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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 - ...

30 January 2022

The News Isn't a Nuisance, Liza

Well, erm, hello. Bit of preamble first. It's been a while. Two years in fact. 

Back in late 2019, well before anyone knew Covid was coming, I decided to opt out of commentary on radio and journalism. It had dawned on me I'd been out of a full time job in radio for longer than I'd been in one. 

OK, I'd also spent a big chunk of time teaching news, and annoying proper academics with my single minded focus on vocational outcomes for my trainees over floppy hats and the rest of the HE theses, but the last thing I wanted to become was an out-of-touch armchair critic. 

Even worse, a cardigan, railing on about how much better things were in the past (spoiler - they weren't, they were different). So I quietly went quiet. 

It's all James Cridland's fault I'm back. He's been nudging me into doing a bit of interview training for his cool podcast mates who are right up there on audio's cutting edge; and he even goaded me explicitly in his latest circular email to hit the commentary keyboard once again. If a proper radio futurologist does that, who am I to argue? 

So here goes. 

24 December 2020

Creative for a Brexit and Covid Christmas

 I don't write fiction. 

I've never been good at making stuff up from a blank sheet of paper, but I do like parodies. I wrote quite a few as a teenager and since retiring from a full time commitment to anything one of the quirkiest odd jobs I picked up for a year or so was writing a column for Winchester Today - a newspaper, news website and radio station for that town run by my radio friend and BJTC colleague Kevin Gover.

Last year, at this time, I sat down to do my usual wry look at life and instead began typing what follows. I didn't think Kevin would go with it, and I'd have to write some more copy, but he printed it and now reading it back I actually quite like it too.

I don't claim to be any sort of a great writer but I hope this brings a smile on the Eve of what will be for our family and many others a strange, strained and very new if totally un-normal Christmas. 

Have the best possible festive season in these wretched times, and let's hope 2021 is a lot better.

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.