How important is regional diversity in media production? It’s a question close to my own heart for a number of reasons. First of all, I come from Wick – a small town near John O’Groats in the far north Highlands. This brings an extra dimension to the idea of the hyper-local, since we are not only removed from the M25 hub but also the Scottish twin engines of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and even the Highland ‘capital’ of Inverness.
Then there is my former job, as a development manager in Channel 4′s Nations & Regions department (as it was then known) – a team tasked specifically with boosting production in the English regions and the devolved nations.
So it was with great interest that I accepted a commission to write a lengthy feature about the BBC’s much touted move to Salford, dubbed ‘Media City‘. The article was for the magazine of the University of Sunderland, which is among many educators attempting to spearhead a cultural renaissance in the former industrial heartland of the North East.
I kicked things off with an interview with Greg Dyke, former Director General of the BBC and an honorary graduate of Sunderland. He told me with characteristic verve that local news is dying a death, and must find new revenue models and platforms in order to thrive. Against this backdrop it’s up to national broadcasters – and the publicly funded Beeb in particular – to champion the regional voice. Interestingly, Greg was unequivocal that impressive and valuable as blogs are, the blogger is by no means taking the place of the journalist. Citizen journalism and blogging is a worthy pursuit, he agreed, but the media industry is still in dire need of smart professional writers with a nose for a story and the acumen to know how to research and report it.
Then it was southbound by train for a tour of MediaCity and an exclusive interview with Peter Salmon, Director of BBC North. Peter is an energetic and charming man, who has that trait much beloved by journalists of speaking in ‘pull-quotes’. Not that I’m suggesting the interview was an exercise in spin. The facts more than back up the claim that BBC is creating “a new centre of gravity for creative production in the UK”. With sport, children’s, Radio 5 Live and many other major departments having made the epic transition, there is a genuine buzz to these stunning new offices. BBC also acted as an effective catalyst for the rest of the industry – as I write this ITV is building its new Coronation Street set on site and 200 indies are going about their business in the neighbouring building. Everyone from commissioners through to technicians are gathered together, entering into what could very well be a new era in network broadcasting. An era when broadcasters do more than merely tip their hat to the nations and regions, but genuinely recognise the diverse make-up of modern Britain and reflect they not only on screen, but in every aspect of creative production.
Read my article in full on the University of Sunderland website in July – link to follow.