Introducing the Localness Onion: Immediate Local and Regionally Local- and its relevance to Regional News.

Up-dated May 2021

This Website provides a constructive critique of BBC and ITV Regional News (as watched) in northern parts of both North West and North East England on the grounds that viewers to not get enough news that is remotely, let alone immediately “Local” to them. The ideal news for a location is one where the vast majority of news is immediately local- i.e. within places that folk in the immediate community concerned travel to every day for shopping, visiting their nanna or going to work, etc. I would not be sparing if I suggested that eighty percent of news in a utopian local news-service would be thus- defined “Immediate Local”. A further twenty percent of news in a Local (not National) news service should cover events that will still be local- but further away: That is, the sort of distance folk may travel for major shopping trips, going to the airport or a major day- trip into the countryside. These will be places folk travel to maybe once a fortnight or monthly (or more often in the summer or just before Christmas) but with such journeys (and the return journey) undertaken on the same day. Such places may be considered Regionally Local.

I will use some examples from my (and my family’s) life over the last year (a period during which we have been restricted in many activities because of the Coronavirus Lockdown). Hopefully, with this, I can illustrate “Immediate Local” and “Regionally Local”, and how it would be defined, thus for me and my family. Of course, all families are different with relatives and friends in different places that will affect how they travel- but illustration is often the best form of explanation (and it is here).

I live near Alston, in the northeast of Cumbria in the rugged North Pennines. Infact Alston is about four miles from where I live and the village of Nenthead -which is in competition with Flash in northeast Staffordshire for the claim of highest village in England: Nenthead is one mile from my home. I travel to Nenthead most days to pick up the papers and get some milk. Some days, what I need is not at Nenthead Community Shop and so I travel to Alston. I also travel to both Nenthead and Alston a few times a week in relation to my work as a Book-keeper. Before the Coronavirus Lockdown when churches were allowed to have services, I and my parents would go once a week to our Church, in the town of Hexham in Northumberland (22 miles away). We also have close friends, some through our Church, most of those live in Hexham or Allendale and- before Lockdown- we had meetings we went to in Allendale. These places are, so defined as, “Immediate Local” as they are local locations that we travel to regularly (or, at least did, before Lockdown).

There are other places that I and my parents have travelled to (and returned from) in one day. My sister lived in the little village of Mickley, near Stocksfield in Northumberland in 2019 before later moving to Scotland at the end of 2020. Mickley is 30 miles from where I live and we (as a family) have been there (and back the same day) four or five times during 2019. We also went to a Christian Conference in Gateshead in 2019 (45 miles away) and in December 2019 I went with my father to Blaydon help shift an Aga onto a trailer (to be transported to a friend’s home near Allenheads, a village over the border into Northumberland and about eight miles away). Blaydon (Tyne and Wear) is forty miles away from where I live. In August 2018 I went with my father to collect some-one who was staying with us at that time from Newcastle Airport (42 miles away) and that same month we all went out to Ullswater, in the Lake District for the day (Ullswater is 34 miles away). In January this year, myself and my father travelled to Carlisle and back each day over six days when my mother was sadly dying: Carlisle is 34 miles away. All these are locations that are a bit further afield, but they are not locations I or my father would go to every other day- but perhaps monthly or (at least) several times a year. These places are not, therefore, “Immediate Local” but so- defined “Regionally Local” and (for sure) if something quite major happened in any of those places (i.e., a fatal road traffic accident) I would expect to be informed of it on the “Local News”.

Immediate Local will be- for a vast majority of people- those places within 25 miles or within half an hour’s travel time (whichever is the greater distance). Nowadays, people can drive or (if they cannot drive) get Public transport and so get to places within 25 miles of where they live. People travel to see friends, pick their kids up from school, go shopping and travel to places within this radius two or three times a week. In more rural areas many folk will have to commute such distances (or further) to get to work each day: My father drove to Newcastle and back each day (a round trip of almost ninety miles a day) when he was working- he was a lecturer at Newcastle University. People will, by any definition, be very interested in what happens in the places they frequent, work in, shop in and have nearby friends in, and so they will want their Regional and Local News to major on those areas.

There are, of course, places that are further away that folk will still travel to for day-trips in the summer, go to concerts or major shopping expeditions. For folk living in rural areas, they may have to travel more than 30 minutes to get to major shopping centres , go to airports, or indeed travel to work. They may not be in the areas people spend their day-to-day lives but these places will still be of interest and can thus be defined as “Regionally Local”. People travel to and from places that are “Regionally Local” in a day usually several times a year- for days out, major shopping trips, travel to airports to collect friends. These are still places that people are interested in but they would expect their Local News to have (ideally) more of the “Immediate Local” news.

Places are “Regionally Local” up to 50 miles or an hour’s travel time away (whichever is the greater distance): This is not a hard- and- fast rule but it is true for most people across the country in most circumstances, and so makes a useful definition of the limit most people would be prepared to travel to and from in a day (and travel more frequently than making long- distance- or national- travel). To some extent, regional affiliation, the speed cost and frequency of Public transport (or lack of Public transport and an inability to drive) and distances of the amenities or types of places one wants to travel to will affect the localness of an area to a person living in a particular town, but very few would consider somewhere eighty miles away (and involving a two- hour drive to get to) as local in any way shape or form.

Places that are both over fifty miles away and over an hour’s travel time away will not be “Local” in any way shape or form to the vast majority of the population. Thus a Regional News programme on the television advertised as “The News Where You Are”, with 85 to 90% coverage of the cities that are over 50 miles (and over an hour’s travel time) away will tend to annoy, rather than satisfy the viewer- unless they have children at University in the cities regularly covered or have several friends that happen to live in them.

Now, people can (and do) sometimes travel to places that are well over an hour away by car or on the train and return the same day- but such journeys may be several over the course of a life-time: A-level students attending interview at a prospective University may travel by train for three or four hours to get to the city in which the University is, then return home the same day. A trip to the Passport Office, or to get a Visa, may also necessitate such long journeys. Die-hard football fans may travel long distances to see their favourite team play an away game, then return later the same day. Such journeys are quite rare and it would not be at all correct, for example, to describe the city that your son or daughter went to a prospective University for interview as “Local” when it is 120 miles away and involves a two-hour train journey to get there.

Now, the BBC does not have anything like the resources to provide 100% of the population with 80% Immediate Local News and 20% Regionally Local news, but if they could get it to 20% Immediate Local and 10% (overlap beyond transmission area) Regionally Local- even for rural areas close to transmission boundaries of BBC Regions that would be an enormous improvement on what they currently offer.

Let’s apply the definitions of Local to a town in the north of both the BBC North West and ITV Granada transmission areas: Milnthorpe, which is about seven miles south of Kendal. This small town has a population of 2,200 and it is right on the A6. It is also on the main Kendal to Lancaster bus-route and Lancaster is just 15 miles to the south- across the county boundary into Lancashire. For Milnthorpe, Immediate Local is (basically) everything within 25 miles or 30 minutes drive (whichever is greater in distance), and (whether travelling north or south) the M6 motorway is eight miles away. In terms of distances, Lancaster, Morecambe and Garstang in Lancashire are within 25 miles of Milnthorpe and are thus Immediate Local, so too are Kendal, Ambleside and Shap in Cumbria. All these areas are Immediate Local and since Shap is north of both BBC North West’s and ITV Granada’s transmission boundaries some “Intensive Overlap”- i.e., covering places just outside the transmission boundary with the degree to which places within it are covered- will be necessary. All things considered, folk in Milnthorpe will need at least 20% coverage of events entirely within an area stretching from Shap in the north to Garstang in the south- and east to the Cumbria/ North Yorkshire border to feel that they are getting good local coverage.

But that’s not all. Locations from 25 miles or half an hour’s drive (whichever is the greater distance) up to 50 miles or an hour’s drive/ travel time (whichever is the greater distance) are so- defined as Regionally Local. For folk in the town of Milnthorpe, South Cumbria, this takes in Preston, Blackpool, Blackburn and as far south as Warrington (and just into North Manchester and also northern Merseyside with a clear run down the M6), it also takes in the Furness Peninsula and as far north as Egremont in West Cumbria, it takes in much of the North Lakes and (with a clear run up the M6) as far north as Carlisle. To the east, it extends as far as Skipton and Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales and as far as Barnard Castle (County Durham) to the northeast. A good deal of coverage of Manchester and/ or South Lancashire is guaranteed on BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports, but if something major happened in Cockermouth, or Keswick or even Carlisle the good people of Milnthorpe will want to be made fully aware of it on the Regional and Local News, not skimmed over in the National News (or not covered at all).

This means that, as far as BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports are concerned, they will improve coverage of communities for the far north of their respective transmission areas by doing two things. The first is the provision of about 5% overlap coverage (that’s one in twenty news items) of those parts of Cumbria well to the north of the transmission boundary. The second is more intensive coverage of South Cumbria and northern Lancashire, together (accounting for 20% of news items) and the area of this coverage should extend about ten miles north of the transmission boundary so that communities at the northern margins of the transmission area feel like they are getting anything like proper localised coverage.

Will this require more resources? Sure, and it may even require a commitment to providing opt-out coverage in the main North West Regional News bulletins- from both BBC and ITV. And if neither BBC North West or ITV Granada can (or will) afford opt-out programming, the ultimate solution will mean all of South Cumbria and northern Lancashire being transferred to ITV Border transmission Region -where programmers will be sure to provide much more geographically- appropriate news- coverage.

Published by northwestisnorthwest

My name is Ian Pennell and I am a freelance Book-keeper: I live near Alston, in the North Pennines in north-east Cumbria. I have friends who live in northern North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 17 years ago) and in other parts of Cumbria. I have two Website Campaigns that seek to promote more localised Regional TV coverage for large rural areas across the North of North West England and North East England. . A big problem is that the Regional Television Bulletins for the North West covers the southern third of the Region about 90% (plus a part of Derbyshire which is NOT the North West of England), covers the middle third of North West England poorly and covers the northern third of North West England not at all! When I was studying at Lancaster University, I used to watch BBC1 North West Tonight because it covered areas up around where I was brought up- in northern Cumbria as well as more immediately locally around Lancaster. Then I came home one day, turned on BBC1 North West Tonight wondering why they were silent on Cumbria and discovered why: Most of Cumbria had been chopped off the weather-map! . People living in the westernmost part of North West England (around St. Bees Head) have local BBC news on their televisions which is 90% about North East England! In rural and northern Northumberland too, Regional TV, as is received by viewers, tends too often to be Tyneside/ Wearside/ Teesside- focussed with little news locally. Communities in North Northumberland have strong links across the Border into south-east Scotland and towards Edinburgh but none of the Regional TV News- services serving Northumberland today ever goes across the Scottish Border for significant happenings of interest to North Northumbrians. I have also done walking in the area, including around the Cheviots in the past- and the Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ East and Mid Lothian area is vast- but it is largely overlooked by mainstream Regional TV! . North Yorkshire, the largest county in England also falls in the gaps between coverage from BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV1 News Tyne Tees in the north of the county, and the Leeds-based BBC1 and ITV1 Regional TV- services in the south of the county: North Yorkshire is a huge, yet beautiful county, which I have visited and explored in the past, yet is poorly covered in Regional TV. . Based near Alston, near the Cumbria/ Northumberland boundary I am well-placed to discuss Regional TV in all these large rural areas, in which collectively some two million folk live, yet they are poorly covered by the Regional TV News- services set up to serve them. These huge areas are an hour to two hours' drive from where I live: North Lancashire and South/ West Cumbria are to the south-west, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and Lothian are to the north and north-east, and North Yorkshire is to the south-east of my home near Alston. I am well-placed to draw attention to deficiencies in Regional TV coverage for folk in all these areas. The North Pennines, where I live, is arguably another large area that touches on the other three where Regional TV coverage falls through the gaps completely (and that is despite the North Pennines running north to south down the middle of the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria Region). . In two websites, one for northern North West England and the Isle of Man (a country in it's own right that does not have it's own TV service!), and another Website focussing on Northumberland, North Yorkshire and the North Pennines I make the point that Regional TV that informs viewers of important things in their local area is a Public Service, funding for which should be given a higher priority (and if necessary via statute through the BBC's Charter), than funding for Soaps, Films or Sport- which are for leisure. I also give viewers the tools to fight effectively for better- and more geographic-appropriate Regional TV where they live- and to seek it through alternative (often little-known) local TV services, some of which may only be available on the Internet.

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