Disability in the media

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 gaudy pink wheelchair that didn’t fit into ‘Barbie’s dream house’. Now Barbie looks 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 representing society as it truly is 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 and reflecting it.

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 even worse – is “handicapped”. This places the disability as a fault with the person concerned, which breeds 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. An able-bodied person may choose to use the stairs and a wheelchair user would use the lift. They’ve both able to access where they need to go, so nothing has become disabling in that situation. However, if 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 treated exactly the same.

I personally think if more people and organisations adopted 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.
  • 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.

Conclusion.

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.

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Writing for radio

In this multi-platform age, we’re becoming less defined by titles. I specialise in ‘broadcast journalism’ yet the job description is becoming much wider, as the industry adapts to the world we live in.

When I left my job in commercial radio it was advertised again as a post for a “multimedia journalist”. Also, due to a recent change in terms and conditions, my role at the Beeb is now simply called “journalist”.

The job is arguably more varied than ever. My role may now mainly be a producer but I’m also a news reader and reporter. There’s maintaining the online presence too, particularly social media.

Variety is the spice of life but what is the lifeblood of a journalist? Writing is everything.

When I enrolled to study journalism, I was told I’d be taught how to write. “Well, I already know that”, I naively assumed. I already had a degree in English, dabbled in fiction writing and was even maintaining this blog. I was wrong.

You don’t need to be a modern day Shakespeare in order to succeed but there are a few habits to unlearn. Most academic writing is too mellifluous for journalistic purposes, with sentences that have enough subordinate clauses to lead you down the garden path and back again, a bit like this one, if you get my drift. Imagine how difficult it’d be to read that last sentence aloud?

Here’s my 10 top tips for writing for radio:

    Get to the point as quickly as possible.
    Be concise.
    You’re writing to be heard not read, so write sentences as you would say them.
    Read aloud to get the hang of it.
    Use contractions. In everyday speech you probably wouldn’t say ‘could not’ instead of ‘couldn’t’, so write that way.
    This extends to punctuation. Normal rules about grammar don’t apply because the commas, full stops and hyphens in your literary toolbox help give sense. Many times you’ll place these in a sentence to indicate a pause, allow for breath, or effect.
    Keep vocabulary simple. Use words you’d actually say. Many times I’ve changed a word in a perfectly good script because it’s not a term I’d normally use.
    Pay attention to the station style. Commercial radio news is very different to BBC. If you’re on work experience make the effort to listen to the output. This sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how many don’t.
    Be creative. A blank script is a bank canvas and just because this list is a general rule of thumb it doesn’t mean you can’t put your own stamp on things.
    Have fun! Your enthusiasm will shine out of the speakers.

Writing can make a difference between a great, good or mediocre piece. Think about social media; a well written, snappy tweet is more likely to go viral than one that’s wordy and all over the place.

The more chatty the better. The art of writing for radio is making it sound like you’re not actually reading. It’s a craft that takes skill. Skill develops through practise. Even over the archives of this blog, you can hopefully see how my writing has improved with time and experience.

We never stop learning – enjoy!

What Katy Did, last year…

January – the month of (failed!) New Year’s resolutions and a look back on how the previous year panned out. It’s become a tradition of this blog to do so and I’m happy to say last year was a blast, both professionally and personally. I’m going to be a true radio pro now and try to hook and tease you by saying that I’ve left the best until last… so stay tuned!

The theme of this year, for me, has been to embrace change.

2018 marks my tenth year in radio and I began by continuing to read the breakfast news bulletins on BBC Radio Lancashire. At the start of the year the station had a massive overhaul. We had a studio facelift, to join the ViLor network of BBC local radio stations. In a nutshell, this means all the music and speech clips are played remotely, rather than stored on computers in Blackburn. The studios moved down the corridor and the newsbooth became no more – as the news reader position is now incorporated downstairs, with the rest of the programme teams.

We were the first station to move onto the new system along with a change of newsgathering software to OpenMedia. The beginning of the year therefore involved lots of training and learning how all the technology works. The analogy “like a kid in a sweet shop” comes to mind!

I put the new equipment and editing software to good use throughout 2018 and have been involved in various bits of presentation and production. Before I got involved in journalism, my initial passion for radio came from a love of music. I‘ve been able to present music specials again, including a reprise of my ‘Chilled Christmas’ format and an indulgence in my interest in musical theatre with ‘Songs from the Shows’, which I presented on New Year’s Eve – a dream come to present a live programme solo on the BBC! I’ve also co-presented; again at the Lytham Festival, for the community programme ‘Your Lancashire’, presented the Unmissable Podcast and studio produced ‘Sounds Like Saturday Night’ and ‘Jukebox’.

I didn’t stray far from the news desk though; one of my highlights was producing and presenting a documentary which aired in May. While researching local Lancashire history, I came across a horrific murder case of a baby that was abducted from the old Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn and murdered. 2018 marked 70 years since the death of June Anne Devaney. It was also a police success story – the first case of mass fingerprinting of a whole town, which led to the murderer being hanged for his crime after a trial at Lancaster Castle.

I researched the background, dramatised the story and looked at the development of forensic science over the years. I’ve previously made a documentary and it was great to immerse myself completely into the art of long form storytelling again. I also feel like a bit of an expert on this case in particular.

Towards the end of the year, we had a shakeup of the rotas and now my main role is to produce the teatime programme. I’m really happy with how the show is sounding and loving the opportunity to shape the programme and guide it editorially. There’s something satisfying to start the day with a blank canvas of a running order and by the end have filled it with lots of great local content.

As you can tell, I’ve been quite busy work wise! It was sad to say goodbye to colleagues and stations I broadcast on during my former Saturday job as a traffic and travel reporter. It’s fair to say I’m a workaholic but I took the decision because, for probably the first time in a decade, I wanted more of a work / life balance.

Living in south Cumbria, we’re on the edge of the Lake District and there’s lots to explore. I’m getting more time to develop my hobby of amateur photography and I have a wonderful partner to now share these experiences with. We’ve had some nice trips last year; including Whitby, Kent and celebrating my birthday in Paris. I got to look at the Mona Lisa up close in the Louvre museum, go up the Eiffel Tower and have a meal floating on the Seine opposite Notre Dame… even if it did take a leap of faith off the river bank to get on the boat! No sign of Quasimodo ringing the bells this time though.

You can imagine, with a holiday to Paris planned there were lots of predictions among friends about whether the question would be popped and an engagement would be announced? Well, that’s all far too predictable! It’s too touristy for that and we’re both not the sort to follow the crowd.

I’ll always remember the 11th of November. Of course it’s Remembrance Day for those who have been lost to war. It’s now also poignant for me because it’s the date my partner and I got engaged – on Arnside Pier at sunrise. It was such a beautiful day; there was a stillness in the air and beautiful colours adorning the sky. Finding love and making this commitment has been the most unexpected but wonderful blessing I could ever have wished for.

A memorable year indeed and it’s nice to have a companion, and now fiancé, to share 2019 with. We’ve already had a roadtrip to Portsmouth and booked a holiday for spring. Of course, this is only a snapshot of the highlights of my last year but I do feel the most content I have ever been. Thank you to everyone who shared a part of 2018 with me.

More posts to come in 2019…

Strictly Come Dancing in Blackpool

It’s that time of year where one of the biggest shows on TV comes to Lancashire. When Elstree Studios are in use for BBC Children in Need, the south’s loss is the north’s gain because this was the week when Strictly came back to the spiritual home of ballroom dancing – Blackpool!

BBC Radio Lancashire had been given tickets to review the hottest show in town and was raffling them off for a lucky member of staff. Having watched all this series and become somewhat of a super fan of course I was going to enter… and won!  I’d got engaged the previous weekend, so it added to the memories and became a wonderful engagement gift from the station to me and my fiancé.

We had to arrive at Blackpool Tower for 15:30 and were taken to the VIP holding area. It was sequin central as we made our way among the glitz and glamour to Jungle Jim’s play area to wait to be allowed in the studio. Former pro dancers Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe were on hand to welcome guests next to the cuddly toy grabbers and climbing frames. There was something surreal but down to earth about it all.

An hour later and we were allowed in into the famous Tower Ballroom. Mobile phones were confiscated from guests on entry, probably to stop everyone’s necks craning down during the presenters’ links. While this scuppered any chance of a selfie or a Facebook check-in it actually gave a chance to soak up the atmosphere and take in the resplendent surroundings. If there’s any room that you’d want to spend six hours of your life this would be one of them – and it’s a good job because that’s exactly what we did.

After a quick warm up by a man wearing the obligatory glittery jacket, the musical performances were recorded. Our floor seats were to the right of the stage and three rows from the front which gave amazing views of all the dances, Gloria Estefan and Take That. During the boys’ performance in particular the ballroom’s dance floor literally sprung into action. When all the dancers were jumping in sync we could see and feel the floor bouncing up and down in time to the music. The show was going live on BBC One at 18:45 and right before transmission began The Foundations ‘Build me up Buttercup’ gets the audience geared up for the show. The familiar title sequence played – we clapped along – and were live.

It’s an impressive production in every area; from the talent in front of camera to the crew behind the scenes who work incredibly quickly changing the sets and clearing the floor between dances, while the training VTs are playing. As well as watching the dance choreography it was also fascinating to see how the show was filmed. The audience was on good form all night, with standing ovations and applause aplenty. Then the room erupted when the first perfect score of 40 for this series was awarded by the judges to Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev for their jive set in a fish and chip shop.

As you can imagine, when the live show finishes and the voting lines open there’s a mad dash for a much needed loo break but to keep our spirits up the production team hand out a Freddo chocolate frog and carton of orange juice, while packets of Haribo sweets are thrown into the audience for a sugar boost. As I was making my way across the dance floor I bumped into Charles Venn from Holby City, who had a quick chat and shook my hand. *Swoon!*

The results show is recorded after voting lines close and it’s a much longer process as the team is taking different shots and re-takes; the opening sequence was recorded around three times, for example. This show isn’t shot in sequence, so some of the presenter links or chats with Claudia are filmed in a different order to what you see in the final edited programme on screen.

Then it was time for the the dance-off with former cricketer Graeme Swann against newsreader Kate Silverton. It was Kate and her partner Aljaz Skorjanec who had their last dance but what a fab-u-lous place to have it – in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I feel privileged to have watched the production of Strictly Come Dancing – a programme that is a credit to the BBC. It was a long night but an unforgettable experience.

Keeeeeep dancing!

Here’s the moment I appeared on Strictly, for a fleeting glance, at the end of Stacey and Kevin’s performance…

Chilled Christmas

Christmas traditions can come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s a snowball cocktail on Christmas Eve or getting out the Boxing Day board games to play with the family. For me every year meant I’d dig out some festive favourite songs for a Chilled Christmas on special on the radio. The time has flown by like Santa on his sleigh and it’s been three years since I last presented a programme… until now!

I gave up that side of things to concentrate on newsreading instead. 2018 will mark my 10th year in radio and up until I qualified as a broadcast journalist I’d presented a ‘chillout’ programme of mellow music every week on different radio stations in the North West.

This year I’m delighted to say that I’ll be back on the airwaves presenting a new ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme on BBC Radio Lancashire on Christmas Day from 17:00.

My love of radio began at the University of Manchester’s student radio station, Fuse FM. After I graduated, I transferred the programme to North Manchester FM. I was also on weeknights on the Stockport radio station Pure 107.8FM too. One of the highlights when I was presenting Chilled Pure on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day morning and I was on Santa Watch. It was magical and I jingled all the way.

Even though I’ve had almost a decade in the industry, I still have to pinch myself because I never imagined I could make a career out of it. I originally joined student radio as a way to bring out my confidence. People who work with me now will find it hard to believe, but I was actually quite shy!

After working with Fuse FM’s marketing team, I was persuaded to put a show proposal in and I thought I’d pitch a show of music that I knew well from my own collection and that’s how ‘The Chill Room’ was born.

Later down the line, I was advised by industry professionals that to specialise in a genre or a niché area of programming was a bad thing, if you want to become a radio presenter. I can understand why they said that because there are so few opportunities in that line of work nowadays. However, I just took a different route and broadcast journalism suits me. I think it has made me a more rounded broadcaster as a result. It serves as a reminder; there’s more than one way to achieve your ambitions.

It’s been great to put a ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme together again, this time to be broadcast on the BBC. It’s an hour of festive favourites and mellow versions of tracks you know, with some hidden gems there too. On the playlist there’s Lady Antebellum, Luther Vandross, Stacey Kent, The Stylistics and a new release from Kate Rusby’s latest Christmas album – to name but a few. Hopefully, it’ll be the perfect festive accompaniment, while all the rich food digests on Christmas Day!

What a pleasure it’s been to research the music again. The programme will also be sprinkled with some anecdotes from myself as well. And – you know me – they’ll be quirky! This year has been truly fantastic for me in every way, both professionally and personally. To have been given the chance to present a programme on BBC Radio Lancashire really has been the cherry on top of the cake… or should that be the brandy on top of the Christmas pudding??

I hope you can join me on BBC Radio Lancashire from 17:00 on Christmas Day for ‘Chilled Christmas’. It’ll be available on iPlayer for 30 days after too – in case you want to extend that festive cheer even further!

All that’s left to say is Merry Christmas to you! Thank you for reading my blog during 2017 and I wish you all the very best for the new year ahead.

Doctor Who: The thirteenth regeneration – unlucky for some?

I’m the sort of person who laughs in the face of superstition. Who actively seeks out locker number 13 in the gym, for example. It’s almost always free. Some people are superstitious and there are some Doctor Who fans – known as Whovians – who think the casting of the thirteenth Doctor is indeed unlucky.

The actor just happens to be a woman: Jodie Whittacker. I think it’s a brilliant decision.

Firstly, let me start with this caveat: I won’t begrudge anyone an opinion and it’s fine for you to disagree with me. It’s fine for you not to like the casting. (I take a while to come round to the idea of a new Doctor after each regeneration myself.) It’s even fine for you to object to the casting because she’s a woman and it breaks the tradition of the male canon of actors we’ve seen previously in the role.

What I do take issue with, however, is some of the language I saw on social media after the announcement. Antiquated statements like: “shouldn’t she be in the kitchen instead”, “she won’t be able to park the TARDIS” or this Tweet from Katie Hopkins:

I describe this as ‘subtle sexism’. Even though it’s garish and unsubtle in nature, it is subtle sexism because it’s meant to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’.  Joking doesn’t cut it though; it’s just as offensive and I’m inclined to think these statements are more likely a true word spoken in jest.

You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist and, as Kate Hopkins’ sentiments show, you don’t have to be male to be a misogynist. Misogyny is really a response of fear. It’s the ‘alpha-male’ culture where people fight men to get to the top of their trade. Nowadays the pool is more equal but larger. The quest to get noticed is gradually becoming between both men and woman, in many industries. When comments alluding to the subordination of woman arise in conversations such as this Doctor Who debate I believe it’s down to a fundamental, even subconscious, resistance to gender equality.

It’s a shame it’s taken so many regenerations to get to this stage with the show. If a woman had been cast as The Doctor earlier people would have got use to the idea by now. I find it actually quite sad that having a female cast in the show’s title role causes such animosity in 2017. If there was true equality then it wouldn’t be an issue.

What I love about the series, and the sci-fi genre in general, is that anything is possible. Originally, The Doctor could only regenerate a number of times but we have surpassed that now due to the creative license of the writers. This same creative license applies to a gender change; we’re dealing with fiction after all. The Doctor has four hearts, so why does it matter whether he / she has a penis a a vagina? Can she exterminate the Daleks convincingly? As a Whovian, that’s what I’m interested in.

If we can have a female Prime Minister running the country then surely we can have a female Time Lord travelling the universe. The only thing that really matters is whether Jodie Whittacker is a good enough actor to play such an iconic role. She did open her hand very well in the teaser trailer but, until I’ve seen her first episode, I’ll reserve judgement. I wasn’t familiar with much of her work beforehand but from what I’ve researched it certainly bodes well for next series.

A change in ideology of gender equality takes time. As some people’s sentiments after the casting announcement indicate, we’re not quite there yet. The casting of a female Doctor is a step closer though. Hopefully, before long she’ll just be accepted – without any digs, jibes or fuss – as part of the canon of work in this extraordinary series.

Five decades since it began (albeit with a hiatus in the middle) and the programme still prompts such in-depth discussion about social issues. Doctor Who is as important, relevant and socially revolutionary as ever.

I’ll leave the last word to the legend that is Colin Baker, who played the sixth incarnation of  The Doctor:

Mancunian and proud: The aftermath of the Manchester attack

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View of Manchester from the Beetham Tower.

It feels like so much has happened in the month since the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, so much bad news, so much terror. For every negative emotion though there has also been unity and love.

The explosion was literally close to home. Most people I know have been there to see events. They’re often some of the happiest times of our lives. No doubt, that’s how the people who’d been to see Ariana Grande on 22 May felt too. Until just after 22:30, when the explosion happened and everything changed. That night 22 people never came home and countless lives changed forever.

It’s a tragedy that’s affected people beyond the city’s boundaries. For me personally, four of the victims were from Lancashire and, as news of the atrocity filtered through, it unfolded that I knew one of the people who died in the blast; I’d gone to the same high school as 29-year-old Martyn Hett.

I’m from Stockport originally, the same town as Martyn. It’s six miles away from Manchester and most Stopfordian’s are proud to call themselves Mancunian. Just like the majority of the country and beyond did after the attack. In uniting against evil, showing our empathy and solidarity, we’re all Mancunian because being Manc is about much more than geography. The bee is a symbol of our undying spirit of love, peace and hope.

Even now, I can remember vividly the night of the bomb. I got an inkling from social media, my first thoughts were that surely something of this scale must be a hoax? It was a concert with a young following after all. But terrorism knows no boundaries.

I turned on the radio and as the details began to unfold it just got more and more horrifying as Greater Manchester Police confirmed fatalities. Understandably, there was a sombre feeling that followed. I was one of the breakfast show producers that week at BBC Radio Lancashire and we were reflecting the mood in our programme. It gave me chance to get in touch with my Manchester contacts from home. One thing struck me straight away from speaking to people – resilience. Ours is a city that will never be beaten.

LISTEN: The report I put together for the four Lancashire victims of the Manchester bomb, which aired on BBC Radio Lancashire a week after the attack… (Blog post continues below.)

Of course, there’s grief and the nation mourns together. We must reflect on the evil but we then must counter that by remembering those we have lost and reflecting on the hope there was in the aftermath. Hope came in many forms: Tony Walsh’s ‘Our Place’ poem, the ‘One Love’ concert staged by Ariana Grande and her team or the people who went out to the memorials to water the floral tributes.

What really resonated for me were the outbursts of Oasis’s ‘Don’t look back in anger’, which has rightfully become an anthem of Manchester. My family are all Mancunian and the majority of my education happened in Manchester. I went to sixth form college at Parrs Wood in Didsbury and then studied for my undergrad degree at The University of Manchester, so have spent a lot of time in the city during my formative years. The bee is a great emblem because there is such a buzz. There’s many things I love about Manchester, but most of all, I love how diverse the place is.

If you stand on Market Street in the city centre, for example, you will see all kinds of people all going about their business, the same as anyone else. In my experience, there’s very little discrimination because people are so accepting and friendly. The ripples of acts of terrorism don’t just happen at the time though. It can affect people for years to come,  in different ways, if you let it. It may manifest as fear or prejudice, either subliminally or overtly, but that’s what we must reject. It creates a divide and that isn’t what our Mancunian spirit is about. I have tickets to go to a gig at the arena at the end of the year, if it’s open by then. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there ever again but that’s not the right attitude to have. Hopefully I can go and have a good time.

There is an unquantifiable sadness – we’ve had vigils for the victims and now the funerals are taking place one by one. I went to the vigil for Martyn Hett in Heaton Moor Park and it was cathartic in ways I hadn’t imagined. To see so many people coming together to celebrate his life was truly heart-warming, after so much heartbreak.

Manchester stands proud of our history, our culture and our people. We always have and always will… And as the lyrics of the song go: “Don’t look back in anger, I heard you say.”

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Vigil for Martyn Hett held in Heaton Moor Park, Stockport.

General election fever 

Have you recovered from all the election coverage yet? For journalists, snap election is something we weren’t planning and had no control over but it was actually a fabulous showcase for our work, across all platforms.

I’ve now voted in three general elections but have also covered them for three separate radio stations. All different formats and I’ve had a range of roles each time.

2010 – I was a first time voter and also in the final year of my undergrad degree at the University of Manchester. I was heavily involved in our student radio station Fuse FM as part of the committee who ran the station. Although I presented programmes and had read a few bulletins, news wasn’t really my area at the time. As ironic as that sounds, considering I now live and breathe news! I was Head of Marketing and had responsibility for the ‘Street Team’.  We were heavily involved in generating content and vox pops from voters. We were also really excited that BBC 5Live had decided to broadcast from the students’ union during the night.

I’d been invited to take part in local community radio station, North Manchester FM‘s, election coverage as a studio guest.  Charlie Walduck was roving reporter at the count at Manchester Town Hall, providing inserts and interviews with candidates. It was an ambitious project for a community station on limited resources. It was the forerunner broadcast for me to apply for my own show and then becoming a presenter on the station.

NMFM

North Manchester FM studio

2015 – Five years later, I was working in radio professionally for commercial radio group UKRD’s stations The Bee and 2BR. Lancashire Election Night Live was another big broadcast; the first time the two stations had simulcast together. I was reporting from the town hall on the night. Blackburn is a safe seat with a long Labour legacy. However, this particular year was interesting because, the town was getting a new MP with the retirement of former cabinet minister, Jack Straw. I provided live inserts to the all-night broadcast including scene sets, interviews with candidates and conducted the live victory interview with Kate Hollern MP.

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Blackburn Town Hall count

2017 – We were doing it all over again, sooner than anyone thought! This time I’d moved stations a couple of junctions westbound on the M65 for BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet another ambitious project! In the lead up to the election, I was one of the breakfast producers who sourced content for the OB’s on Graham Liver’s ‘Big Election Breakfast Tour’ coming live from constituencies all around the county. Along with the Lancashire pop up living room “double-gussetted long-handled Graham Liver at breakfast” bags were handed out to listeners in every corner of the county.

On results day itself, I felt like I’d drawn a particularly long straw, reading our afternoon news bulletins. I love being part of big news days when listeners have a real thirst for developing information. It’s always a privilege to be able to deliver it to them, I’d broadcast previously the day after the EU referendum and when Theresa May was originally announced as Prime Minister, so was well up for whatever the day would bring…

I compiled and read our two extended 10-minute-long bulletins at 13:00 and 17:00. Keeping us journos on our toes, Theresa May began speaking on the steps of Downing Street at around 12:55! We got a clip of her saying she would form a government in the top story. That’s what I love about bulletin reading; the adrenaline rush you get when news is just coming in or changing. On results day, the breaking news buzz didn’t waiver all day long, with new lines coming in all the time.

Depending on your political views, general elections can mean a lot of different things for different people. There’s just some of my memorable moments. We might be making some more soon. Who knows? As we’ve seen over the last seven years – anything can happen in politics!

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BBC Lancashire breakfast OB team

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

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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.

Radio reflections of 2016

bbc-lancsThis time last year, I made a decision that would affect how my whole year would pan out. I decided, after much consideration, to go back to freelancing. This was such a big decision because staff jobs in radio are like gold dust. But in 2016, I took a leap of faith.

As a result of that ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, I have had wonderful experiences and am going to share some of those with you in this blog. I spent the majority of my time in newsrooms across the North West. This past year has been quite extraordinary journalistically, in the stories that have dominated the headlines.

Just some stand out moments were when I was newsreading for Revolution 96.2 the day of the Hillsborough Verdicts, at Wireless Group the day Theresa May became Britain’s new Prime Minister and at BBC Lancashire the day after ‘Brexit’, as well as the day the announcement of the government’s decision to allow fracking in the county – a day when people from across the BBC were looking at my scripts.

I left 2BR in February and spent six months as a freelancer, before settling down at BBC Lancashire. Much of my freelancing was spent double shifting. Looking back now, I don’t know how I had the energy! I would finish a morning shift at one radio station, have lunch as quick as I could, then hot foot it down the M6 to the INRIX travel centre. I had some fixed hours there that helped guarantee while I was freelancing I could at least afford to pay the rent and bills for my flat.

There wasn’t a week I went without work though – one of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is to have a holiday! I have been an INRIX travel broadcaster for almost three years and was pleased to get chance to be an information editor and see the other side of how the bulletins are put together. The travel hub is a hive of activity and it was great to be part of the afternoon team.

Rejoining BBC Lancashire was like I’d never been away! I was originally with the station in 2013 as a Broadcast Assistant and came back as a Broadcast Journalist in 2016. I’ve done almost every role in the newsroom from reading sport bulletins during the Euro 2016, the Olympics and Paralympics. To updating the Lancashire ‘Local Live’ pages of our website – covering the progress of Graham Liver and the team pulling a bed from Pudsey to Bare in aid of BBC Children in Need for BBC News Online. No two days are the same and I love the variety of my work.

My usual role is producing Gary Hickson at teatime, which is a real honour. When I was first with BBC Lancashire I was mostly a reporter for Gary’s programme and it’s great to produce the show I had previously worked so closely on. Gary is a talented broadcaster who brings out the best in me, keeps my feet on the ground and the programme’s rising RAJAR ratings speak for themselves.

It’s a dream come true to read news bulletins on the BBC and I count that as my biggest achievement of the year. I thrive in a live breaking news environment and it’s liberating to have so much creative freedom. I’ve loved bantering on the breakfast team, reading the extended news bulletins at one o’clock and the doing the double headed news with Gary at five o’clock too.

We embrace social media and I was proud to be the first person at the station to do a live news bulletin both on-air concurrently while broadcasting on Facebook Live. At the time of writing, Facebook stats show that broadcast has reached almost 94,000 people. Amazing… and it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Face for the radio’! You can see it HERE.

That’s just a snapshot; there’s been so many memorable moments to mention. Thanks to everyone who’s made 2016 such an enjoyable year. As for 2017… stay tuned! 

Graham Liver interviewing me for a BBC Children in Need outside broadcast.