Category Archives: News

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.

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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.

Lancashire County Council slash services in budget

Lancashire County Councillors voted through all proposed cuts at their annual budget meeting.

It sees £65 million slashed from services, including funding for five museums across the county, some bus routes in rural areas and other services, such as libraries.

All elected members were present in what would arguably be one of the most important meetings of the year. Labour councillor, David Borrow, began proceedings saying the budget outlined had been some of the “most difficult decisions” they have ever had to make.

Cllr Borrow said, if current spending continued, there would be no reserves left to be used in emergency situations, by the 2018/2019 budget. The Preston North West councillor said in May the cabinet had to make the decisions from working with multi-agencies. He commented that other Conservative controlled councils, such as Surrey, are not facing such financial difficulties: “Lancashire has been one of the hardest hit.”

The government’s ‘transitional fund’ has given the county £2.3 million. In comparison, Surrey has received £24 million. Hampshire gets £18 million and the Prime Minister’s home county of Oxfordshire will receive £9 million.

“There will be cuts for years to come”, Councillor Borrow said. “I know how important it is for all museums to continue.” Views and expressions of int
interest in running the facilities are being sought up until March.

It was noted that the highways budget is being looked at “whichLCC should reassure those who are the victims of the floods.” Cllr Borrow went on to say that, at the beginning of the coalition government (in 2010) spending was cut for flood defences.

Continuing to criticise the conservative government, Cllr Borrow said “the public health grant has now been cut by 1.7 million.”

[PHOTO: Councillor David Borrow addresses the chamber from the Cabinet.]

Former leader of the county councillor, Geoff Driver, was next to stand. The Preston North member was presenting an amendment of from the Conservatives to Labour’s budget plans. Cllr Driver said that, when he was in charge, the Tories left more money in the reserves than they inherited. “This administration has not helped itself”, he said. “There is a corporate strategy but no plan.”

Cllr Driver then criticised the council’s handling of turning the listed building of Preston Bus Station into a Youth Zone. Speaking of the competition to fund a new design he said: “there will be insufficient funds… It’s absolute madness!

“It’s alright saving money for a rainy day, but it’s raining now.” The Conservative budget amendment to the proposed budget mainly looked at financing services by borrowing money to fund them, rather than cutting. Councillor Graham Gooch was one of a series of members who spoke in the debate that followed. The South Ribble West representative said: “No consultations had been done before these budget decisions were made. The decisions have not been made properly.”

A lively discussion broke out with councillor John Fillis, from Skelmersdale East. It left Burnley chairperson Margaret Brindle reminding members to show respect: “This is not a bear pit”, she said.

Sitting near the back of the chamber, alongside Independent members, Lancashire’s only Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding from Lancaster, said: “The government’s financial settlement did not give us any more money.” Cllr Dowding gave an example of the Public Health cuts earlier announced. “[Chancellor] George Osbourne plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Here in Lancashire, he’s only focusing on Northern workhouses.”

Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, of West Craven spoke next. He said his party propose a “cushion” to allow the “cuts to library services to evolve.” He said he has “issues with axing the parish bus initiative” and the Lib Dems approach the budget with ‘compassion and compromise’.”

“I haven’t met with any conservatives [about the budget] then they trot this out at the last minute. Well, we won’t be supporting it”, Cllr Whipp said. The chamber voted on the Conservative amendment and the motion was lost on an eight vote margin.

The Liberal Democrats then proposed their amendment and councillors voted against that also. However, all Conservative councillors abstained. Tory Councillor Paul White, of Pendle East, commented on how his party should “commend [the Lib Dems] for having the same aims [as them]”, even though they chose to propose it differently.”

Independents and the one Green member were next to propose their amendment. They suggested a further £3 million contingency to be made available from the reserves to facilitate the transition of services. As well as cross party cabinet groups be set up to explore and support the transition of services and arrangements. This motion was passed, despite 34 members abstaining.

Next up was a proposal on bus subsidies by the Conservatives, focusing on reinstating transport to day-centres. They planned to do this again by borrowing, rather than using budget reserves or charging. Their proposals included green energy plans and under-spending on concessionary travel. This was the motion that had the most support from the public gallery, with protesters from Chipping and Ribchester staying on to find out the result.

Tory councillor, Michael Green, representing Leyland, said: “Cutting bus services attack the most vulnerable people in society; those who can’t afford to run a car, unlike most of us who will drive our cars home tonight. It is an attack on the elderly, who can no longer drive. It’s an attack on young people, who catch the bus to get to college or an apprenticeship. It’s also an attack on town centres that will lose out on business because of these cuts.”

Labour’s David Borrow said: “We have barely enough funds to deliver statutory services. Can we afford the 4.5 million of this service? We are pretending to ourselves and those in the public gallery. Some of things we have to cut [in this budget] are horrendous. We need to give the council a fighting chance.”

A tight vote buseson bus subsidies followed. 40 councillors voted for the motion, 42 were against and one person abstained. Therefore, the motion was lost on a slim margin of two votes. That means some bus routes will now no longer operate. Residents of the Ribble Valley, could see a reduction in services by next week.

[PHOTO: Bus campaigners protest before the meeting.]

 

Councillor Michael Green gave the next Conservative amendment. He mentioned he thought the previous bus subsidy would be passed, which explains the focus of their next proposal. He wanted to see £500,000 for waste services that are not needed in East Lancashire be invested back into highways. Cllr Green said: “in the grand scheme of the budget, £500,000 is not actually a lot of money.”

Labour’s Councillor Borrow said he: “can’t see any reason to oppose this amendment.” He spoke about when he goes back home in Yorkshire he can see the roads get worse and that Lancashire should be proud of the state of the highways. The motion was voted for unanimously, although Labour’s Cllr John Filis did shout: “Why not give it to the bus people?” during the discussion.

Entering the seventh hour of the meeting, the last vote of the night was whether the budget cuts would happen. The chamber broke out into passionate debate from members. Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein of Preston, stood to tell members she understands it’s late in the day but she was “ashamed and appalled” by members’ behaviour when discussions got heated.

The budget was agreed and passed by councillors, meaning all proposed cuts to services now intend to be carried out.

(My article was first published on The Bee and 2BR‘s websites and is kindly re-blogged here with permission.)

Emotion in journalism

I won’t apologise for feeling emotions about particularly moving news stories. I couldn’t change the way I am anyway, nor would I want to. I’ve met journalists who feel differently about this; some think if you’re covering a story then you should detach from the emotion involved. My own view is that I think it makes me a better reporter, giving me a better understanding of events if connect with stories on an emotional level. The audience are going to have these empathetic feelings too, so it makes sense that a journalist should be in tune with this – the audience are the people we are creating the news output for.

Lee RigbyEach day there are stories in the news that can affect us in this way but the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich is one that has flared up public opinions across the country, from the London borough where it happened to his hometown of Middleton in the North-West. A man who had survived the warzone in Afghanistan was murdered on a British street.

Part of the reason why this gained so much prevalence is because the media broadcast or print it. There are no right or wrong answers to the argument as to whether images of terrorism like this should be reported. On one hand, people want to know what’s going on in the world and censorship would water down the, sometimes unpalatable, realism that goes on.

The other side is that it can be seen as gratuitous, just because it’s a big story doesn’t mean we lose taste and decency. This isn’t a film that’s being shown – it’s real life. It’s hard for parents to keep track of too; children may access the images easily in newsagents, on TV channels and the internet, particularly social media and the backlash the news coverage has caused for Muslim communities is a negative example of this.

In terrorism cases, the media gives attackers a mouthpiece for their message to reach (and frighten) more people than it ever could have otherwise, which is essentially giving them what they want. The Woolwich attack suspects were heard asking for onlookers to film them after the attack, proving that point entirely.

My view is that these events need to be reported – the whole point of news is that we cover current events – we don’t want to wrap society in cotton wool either. However, I do feel there needs to be a line on how graphic this coverage needs to be. I know I’ve written about this before in my post about the Boston marathon bomb coverage, but I don’t mind saying it again. Unless we speak openly about this nothing will change. It is important to identify the people who did this, there’s no reason why they deserve anonymity after such acts of violence other than to prevent false accusations on who the attackers are. (This is not an issue in the Woolwich case.) But do we really need to see their bloodied hands? Even a description of that is graphic enough.

Personally, I feel it is disrespectful to to show images of a dead body to the victim’s memory, as well as their loved ones to have to see. It is poignant enough just seeing the photos of him in his soldier drummer uniform, anything else seems unnecessary to me.

It goes without saying that any news coverage should be reported objectively but human interest elements are what make the public want to hear news. I’m not a fan of sensationalism either – so emotion should be kept out of news reports as much as possible too – particularly in broadcast media. That’s not to say that journalists can’t have feelings when the cameras and microphones are switched off; we are all human after all.

BBC – British Broadcasting Crisis?

BBC Director General and ‘editor-in-chief’, George Entwistle resigned from his post following a string of mistakes during his time in positions of authority. Of all the news stories you would expect the BBC to break it would be one concerning a change at the top of its own corporation – but ITN got the scoop. The announcement came just seconds too late to make the BBC 9 0’clock news bulletin, which epitomises the corporation’s bad luck over recent weeks.

The decision came after the BBC themselves made headlines by not airing a Newsnight interview that revealed allegations into Jimmy Savile’s paedophile past as well as airing another Newsnight programme which wrongly accused former MP, Lord McAlpine, of child abuse in a North Wales care home. The freelancing fiasco about how presenters were paid indirectly through separate companies to avoid tax wouldn’t have helped matters either.

Entwistle had been in charge for just 54 days, making him the shortest director general in BBC history. His time at the top was short and sour, rather than sweet, after being made a scapegoat to take the blame for the mistakes of others. Of course, part of his responsibility was to oversee the corporation, but a consequence of a big corporate hierarchy like the BBC’s is that the people who made the crucial mistakes will escape punishment and carry on, if not at the BBC then at another media organisation. These flaws don’t even concern good journalism – it’s common sense. Programmes about child abuse should have alarm bells ringing to be referred for checks.

However, Entwistle’s name may not have been on the Director General’s door when the root of these problems occurred but he was high enough in other positions at the corporation to have done something about it. We don’t get second chances often in life but Entwistle did when he was promoted to the top spot. Part of his role was to deal with controversy when it occurs and it’s a paradox that John Humphreys’ interview with Entwistle on Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of his resignation probably played a part in his decision to leave. Instead of sounding like a man of authority Entwistle came across bumbling about facts, not displaying qualities of a strong leader.

The BBC’s ability to examine and interrogate themselves must be commended; this is one of the reasons why the ‘crisis’ will be resolved when the news becomes chip paper. Critical times lie ahead for one of the world’s much-loved and trusted broadcasters. Former head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie, takes over as ‘acting Director General’ for now. He lacks a journalistic background but also lacks involvement in any of the scandals that contributed to his predecessor’s downfall. A series of unfortunate events led to Entwistle’s resignation but this was probably the right decision in order to sustain the public’s trust in the organisation that we fund through our licence fee.

VIEW A TIMELINE OF THE RISE AND FALL OF GEORGE ENTWISTLE AS BBC DIRECTOR GENERAL HERE

Rachel Jardine: Gone Too Soon.

Part of journalism is that sometimes you have to report on stories that are uncomfortably harrowing. It is even worse when you know the victim involved…

I was on my way to a meeting in Piccadilly last Friday when, as I usually do, I picked up a copy of that day’s Manchester Evening News. I skimmed the front page reading the horrifying news that my friend Rachel Jardine, a masters student from the University of Manchester, had fallen 80ft from Bloom Street car park in Manchester.

To make matters worse, while she lay dying Ben Heney robbed her of her mobile. It is thought that Rachel was making a last phone call to her mother. She died of her injuries later that day in Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Originally from Bristol, 22 year old Rachel came to Manchester to study philosophy. Just an hour and a half before she died she posted this poignant quote on her Twitter page:

‘Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre

Heney managed to sell the mobile phone for £20 to fund his drug habit. Greater Manchester Police have called this crime “unforgivable”. The fact that anybody could rob a dying woman, instead of trying to help her, is terrible but it is even more hurtful due to the fact that I knew Rachel personally.

I graduated from university last year but knew Rachel due to our involvement in the student radio station Fuse FM. She was enthusiastic, dedicated, and most of all, such a lovely warm person who I know will be missed by all at the station.

In just 12 weeks time Ben Heney will be out walking the streets of Manchester again, free from jail. While the crime itself was petty, is the lack of morals that motivated the robbery something that should have surely justified a longer sentence?

God bless you Rachel x

In the Fuse FM studio celebrating the end of broadcast. Rachel is on the far right, I’m at the bottom.

Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

In fact, a super injunction prevents me telling you the answer to that…

Yes, we have to watch what we say now, even on micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter.

This has all made the headlines after a married premiership footballer had an affair with a Big Brother star. This ‘star’ has been named in the press, it’s Imogen Thomas. However, the footballer was granted a court order that prevents him from being named in the press – this is the, now illustrious, ‘super injunction.’

However, social media is not covered by this court order. A Twitter account was set up that revealed the identity of this footballer and many other ‘celebrities’ who were alleged to have had affairs. The media can comment about all of this but are prevented from naming any of the people involved.

The footballer didn’t let this die a death though; A reported 30,000 Twitter users are now at risk of being sued for revealing his identity. This, therefore, has caused his name to be used in the mud-slinging even more. Well, if nothing else, this conforms to the stereotype that footballers are as thick as two short planks.

So, does this super injunction culture demean the principles of freedom of speech? The front cover of today’s Independent gives their opinion:

Is this super injunction law a farce? Yes it is – the Sunday Herald had a picture of this footballer, barely censored, on their front page yesterday. They didn’t do this to sensationally reveal his identity; most people already know that. The Sunday Herald did this to expose the fact that super injunction law is not applicable in Scotland!

So, what did happen to freedom of speech? Well, it moved to Scotland. Let’s hope that this gagging order doesn’t follow it. If these adulterers can’t stand the heat then they should get out of the bedroom. They’ll reap all the benefits of their fame, enjoying the money, fast cars and… girls. Then they spit their dummy out when the consequences come back to bite them.