Category Archives: Opinion

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.

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.

How Trump hit the top spot building on a foundation of fame

trumpA day after the result of the US Election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton, you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t heard the news both in the US and here across the pond.

Any new leader of the free world is bound to be a big headline grabber, particularly in our 24-hour ‘breaking news’ culture. But with Trump it is more so due to the unexpected nature of his victory and the publicity he has generated throughout his campaign.

Donald Trump’s rise to power is the epitome of celebrity culture and where it can get people. I know he’s a billionaire businessman and, in spite of any inheritance, to maintain and build upon a fortune does take skill. But would that alone have been enough to get Trump into the White House?

It’s hypothetical now of course, but I don’t think Trump would have won without the celebrity brand he’d built up. This is a man so famous The Simpson’s even made a satirical joke about him becoming president, 16 years earlier! You don’t have to live in America to be aware of the media mogul either; he had cameos in Home Alone 2, Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sex and the City.

I became aware of this stratospheric celebrity status when on holiday in Tenerife in January. It was the last night of our trip and must have been around 03:00 in the morning when I got back to my hotel room. Still buzzing from what had good night out in the resort, I turned on the TV to try to relax. I wasn’t expecting much; mostly everything was broadcast in Spanish. I did channel-hop to a programme with spoken English though, it was The Apprentice. Not Lord Sugar’s UK version, but Donald Trump’s US hit- which indicates just how far his brand was reaching.

I’m wrestling fan, not as avid as I once was, but I find it great escapism from ‘reality’! You may have seen a video circulating around social media about his appearances with the WWE. This sticks in my mind particularly because I think I can attribute this particular angle as the cause of me falling out of love a little with “sports entertainment”.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon (who also plays an alter-ego character ‘Mr McMahon’ in the ring) must’ve fancied a new hair cut because this was woven into a storyline. A stipulation was that the billionaire loser out of him and Trump would also lose their locks. I was originally a fan of the WWF ‘Attitude Era’ (Hell Yeah!!) and this just became too far-fetched, even for me. It’s surreal now Donald Trump is President-Elect, watching clips of him taking Vince down and shaving his hair off!

I’m not saying people who’ve achieved fame shouldn’t go for a political position. We live in a democracy and if a candidate meets the criteria to stand then they should. Look at the likes of Ronald Regan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example – Hollywood actors who have since branched out into politics. I’m sure there will be many more instances of crossovers too.

I can’t help but think though, amid all the controversy, would Trump have made it to the White House without his celebrity status? The exit polls showed Hilary Clinton was the more poplar candidate yet, when it mattered, the result wasn’t as close as some pundits first thought. Maybe a familiar name on a ballot paper does help put a tick in a box, particularly when voters are apathetic or unsure.