What Regional Television News should be like in the future.

14th March 2018,

Dear Readers,

The new BBC Localnews App is (perhaps) a template for how Regional Television in the UK could be like in future years: It would be modelled on something like #BBCNews24, but would instead be a rolling programme of half-hour news and current-affairs relevant to the local area and the regional beyond. It would have ten news items, eight of which would be within 20 miles of one’s location with the other two being significant events at regional level and anywhere up to one hour’s drive away. This would not necessarily need a great number more BBC Regions, as all the news items would be matched through digital code to a location,  through Postcode Mapping.

As one travelled from one location say 20 miles further north new local items would come into the rolling news whilst other news items that become less local would drop out, though even over 20 miles half of the eight very local news-items in our rolling BBC RegionalNews 24 would stay the same. Further afield, the major regional news items would change with a change of one of the English (or Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland) Regions with the serious news moving more than an hour’s drive out of range. Other serious news items, within an hour’s drive of further north (in this example) would then feature in the rolling programming.

All of this would do away with the situation that (at present) means Regional Television changes drastically and suddenly to become completely different, such as is the present case where you cross the transmission boundary in Cumbria from the current BBC NorthWest Region to the BBC Look North (NorthEast/Cumbria) Region. In Grayrigg, just north-east of Kendal you currently get 80% news on BBC North West Tonight about Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire with South Cumbria mentioned if you are lucky. Eight miles to the north-east at Tebay you suddenly get 85% coverage of the North East of England with just 15% coverage of Cumbria: In neither of these cases is the so-called local news on the television very relevant to Grayrigg or Tebay respectively and it is very unlikely in the extreme that the majority of appropriate news-programing is going to be 150 miles apart for two locations just eight miles apart and in the same county of Cumbria!

Having regional news that serves a set transmission area is always going to have a sharp-edge change in what is presented to folk as local news as you cross the transmission boundary into the next BBC Region. The same also applies to the ITV Regions, and travelling from Milnthorpe to Kendal produces a 130-mile change in what is presented as local on travelling just nine miles from Milnthorpe to Kendal and in so doing leaving the ITV Granada Region and entering the ITV Border Region.  In practice, the news is likely to become more local on moving into the ITV Border Region because the ITV Border Region has a population of one-eighth of that of the ITV Granada Region with a population of almost seven million people living there. However, on the Granada side of the transmission boundary, the good people of Milnthorpe are very lucky if they get one mention of Cumbria in a week.

Within the BBC NorthWest and ITV Granada Regions, that cover a large area from Derbyshire and the Staffordshire border up to the South Lakes – and including the Isle of Man a #one-size-fits-all approach to local and regional news clearly does not work. Residents of Greater Manchester and Merseyside will think, for example, that BBC North West Tonight serves them well since most of the coverage is about these metropolitan urban areas of North West England. However, in South Cumbria or North Lancashire, that get little local coverage but a great majority of regional coverage of locations over an hour’s drive to the south- but nothing at all of northern Cumbria , there will be a sense that the area is completely under-represented and neglected.

However, for the #BBCRegionalNews24 initiative to take off there will need to be sufficient news-gathering in Cumbria and Lancashire to provide eight very local news items all within 20 miles radius for (say) this service in Milnthorpe or Millom. For this to be achieved there will need to be much more resources put into local and regional news-provision in Cumbria and Lancashire. A new #BBCNorthWest Region covering just #Lancashire #Cumbria and the #IsleofMan will still be needed, complete with opt-out news programming for the Isle of Man and northern Cumbria. This would certainly make news-provision for the more northerly parts of North West England much more local, even in the main bulletins.

There are big benefits of an additional new system of Regional Television News Programming, whereby using codes for local news items and Postcode Mapping you can get majority very localised news coverage and also a couple of items of more serious or significant developments further out and up to an hour’s drive or train-journey away. Gone would be the times when viewers at one end of a #TVRegion hear lots about events in a big city over an hour’s drive away but nothing about a serious incident just ten miles away because it’s over the #TransmissionBoundary in the next TVRegion. And that would be a good thing too!

The new #BBCLocal App may be the start of this drive to more high-quality local news provision: It would be good if this could become regional television output in its own right but it needs more resources and much more sourcing of news for rural parts of the country to work properly. The Local News App also needs to stop treating Scotland and Wales as localised areas, since they are clearly not. The current status means that any news with “Scotland” in it is fed into local news feeds from all over Scotland.

Regional News Programming remains woefully inadequate for parts of the UK, that for Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man is no exception. The BBC and ITV both need to put more resources into Regional Television News in #Cumbria and #Lancashire.

Ian Pennell


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