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What a Journalist Isn't

I'm sick and tired of the abuse journalists are getting at the moment. They don't deserve it, at least real journalists don't - ...

01 September 2020

Generation Shift

End of an era is in overused expression, but there's no doubt that's what we have witnessed over this Bank Holiday weekend as dozens of legacy ILR stations signed off for the last time ahead of Bauer Media's launch of its new national offerings on a patchwork of local transmitters.

It's been a long time coming, this demise of the topography stations - those named after rivers, hills and  landmarks - as they make way for brands. 

Brands, we're told, have the power to cut through clutter and aid recall in the era of infinite media choice, although in an age where names like boohoo and TikTok are rooted in nursery vocabulary the cognitive effort required to recall "Greatest Hits Radio" feels almost Herculean. 

One can, at least, hope it delivers what it says on the tin.

Getting what you want in wireless has always come at a price. 

Early ILR punished profitability with the IBA's secondary rental payments. Capital Radio, therefore, was obliged to sign a cheque that paid for Ralph McTell to perform a gig in Bradford to entertain punters in Pennine's Free Festival, which I organised as a fresh-faced teenager. At least he got to play "Streets of London" on Sir Dickie's dime.

More recently, at the turn of the millennium, the late, lovely John Myers employed me for two years to run a smoke and mirrors Media School for Real Radio; it looked good, with little actual effort. The setting up of that operation was a promise made to OFCOM as part of the beauty contest to secure GMG's regional licence in Yorkshire. 

The fulfillment of that pledge paid for the conservatory where I'm writing this.

Now Bauer has secured its greatest prize, a national network to rival Global's as the two main players in mass market UK commercial radio go head to head. 

26 February 2019

Home Truths and Silver Linings

It's time to face some uncomfortable home truths in UK radio.

First, and most obviously, today has brought devastating news for those working in local and regional commercial radio. Global is scrapping local and regional breakfast shows across its brands, and sharing the last remaining local and regional content (generally Drivetime shows) across bigger areas.

This will mean "significant changes at an operational level" as Global CEO Ashley Tabor smoothly and euphemistically puts it. Or massive redundancies, in the plain language commercial radio newsrooms have always excelled in.

Arch rival and last-contender-left-standing Bauer could well follow suit. They're not commenting on speculation. Industry website Radio Today is predicting up to two hundred and fifty jobs lost as a direct result of the changes. For a small industry, that's a huge number.

Meanwhile a lot of community radio is, objectively, poor quality. Don't take it from me. Travel broadcaster and former radio station manager Keri Jones put it far better than I could in a Facebook post:
I have been rolling my eyes skyward at some community radio people who seriously believe that this is an opportunity for them to seize the Global audience [..]
Yes, there are a FEW community stations that do pass muster. A few. And those are the stations that provide news and unique and meaningful content that people cannot get anywhere else. That's community radio. Or they use their radio setting to develop skills or make a difference to volunteers' lives [..]
For far too many CR there's no format, no plan and no quality control. For Ashley Tabor of Global that means no worry. CR- be like Global. Define your audience. Find your niche. Stand for something. Do it consistently. Don't assume you'll get listeners by default.
So, amid all the gloom, is it possible to spy a silver lining? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some actual good for communities, for radio and for the future? Bear with me ...

24 January 2019

Embargo Farrago

Here's the story. Simon Mayo, the very unhappy Radio 2 presenter who chose to leave the station after being forced to work in a format which didn't work for him or his equally uncomfortable co-host, found a new gig in commercial radio.

This is part of a trend. Chris Moyles, Eddie Mair, Chris Evans and now Simon have all handed in the pass at the Beeb to take up high profile roles in a newly-confident UK commercial radio sector.

Making the move is an art in itself. The objective is to get as much coverage as possible from other media normally too far up their own importance to acknowledge the massive audiences these and other radio giants draw every day.

Simon started teasing his move on social media, letting first Zoe Ball and then Chris Evans have their moments in the sun as their new shows started .. playfully announcing an announcement, driving fans and radio anoraks to distraction as he kept them waiting.

Meanwhile Bauer had their plans well advanced for Scala Radio. These things don't happen overnight. Simon's announcement was the icing on the cake, an announcement timed for Tuesday 22nd January. But across the country, newsdesks were told in advance with an embargoed press release.

The BBC's Media Correspondent Amol Rajan broke that embargo, and tweeted the news a day early.
And that, I believe, is a problem. Here's why.

17 September 2018

Your First Day in Training

It's start of term today for dozens if not hundreds of wannabe journos as they arrive at universities across the UK to embark on a course.

It feels odd, because it's the first time in a quarter of a century I've not had to give a speech to an incoming class of trainees.

For most of that time, for very good reasons, my class started in late January or early February.

My priority was always unashamedly employment, job outcomes and placement opportunities. Going on placement in October and November opened many, many more doors to my candidates than is possible in April or May, a time of year which suits the mindset of traditional University types.

But whether class starts in January or September, the gist of my opening remarks was much the same. So I'll take the opportunity to make them anyway, just this time to a virtual audience. I hope you find at least some of them to be of value.

29 August 2018

We're Not All Posh

You've heard the expression "repeat until true".

Especially so in the age of memes, falsehoods can be repeated over and over until at least a substantial proportion of the audience believe them to be facts.

"Carrots help you see in the dark" originates in Second World War propaganda designed to shield the development of radar, whilst simultaneously boosting the mythic status of the RAF and helpfully creating demand for surplus veg.

"Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen waiting for science to cure cancer" is another. He isn't.

Neither is "Channel Four looking for a new national headquarters". The meek way regional journos have swallowed the spin on that channel's petulant refusal to give up its London base is shameful.

But the lie I really want to nail is the suggestion that all journos are posh. We're not. And the meme created round the suggestion we are is actually harmful for all of us who've devoted a career to helping diverse candidates into the profession. Here's why.

15 July 2018

Keeping It Real - The Case for Immersive Newsroom Teaching

One of the major challenges in news training is making the student experience as realistic as possible. It’s an objective that sits uncomfortably with the norms of university life, because it requires total immersion in the newsgathering environment over a period of time.

A key feature of the postgrad course I ran for two decades at Leeds Trinity University was the “month on air” – 28 consecutive days of radio news for BCB 106.6 FM, with trainees providing bulletins from 0800-1800 weekdays and 0800-1200 at weekends. They also did a fortnight of live TV programming, originally with cable TV, more recently online.  
Compare that with the sector norm, which is quite often a single newsday at the end of a module, maybe two consecutive days if the institution has taken on board guidance from the BJTC.
I’ve seen course leaders literally wringing their hands at the prospect of finding just fifteen days a year in the timetable for all newsdays … “that’s not how universities work!”. 

Well, it should be. This post, originally commissioned by my good friend Dr Richard Thomas for the Journalism Knowledge Exchange (@JournalismKX) website, sets out why.