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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.

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Keeping it Real

katy realMy radio placement was over the other side of MediaCity with the Real and Smooth network. For a radio fan like me this was a great to work in a news hub that served a network of three stations, Smooth Radio (national), Real Radio (North West) and Real XS (Manchester). As is the unpredictable nature of news, during my time on placement a lot stories that got massive national media coverage broke on our North West patch.

As you’ll know from my post about my placement with BBC North West Tonight, this is a reflection of the work I did on placement rather than a recount of the news – you can access that in many places on the web, I’ll link to the stories. In these posts, I want to offer a different perspective through my eyes as a reporter…

MICHAEL AND HILLARY BREWER SENTENCED FOR SEXUAL ABUSE AT CHEETHAM’S SCHOOL OF MUSIC 

I got my first taste of a media frenzy outside court after the sentencing of Michael and Hillary Brewer, who were charged with sex offences, mostly occurring while he was a teacher at Cheetham’s School of Music in Manchester. This case had got attention because of of the victims, Frances Andrade, took her life during the trial. Atmosphere outside of court was tense as the media eagerly awaited the statement from the Crown Prosecution Service.

The cameras were in place well before but radio reporters have to think quickly to get in a good position when speakers come out so that they can be in range to get good quality audio on the microphones. I did well to get right at the front, which not only meant that Real Radio got good brand placement for the cameras but also that my hand was seen on all the TV news channels that day. I’m now in a strange situation where my purple coat is more famous than I am!

DOG ATTACK THAT KILLED JADE ANDERSON IN ATHERTON

IMAG1080No matter how much training you have beforehand, nothing can prepare you emotionally for some of the stories that you will have to cover as a journalist. The day started out like any other, I was out vox popping a light story in the morning but then I got the call to go on to Atherton, near Wigan, to cover the story on Jade Anderson – a 14 year old girl who had been mauled to death by pitbull type dogs. Like the flick of a light switch, the tone of the work had changed and  was now incredibly sombre.

When I got to the crime scene I had never heard a silence like it; despite there being so much activity from media attention to people coming to pay their respects – there was no noise to be heard on the estatem other than a lone dog barking in the distance. Very haunting.

STEPHEN SEDDON GIVEN A LIFE SENTENCE FOR MURDERING HIS PARENTS

I had been following the Stephen Seddon trial while working with BBC North West Tonight and was in court reporting on his sentencing. Sedddon was  found guilty for murdering both his parents. The  judge, Mr Justice Hemblem, said the motive was for their inheritance money. Seddon’s sentence also included attempting to murder his parents earlier in the year by driving them into a canal.

Courtrooms feel very theatrical, maybe I have been watching too many legal dramas, but the atmosphere really was intense. To look directly at a man who has been sentenced to life imprisonment from the press box is a rare opportunity to have. It’s dramatic enough hearing about such cases on the news, but to actually be there to hear him sent down in person is something else. I was absorbing the atmosphere of the court proceedings happening around me while scribbling down notes as fast as I could – no recording devices are allowed in court. However, the judge’s words were so powerful, alongside Seddon’s own outbursts and last pleas of innocence, that I can still remember much of what was said in there verbatim, even now.

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I covered lots of stories during my time on placement with Real, from the abolition of Legal Aid in some situations to Stockport being voted the second happiest place to live in Britain. (Yes, really!!) By far those that I’ve mentioned in this post are the news stories that stick in my mind most potently though. It was a joy to work with the team whose bulletins I’ve listened to for many years on a network of stations that I am a fan of. Not only was that an amazing experience in itself but I learnt so much while I was there too and my copy writing skills are well up to broadcast standard. Hearing scripts I had written be read in bulletins was amazing  – I loved working in such a buzzing newsroom! My placements have given me the taste of what working life will be like when I graduate from my masters and I take all those valuable experiences forward with me now I’m applying for freelance work.

BBC North West Tonight

bbc buildingWhen I tell people I did my TV work placement with the BBC North West Tonight regional news programme I usually hear something like “but we didn’t see you on TV!” That’s beside the point really; screen time on any TV programme only accounts for what viewers see. There’s a whole team working hard behind the scenes to get content to air as smoothly as possible – I loved being part of it!

There would be so much to mention about time working on the programme, and alongside so many talented journalists, but then it would become more of a epilogue than a blog post – so this will have to be a whistle-stop tour. (In no particular order, terms and conditions apply… Oops! Didn’t need the bit about T&Cs!) Here we go…

HEART SCREENINGS IN MEMORY OF JOHN MARSHALL

Having footage I shot myself air on the North West bulletins during BBC Breakfast was an honour. My footage was shown after interviewing the family of John Marshall, who died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition 18 years ago. His family were holding a screening session at Edge Hill University as part of their campaign for heart screenings to become more widespread and to raise awareness of heart conditions affecting young people.

NEW DRUG APPROVED TO FIGHT BREAST CANCER

A drug called Perjeta had been granted licence for use in Europe; it prolongs the lives of some breast cancer patients by over 6 months. Although not yet available through NHS treatment, the drug has been trialled by The Christie in Manchester – I was going to interview a doctor about their findings. Case studies are what illustrate news best and when I got there I was able to talk to someone who had experience of using the drug. As this was all very spontaneous I was about to do my most emotional interview to date with no preparation! This is where my initiative journalistic skills came in and I was able to come back to the newsroom with poignant footage used in a big screen presentation by NWT health correspondent, Nina Warhurst.

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APPEAL TO FIND ANDREW JONES’ KILLER

Andrew Jones was killed in 2003 after injuries sustained after falling to the ground from a single punch. 10 years on and his parents, Christine and Andy, were appealing for anyone with information to speak out. I interviewed them at Merseyside Police Headquarters ahead of their weekend vigil. I found out the embargo had been lifted on this story while there and after relaying the messages to producers my work featured in Dave Guest’s top story for the lunchtime and evening programmes.

Archbishop KellyTHE ARCHBISHOP OF LIVERPOOL’S RESIGNATION

One of the last official duties that Pope Benedict XVI had to approve was the resignation of Liverpool’s Archbishop Kelly. I spoke to him at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool and helped film one of his last masses in tribute to the outgoing Pope that featured on the late bulletin.

COMIC RELIEF

It was a privilege to be on placement with the BBC during Comic Relief . I particularly enjoyed helping Carol Lowe film her report on how some of the money was being used in the North West at Stick ‘n’ Step. A charity helping children with Cerebral Palsy, in Wallasey. I also got to shoot footage of what was happening to fundraise around MediaCity. Particular highlights of mine were the Bake-Off, Harlem Shake out on the piazza and the Zumba-thon in Liverpool, all of which I filmed and were shown in the North-West opt-out during the evening’s main Comic Relief programme.

LAUNCH OF MANCHESTER INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 2013

enoEno Eruotor and I went to the press launch of this year’s MIF, we heard about what was to come in the festival, which featured an appearance from Shakespearean actor Kenneth Brannagh! He wasn’t giving any interviews (and at that point he didn’t even know I was in control of the lighting!!) but we did speak to one of my favourite actresses, Maxine Peake. She gave me a bit of competition for being NWT’s biggest fan too!

Sadly, I can’t cover everything that happened on my placement or mention everyone, but those are the main things I talk about when people ask me about my placement. Thanks to all the NWT team for making me feel so welcome, trusting me with their content and giving me a TV placement I will never forget!

My next blog post will be about my radio placement with Real Radio… Stay tuned!

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Roving reports from MediaCity…

ITVEver since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to work in the media industry and have been fascinated by the broadcast side of things. Starting out on student media laid the foundations for my radio work and when I graduated I was fortunate to earn a place on ITV’s Runner Pool. I was based in Leeds and at Granada working as a production assistant for factual / entertainment programmes and got a real buzz from working in such a fast paced environment. Since enrolling on UCLan’s Broadcast Journalism masters I’ve been able to create content for all broadcast mediums, as well as learm a new journalistic skill. Now I’m looking forward to beginning the courses’  BJTC work placement period with the BBC at MediaCity.

Any big change prompts me to get wistful about where it all began. I can remember vividly where my inspiration to work in media comes from – it goes back to when I was in primary school. My parents’ friends, Mavis and Laurie, owned a company that got commissioned to make TV sets for lots of different programmes. At the time they’d just finished the set of a new Sooty show for Blackpool Pleasure Beach. You can imagine my excitement when they said I could see Sooty’s set… Come to think of it, I’d probably still get excited about that now!

It was an amazing experience to see the sets I’d seen on TV  in front of my eyes. As we walked along the shopfloor I did get to see Sooty’s new lodgings, alongside a fascia from Coronation Street’s Rovers Return and Gordon Burn’s new North West Tonight desk. When the show got re-branded there was the desk that Laurie had made on the screen!  I’ve been a fan of NWT ever since. I love regional news and have watched the programme for years, so I think it must go back to that moment.

It’s been great to have been taught by a producer and cameraman from NWT while at UCLan. The packages that I’ve filmed for our news days are all available for you to watch on my YouTube channel. To quote Blue Peter – here’s one I made earlier! It’s my latest TV report about the Book Cycle project in Wigan…

More of my reports are available my YouTube channel: youtube.com/katybooth

camerasI’ve enjoyed both our UCLan radio and TV news days, where we got the chance to broadcast news bulletins for both mediums as well as creating web content. I already had a lot of radio experience prior to joining the course but it’s definitely sharpened my skills and the voice training has been beneficial – especially in getting, what the vocal coach described as, my “lazy tongue” into shape!

I learnt new skills as well as lots about myself with our TV news days too I can now self shoot my own reports. This was an ambition of mine and I’m glad that I can say I’ve achieved this and can put it on my CV. Having made my own videos for years with a camcorder it’s been good to learn how to professionally edit reports too. These are all skills that I will be using on my work placement with BBC North West Tonight. The news desk that I saw and even the studios where the programme broadcasts from have changed over the years but I’ve watched the programme throughout, so it will be a privilege to spend my placement with the NWT team.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to sign off with my own standard out cue, but until then here’s a photo from our course trip to MediaCity…

The post-grads with Roger and Annabel on the North West Tonight sofas last week.

The post-grads on our trip to BBC North West Tonight with Roger Johnson and Annabel Tiffin