9th August 2021
The return of Roger Johnson, the main News- anchor on BBC North West Tonight from his holidays- plus the end of the Tokyo Olympics (2020) has brought a revival in the extent of coverage north of the M62 Corridor: Barnoldswick in north-east Lancashire and Blackpool were covered, the plight of a young lady from Lancashire recovering from a brain-tumour received extensive sympathetic coverage and- after a significant gap- Cumbria is getting covered again: The plight of the UK’s first proposed open- cast coal mine to be built near Whitehaven in West Cumbria was covered- and it is worth noting that Whitehaven is some 15 miles north of the BBC North West transmission boundary. There was also a news- feature about the Isle of Man.
It does appear that Roger Johnson stamps his mark on BBC North West Tonight, as does Owain Wyn Evans, the charismatic weather- presenter. He does display a real awareness of what viewers across the North West expect from their regional news- service and it is telling that his return has marked an increase in coverage north of the M62 (almost half the programme this evening). The end of the Olympics has helped, too as that has freed up air- time to cover geographic North West England better. And although just one night, the improvement in all-round coverage in Lancashire is palpable.
However, one has to look at Regional News programming over the long-term. One can say that, on balance BBC North West Tonight covers Lancashire reasonably well, there are typically two to three news-items about the county on most of the evening bulletins. However, north of Preston in particular there are strong links with Cumbria and the Lake District and BBC North West’s coverage of Cumbria is patchy over time. There will be weeks when there is something about Cumbria (often two news-items) every night- but then, usually during holidays or with major sports events like the Olympics or the European Cup demanding coverage there is a prolonged drought in coverage north of Preston.
For these reasons I cannot in sincerity recommend Cumbrian viewers of Regional Television just watch BBC North West Tonight even though for all of South Cumbria and as far up the Cumbrian coast as far as Ravenglass BBC North West is the default BBC Region. There is a perfectly good local and Regional News- service that always covers Cumbria- including South Cumbria- very well and which typically has 50% coverage of the county: It’s called ITV Border Lookaround. Why would viewers there want to watch the news- service that only covers Cumbria sparingly- and intermittently- instead?
Now South Cumbrians would want a North West Regional News- service and there are cross- border links with Lancashire (mainly northern Lancashire, to be fair). However, for Local and Regional news the order of priority for these South Cumbrian viewers is Local first, the County second and Regional third. Moreover, producers at BBC North West are not going to improve their coverage of Cumbria unless they feel pressure from these viewers writing in and complaining about the lack of coverage of their area and places nearby, with those viewers threatening to switch channels to a more geographic- appropriate alternative if their viewing needs are not met. That is market forces- and a bit of competition to the North will stop Programme-producers at BBC North West and indeed ITV Granada taking their most northern customers and viewers for granted.