. I wish you health and happiness in 2021. Stay safe.
I was delighted to be invited to speak to journalism students at my former university, UCLan in Preston, about how I work from home for BBC Radio Cumbria. Also, how the broadcast industry has adapted to the changes we’ve seen this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve been working from a back room in my house for more than seven months due to underlying health conditions. In keeping with the topic of the talk, it was delivered via video call to the students who were watching in their own homes on Microsoft Teams. An enjoyable session with about 40 people watching, who asked excellent questions at the end. Some of the salient points of the discussion are included here.
As a key worker, it’s a privilege to continue to contribute to the radio station throughout the pandemic in an important role. There’s a wide range of things you can do in the broadcasting industry, while working from home. I mostly produce items for the breakfast programme but can also record and edit reports as well as broadcast live, using specialised apps and software.
Here’s political correspondent, Paul Rowley, doing exactly that on BBC Radio Cumbria. Even with disruptions, it turned out to be a memorable moment and Tweet!
Without a commute of over an hour each day, I have a lot more time. I’m able to read for pleasure a lot more than I used to. There’s also more time to spend with family and pets… Even if my cat does seem to know when I’m on an important phone call because that’s exactly when she’ll meow for Dreamies! For parents, arrangements can be flexible to allow for childcare and appointments.
Technology has increased our connectivity; people from across the organisation can connect in an instant with the likes of Zoom. That’s something I do weekly for a diversity and inclusion steering group that I’m part of. I’ve had training sessions, without the need to travel or meet face-to-face, and even taken part in a Pilates session during a lunch break.
One of the main aspects I miss is the social side of going to work. Those ‘water cooler moments’ where you get to know colleagues personally in the little chats in the kitchen or corridor. Bouncing ideas around with others and having a banter in the office is great… it’s not quite the same over email! Our weekly team Zoom call to catch up with each other is something I look forward to.
The amount of screen time has, understandably, increased. Usually face-to-face meetings provide a break from this, but not so on a video call. It can be tempting to avoid taking breaks and just plough through but it’s actually even more important to do so when working from home, to prevent eye strain. Try to move around, rather than stay completely sedentary, too.
It can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work when there’s no commute to provide a mental break and a chance to assimilate all that’s happened. My tip is to try to have a separate workspace that you can leave at the end of the day. If you only have something like a dining table to work off don’t sit in the same place to eat as well. If you use a laptop, pack that away once you’ve finished using it.
When the computer is only in the next room it can be tempting to “just do a little bit more” work – something I have been guilty of on occasion! Set boundaries so that you will only work the same amount of hours as you would, if you were physically in the office.
Our ability to work from home will probably be with us, long after this pandemic. It would be a shame not to take the positives of what has been learnt to become more effective in future. Without the need for as much travelling, it gives us more productive time in the day – and it’s better for the environment too. Our homes are now the equivalent of district offices.
As broadcasters and journalists working in the media, being adaptable is what we do. It’s how the industry has developed into what it is today and we shouldn’t fight this. We’re currently in a period of great change at the moment anyway, but the possibilities of what can be achieved when we put our minds to it are still limitless.
A recent example of how working from home has become a ‘new normal’ was evident in how the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing was broadcast. Showbiz reporter, Betty Redondo, Tweeted that it was actually directed by crew members from home. You wouldn’t have known any different while watching the show live on Saturday night either:
Finally, you can claim tax relief of £6.00 a week for job expenses, while working from home. More information is available HERE.
An inclusive range of Barbie dolls, that have disabilities, has been announced by toy makers Mattel. This isn’t like the previous incarnation of “Share a Smile Becky”, which showed a pink wheelchair that didn’t fit into ‘Barbie’s dream house’. Soon Barbie will look more authentic. One of the dolls uses a wheelchair and another has a prosthetic leg. This range will be available in Autumn later this year.
There’s now more representations of disabilities in the mainstream media, which means we’re getting closer to reflecting society but there’s still more to do.
11 million people in the UK are living with a disability, statistics from Disability Sport show. Diversity is a wonderful thing that we must celebrate, rather than shy away from, and the media has an important role to play in holding a mirror up to society.
This is by no means an simple task, but who said positive change was easy? There’s different models used to depict disability and it’s vital that the media takes a stance that will have a positive impact.
The medical model.
As the name suggests, the name derives from health care. When a person is born with an impairment or acquires one, in the medical model, this is often seen as something to be cured through surgery or otherwise. Here we can see negative connotations used with descriptive language, such as someone “suffers” from a condition rather than lives with it or worse is “handicapped”. This places the disability as a fault with the person concerned, which can lead to prejudice and negative stereotypes to the public subliminally.
The social model.
This is a more liberating view which focuses on the environment we live in. What differs in the viewpoints is that, in the social model, it’s our surroundings that are disabling not the person. Think of a building, the room you need to get to is on the first floor. A non-disabled person may choose to use the stairs and a wheelchair user would take the lift. They’ve both able to access where they need to go, so nothing has become disabling in that situation. If a lift wasn’t available that’s when a person would be disabled because they can’t get to where they need to go. Up until that point, both people were being treated exactly the same.
I personally think if more people and organisations used the social model the world would be a more accessible, inclusive and accepting place.
We’re getting there, albeit slowly. Some of the most encouraging representations I see are like the the new range of Barbie dolls or inclusivity in children’s TV programmes because that’s giving young people a true representation before society has a chance to condition kids’ views as they grow up. Young people are often very accepting and non-judgemental, we can learn a lot from them. No one is born with prejudice, leading to the school of thought it’s something learnt through life.
The London Paralympics in 2012 gave hope that coverage could change some negative perceptions. Channel 4 was the broadcaster for this and, while I’m sure there were the very best of intentions, I felt the marketing missed the mark: Athletes were billed as ‘Super Human’. This was almost a hypercorrection for all the ills of the past. A Guardian article by Penny Pepper in 2016 commented how disabled people don’t want to be treated like superheroes, just as equal humans.
The media is a powerful tool. Look at the sea-change and conversations that are happening about views towards plastic waste since David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II. It can happen again for perceptions about disability and here’s my thoughts about how…
Actions for change.
- If we’re rightfully celebrating diversity then let’s do it properly. Don’t show one group or the other – show integration.
- Greater representation of disabled people on-air. Young disabled people deserve to see people who are like them on TV, in print or hear on radio. Only 8% of people with disabilities in this country are wheelchair users, even some people who have mobility impairments don’t use one. Representation needs to encompass this range.
- If a disabled person is cast in a drama, have them take part in storylines that don’t constantly revolve around their impairment.
- Cut out ‘inspiration porn’. It’s not inspirational for someone with a disability to have an education, a job or be in a relationship… that’s normal. By all means, celebrate achievements but not the ordinary.
- Have sporting events such as the Olympics and Paralympics run together concurrently. This happened at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year.
- There’s a lot more to disabled people than just sport, representations should focus on all walks of life.
- Use positive language.
- Talk, talk and talk more; this is the only way to tackle the taboo. Most misconceptions come from a lack of understanding or fear of the unknown.
You may not agree with some or all of what I say here but at least a discussion is being had, rather than the elephant in the room. A video was produced by journalist Ellis Palmer for BBC Ideas recently “How to talk about disability”. If you’ve found the themes I’ve written about interesting I urge you to take a look at the short film and continue the conversation:
As Ellis says in that film: “treat others as you wish to be treated”. An impairment doesn’t define a person, it shapes experiences through life. Let’s make a difference and use the social model of disability everywhere, particularly in the media.
This week I went to the Nations and Regions Media Conference at The Lowry in Salford. Since the Radio Festival changed venue and moved down south, I was looking forward to a conference of a similar vein in the old stomping ground.
I should have known from the ticket price (£90 early-bird rate) that this was aimed more at executive level, rather than for those of us who work in production. It would take a journalist working at some commercial stations around two days salary to pay to go to all events, adding travel and parking costs etc. The redeeming feature was the price did include lunch though – bonus!
One of the early sessions about investigative journalism was insightful; there was a lot of wistful reminiscing to the past about the likes of ITV’s long-gone ‘World in Action’. It was a treat to hear from director Paul Greengrass, who used to work on the programme before heading off to Hollywood. What I took from this session was journalists are more than ever required to “show their workings” in this era of “Fake News”, as President Trump coined it. It means, due to this vigour, the quality of work broadcasters are producing is actually more reliable. Maybe not all of Trump’s media criticisms are so damming for the industry, after all?
The second day got underway and I was enjoying debates on various issues. MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, shared her view that – because MediaCity now exists – that doesn’t automatically mean northern views are catered for. “The North” doesn’t stop at Salford and start again in Scotland. There’s a whole wealth of audience members, stories and talent that’ll be missed, if that’s a widely-held belief.
I hope it isn’t, but have taken calls from people in the past who have made humorous misconceptions. While I can forgive statements like: “Is Bolton in Lancashire?”, because it’s on the border. It only takes a quick glance at a map to know the answer to: “Is Blackburn in Manchester?”
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, announced there will be a consultation to move some of Channel 4’s staff out of London to “wherever it can be found” in the UK. As someone who grew up in Greater Manchester, I know how amazing the opportunities at MediaCityUK are: the area’s been completely regenerated and is buzzing. However, if every major media outlet sets up there, Salford will become as much of an isolated bubble as London is perceived to be.
As a regional staple, I was disappointed with the lack of mentions local radio got at the conference. People who work in that area make a limited amount of resources spread far and wide in order to create content. Talented staff are serving parts of the audience that other platforms may not reach. At times, providing vital information – the recent Lancashire floods are a prime example. I would urge any sceptic to spend a day in a local radio newsroom – either commercial or BBC – and see for themselves. Yet newsrooms in local stations are constantly under threat from cuts.
BBC local radio as an example; there are stations all across the country. Audience reach of all of them combined must be enough to match a national network station. Surely that makes it eligible to warrant a discussion? The audience is more concentrated in each TSA and the issues differ from place to place, but that makes what’s on offer so unique.
It was infectious hearing Head of BBC Radio, Bob Shennan’s, positivity for the medium and his enthusiasm that another golden age of radio is “still to come”, even if it may be different from what has gone before. Due to the way the discussion went though, ill-fated Channel 4 Radio got more of a mention than local radio, which is still very much thriving on the dials.
At the end of a thought-provoking conference, I was driving home listening to a network station when the news came on. There was a Lancashire story in the bulletin and my ears pricked up, because that’s where I live and work. The reader made the easy mistake of pronouncing Barrowford, in Pendle, as: “BARROW-F’D”. You need local knowledge to know it’s actually pronounced: ‘BARROW-FORD’. There’s no way of knowing this by reading off a script alone. I carried on my journey explicitly aware that local radio is still as important as ever.