BBC North West Tonight had a first yesterday (30th June 2020). Whilst Roger Johnson devoted the whole of the main programme marking 100 days since the start of the Coronavirus Lockdown- and the impact that this has had across the North West, Steven Saul (a BBC North West programmer) and Andy McLannahan, BBC North West’s Technical Director/ Manager put together a digital- only version of BBC North West Tonight lasting just three and a half minutes. The programme referred to is here: https://twitter.com/BBCNWT/status/1278017959575748609
Whilst this digital-only version of BBC North West Tonight actually only lasted only three minutes (excluding the promotion- bit at the end), the amazing thing is that out of seven news items, two of them were about Cumbria. And the news- items covered actually concerned North and West Cumbria- i.e. just beyond BBC North West’s transmission boundary. The first was about a new nuclear plant being built at Moorside, near Sellafield potentially providing 25,000 new jobs for the area. The second news item, which was not good news to hear, was the vandalisation of eight Hand-washing Stations (at an estimated cost of £1,000 altogether ) in streets in Cumbria: These Hand- washing Stations were set up to help local people maintain hygiene whilst out and about- in an effort to halt the spread of Coronavirus. I looked at the video of the street featured and I recognised that it was a street in Carlisle City Centre- not far from the train station. Carlisle is, of course, very much in the north of Cumbria and 35 miles north of BBC North West’s transmission boundary (thus I was surprised to see footage of Carlisle in this brief BBC North West Tonight bulletin) and Moorside, near Sellafield (in West Cumbria) is only about ten miles north of the BBC North West transmission boundary, but north of it nonetheless.
There was also a news- item regarding a disgraced Councillor from Blackpool (Lancashire) and Lancashire also featured in the first (main) report on the Prime Minister’s promise of investment in roads, railways and housing in the North West (amongst other parts of Britain sharing in a £5 billion new pot of investment).
This proves it is possible to cover the northern two-thirds of North West England decently even in a three minute period. For sure, the reports were shorter (as they have to be in the shorter lunchtime and weekend bulletins anyway) but the point is that no large parts of North West England were missed out. Surely, if two items of news apiece for Cumbria and Lancashire can be fit into a three- minute bulletin (and these news items took up little over a minute and a half) then they could be fit into the main evening bulletins of BBC North West Tonight, which lasts 27 minutes. Cutting a minute off the Sports coverage won’t grieve Sports fans (as pointed out in recent posts, there are sports Channels like Sky Sports and some Premier League Football Clubs – like Manchester United- have their own TV Channel!), but that minute could clearly be used to greatly improve coverage for viewers north of Wigan who (lets be fair) don’t like being effectively ignored.
Even having two or three news items about Cumbria and Lancashire minimum each night (they could just be a minute apiece, unless a major event) would enormously improve perceptions of fair coverage. And coverage of North Cumbria (beyond the transmission boundary) for the benefit of South Cumbrian viewers of BBC North West output is only right- Cumbrian viewers have a right to be informed of what is going on in their own county on their Regional News bulletins; moreover, as I have pointed out in previous posts, northern (and especially West) Cumbria is part of North West England and so, to give as full a picture of what is happening in the North West of England, the main BBC and ITV Regional News outlets for North West England should report on North and West Cumbria news- events in their programming.
The little digital mini- bulletin produced by Steven Saul and technical director Andy McLannahan prove it is possible to cover Cumbria and Lancashire to an extent that viewers in those counties (which make up the northern three-quarters of North West England) are satisfied with their all-round and local Regional News without seriously detracting from coverage of the major conurbations of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, or of Cheshire. If the Sport is just cut by a minute, only a further two minutes needs to be cut off the twenty minutes (thereabouts) of main news coverage for Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, NW Derbyshire so that a minimum of one news item each for Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man (each lasting a minute) could be fit into each nightly bulletin. This is hardly a massive ask, as it is not seriously going to dilute coverage of the big urban areas- they will still have the lion’s share of news-coverage in the nightly bulletins.
At lunchtimes and weekends, the shorter bulletins could make one minute of space and insert two 30-second snippets, one about Cumbria/Isle of Man and the other about Lancashire. That way, viewers in more northerly parts of the North West will feel they have a news- bulletin more relevant to them and the issues affecting them in their area.
However, Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man together cover a large area- and a mainly Manchester/ Merseyside-focused Regional News- service (as it will always be because two- thirds of the North West’s population live there and in Cheshire) will never be able to really focus coverage across the North West proper: Indeed folk living in places like Sedbergh or Kendal will be more interested in what is happening across Cumbria than riots in Liverpool or a murder in Cheshire. The only real solution is for Cumbria, Lancashire and the Isle of Man to have their own new BBC North West Region.