Nations and Regions Media Conference 2017 review: Long live local radio
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.