“So Just What Do You Mean By Local?”
The sixth annual ‘What do you mean by local’ conference that hosted influential figures of local radio, local newspapers and local media under one roof was held last Wednesday in the Ellen Terry building of Coventry University.
Ian Marshall, Deputy vice chancellor of Coventry University was chair and host for the occasion. His interpretation of the meaning of local was: “no audience, no listeners and no job”. The phrase “local”, he added hides much of what it means.
Kevin Marsh, retired executive founding editor of BBC College of journalism also mentioned it is hard to pin down the idea of local.
Darren Parkin, editor for Coventry Telegraph stated: “you have to allow the local audience to tell you what they want”, he also admitted that he sees Coventry Telegraph as a vehicle which tells people what is happening.
A newspaper, he mentioned, is a collection of knowledge, and that knowledge might not apply to everyone. The audience asked him if he is going to save local newspapers, to which he replied by asking if local newspapers needed saving.
“There will always be a need for local newspapers, even with an iPad, nothing beats sitting in an armchair with a newspaper”, he concluded.
Steve Orchard CEO of Touch Fm opposed his statement by saying: “sitting in an arm chair with an iPad is better and this is where local newspapers will die out”.
Local, has a dimension of relevance and the dilemma is going micro in local terms: “Your life does not revolve around your street and local council estates and you might be interested in what goes on beyond your boundaries” he added.
He stressed on the importance of engaging with the local audience: “Try to deliver a sense of emotion and a sense of place. This can be the pride in an area or something that angers the people in the community” he stated.
He proudly displayed the Touch FM Grammy award plaque, which he believes they received because they treat their audience with respect and also serve their listeners beyond their call of duty as a local radio station. This, he reiterated, is what emotional engagement is about. More so, Touch FM was also chosen primarily for their music content.
“If you would do local and do it badly then you are better off not doing it at all” he commented. Adding that local people will know you are not doing your job well.
Mr Orchard also acknowledged that he might not fully understand what is happening with the euro zone but it might mean he has to employ less people; nonetheless quality still has to be delivered.
Looking for a job can be grim he shared, “so be creative about what you have learned after you leave university.” He also encouraged students by saying: “Most people do give up but never be the one who gives up”.
Phil Riley CEO of Orion and Mercia FM began his presentation with an entertaining tale of his days as a student at Loughborough University. He was one of the presenters on the university radio station.
They got approval to buy a radio station because they made a claim that resonates with the local people and aimed to be the “Last men standing” even as Smooth and Kerrang went national.
He stated that because of financial reasons they have moved location and moving out of Coventry city has had three effects.
The present location of service saves money and therefore more money is spent on things that matter. This he deemed a positive effect.
When Mercia started it had about forty to fifty people working for them but now it’s down to about fifteen people. The present work space is also effective because not all the workers are in the building at the same time. The third reason which deemed not so positive is that they have moved out of the core patch of their territory.
He also highlighted the issue of ‘functional’ verses ‘emotional’. Mercia airs news, sports and weather that is local in content but that, he stated, was not enough. You need presenters who can interact with the local audience. The presenter needs to constantly be aware of what is happening around them locally. He accentuated one of Mercia’s successes was the intense coverage of the riots in Birmingham.
Jeremy Pollock managing editor of BBC Coventry and Warwickshire agreed with the three speakers thus also resounding the importance of emotionally engaging with the audience. Nonetheless he stated that the BBC does not have a problem with cost and resources because of licence fees being paid.
Sharing his background with the audience he said, he grew up in Brighton and was always glued to the local radio for its sports content. One day he carried on listening after the sports highlights and was surprised by the news bulletin because it mentioned names of places he knew. That really impressed him and also developed his passion for radio since then.
The BBC he stated might not be concerned as much with financial issues but they are faced with finding a foothold with the local population.
“I can’t echo enough the importance of quality” he related. Not being a utility switch on is what most radio stations work at avoiding. In the sense that people use you to check for weather updates and if roads are working properly and switch off again.” More so, he admitted that BBC local has most often served an older audience with the average age being 56. Appealing to a younger generation is something they are still working on he concluded.
The conference was well attended and for me it has helped to throw more light on all what local is about.