The BBC’s new Local News App: Money well spent?

11th March 2018,

Dear Readers,

Some of you might be aware that the BBC has brought out a new Local News App, which you can have on your Personal Computer or your Android 5 to find out what is happening in your location or otherwise local to you at any time.

So how does this work if you live in the North West? Basically, this app lets you decide what is local to you- from only your immediate location up to what is 20 miles away. It also defines as local for you anything that is in your county provided the news article makes reference to #Lancashire or #Cumbria.  It even provides news articles based on what Region you are in provided it has, for example, #NorthWest in the news item if you are in North West England.

Having experimented with a number of different locations in Cumbria and North Lancashire I find it throws up some interesting results: Even if you live in Carlisle you will find on your #LocalNews feed a news-item about a recent bus-crash in Manchester because the news-report has “North West” mentioned in it. As an aside, I find it very interesting that the BBC tacitly admits that northern Cumbria is in the North West for  #LocalNews searches in North and West Cumbria but that this northern two-thirds of Cumbria must have Regional Television News output from Newcastle, which provides about 85% coverage of North East England!

Returning to the BBC’s local news app it provides a lot of local news for users of its Local News App that is within the same county as the user. To a great extent folk do have an interest in what goes on in their own county, which is not something that South Cumbrian viewers of BBC North West Tonight get with regards to news about the northern two-thirds of the county.

The drawback is that for a large county like Cumbria, the users of the Local News App may find a lot of the news on their feed is not especially local when situations arising just over the border in (say) Lancashire would be more of interest. Much of the Local News feed stays the same from Longtown to Barrow-in-Furness because, being in Cumbria, all these areas get all the Cumbrian news with #Cumbria mentioned (which is most of it).

The same applies for Lancashire: Users of the BBC App living in #Carnforth might want to know more about flooding in Ambleside than the results of Lancashire County Cricket against Derbyshire played at Old Trafford in Manchester (unless they were avid cricket fans, of course). What is local to folk in #Skelmersdale or #Rossendale will be quite difficult to what is local to folk living in #Hornby or #Arkholme in the very north of the county. To some extent, one can get news over the county boundary by setting the definition of #Local to 20 miles. However, there is not the option to get news from more than 20 miles.

Most people want the vast bulk of local news to be about locations within ten to 15 miles (up to 20 miles for a rural location). Within this radius people go shopping, go to the doctor or visit close friends regularly. Beyond that, folk do have some interest in regional news; usually more serious developments within their own region and anywhere up to an hour’s drive away. It means that if a major incident occurs, possibly involving loss of life near Carlisle just about everyone in Cumbria, North Lancashire northwards as far as Hawick and Sanquhar in southern Scotland and eastwards as far as Newcastle upon Tyne would care to be informed about the incident. The new BBC Local News App does not have the finesse for 80% coverage within ten miles and 20% from ten miles out to an hour’s drive away. This outer limit of an hour’s drive away (clearly further on a fast motorway or high-speed rail route ) is the distance folk would travel on a major day-trip out, to pick up family from the airport or travel for a major shopping expedition. The new BBC Local News App does not do this.

Another drawback is that for folk living in Scotland or Wales, these nations within the United Kingdom are almost always mentioned by name in the news-reports within Scotland and Wales respectively: Consequently the Local News App will, for example, produce lots of news about Glasgow, Edinburgh and Central Scotland for someone based in the most northerly town in Scotland- Baltasound on the Shetland Isles: The  only news local to people living in the Shetland Isles will be news about the Shetland Islands because it is surrounded by water and 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Perhaps the BBC needs to road-test its App for different parts of the UK to see if it produces news local to different locations, and alter the programming of the software to make it do so.

However the new Local News App does have some use for the younger generation who are savvy with the use of mobile phones, tablets and computers. They can press a couple of buttons and can find out what is going on locally. They can do this wherever they happen to be, if they work in a different town to where they live users of the App can change the location that they want local news for.

All the same, nothing quite beats high-quality regional news on the television, and for the older generation who don’t get along that well with new Apps on Tablets, I-Phones and Computers nothing beats the local news on the television. And for these older folk, regional television in the North West, anywhere from Preston or Blackburn northwards fails them: They get little coverage of events that directly affect them or their locality but lots of news that is regional-distance but only from one direction (to the South). A major incident in northern Cumbria, which might be of concern to them, just won’t get reported because it’s beyond the #Patch of the NorthWest Television broadcast services.

Even for younger folk, news on the television makes more of an impact than any new App if they need to be informed of something major in their area. I do not know how much it is costing the BBC to put the software and infrastructure in place for the new BBC Local App and then pay some techies to maintain it, but it must run into £ millions. That is money that could have been better spent setting up a new BBC NorthWest Region for just Cumbria,  Lancashire and the Isle of Man!

Ian Pennell

#LocalApp #localnews #LocalNewsApp #local #Cumbria #Lancashire #IsleOfMan #BBC #BBCLocal #NorthWestEngland #northwest #Barrow #Carlisle #Arkholme #Lancaster #Preston #Blackburn




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