Friday, 17 October 2008

"Now it's not time to catch up with the news in your area..."

I’ve just been to my local farm shop in the beautiful Berkshire autumn sunshine, right on the edge of Windsor where I live, to pick up a few vegetables for the weekend / logs for the fire etc. Most of their produce is grown and farmed locally. It’s a business on the rise as the trend for finding alternatives to supermarkets continues, and the zeitgeist continually moves towards a greater interest in the providence of food. There’s a genuine belief that local is good. Going to the shop strengthens a feeling of identity and community. In a world that’s collapsing around our eyes and ears, there’s something reassuringly nice about ‘local’.

I say this because, as you may have heard this week, Global Radio in the UK is axing its daytime local news bulletins across most of its stations. Local news will now only feature at breakfast and Drivetime and there’ll be a 1 minute long national bulletin from London throughout the day. Local it seems is not good in the world of Global Radio.

I suppose this is the final, inevitable nail in the coffin for truly “local radio” across the daytime for all of these stations. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for rival stations broadcasting to the same area, that do have locally produced news, to bang the drum about their product being made locally, featuring local stories that are actually relevant to the area. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like me to write you a series of promos!

I still can’t help feeling that Global Radio is missing a trick by ditching all their daytime local content. Stuff happens in the day too. It’s not just at breakfast and drive! But more importantly, it just reinforces the message that across the day there’s no local content at all… apart from the adverts. Radio listeners in a capital city like Cardiff deserve better than a 60 second bulletin with just some national headlines that frankly, you can from any number of sources these days. Might as well not bother… Or maybe that’s the next step?

Jonathan Richards, Global’s Head of News, was quoted on as saying…

"No local story will be missed. In the event of a major local story all stations have the autonomy to break away from the network, and should there be a local disaster such as a flood or major crash, additional journalists will be drafted to the scene. This is about raising standards of news for commercial radio."

I love statements like that that go unchallenged! Saying that “no local story will be missed” seems to be pushing it quite a bit! Getting all those good local stories into Breakfast and Drive might be a bit of a squeeze I think. And how removing local daytime bulletins equals a “raising of standards of news for commercial radio” is incomprehensible? He seems to be implying that the standard of the local news bulletins on many of these stations was poor… so the answer was to just take them off completely! Who knows?! Don’t get me wrong… bad local news bulletins are cringe-worthy. But well-trained, passionate, local radio journalists with an interest in reporting the goings-on in an area, produce some fantastic local news. Just listen to the multi award-winning Radio City News for proof of that. (And imagine Radio City broadcasting news bulletins across the day that didn’t once reference the ongoing trial for the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones)

One thing I do know is that we now have lots of local stations trying to sound like national ones, which kind of defeats the object of local radio really. How long will it be before Drivetime is culled from Ofcom’s local requirement, and the last remaining hurdle before for Global can run a quasi-national network, will be Breakfast?

And all this, at a time when The BBC Trust is considering the findings of a public value consultation over proposals to create video based local news websites in 60 regions across the country. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of commercial radio just handing over the ‘local’ card to the BBC as well.

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