Nationals must learn UK doesn't end at Watford

BBC boss
Mark Thompson’s announcement that several departments would be moving
to Manchester in the next few years has received plenty of publicity.

Apart
from the Manchester Evening News, much of the coverage from the
(southern-based)n press has consisted of snide comments at the awful
prospect of moving ‘oop north’.

It even featured as a gag at the
National Comedy Awards, which is surprising when you think how much
original comedy has emerged from the North West.

No-one is saying
that the movement of Five Live, children’s TV and Sport is going to
make the BBC solve its metrocentricity in one fell swoop – after all
Five Live is still going to have to cover the whole of the country
whether it sits in Manchester or White City.

But at least it is a
start and it will mean that producers will have to be smarter about
getting guests from outside London (and there are more than a few
genuine experts sprinkled around the provinces).

Creatives in the
North West are genuinely excited by the fact that commissioning (and
the spend that goes with it) will have moved out of London in certain
areas.

So why the shock, followed by titters, in some of the
national newspapers? Of course, many of these writers would be
horrified to have to leave the London media village they so happily
inhabit.

Maybe they would have to start reviewing restaurants,
theatre, gigs, galleries etc in the rest of the country – which is
actually home to the vast majority of the population.

Most
regional arts bodies know that if you want to get a London luvvie off
their backside to review anything you have to provide a first class
rail ticket, a slap-up meal and then keep your fingers crossed you get
a sentence of prose – good, bad or indifferent.

I am loath to
pick on anyone to illustrate the point of the regions being
under-represented in newspapers, but I did smile when I read The
Independent’s visual arts writer Tom Lubbock’s review of the year.

As
you would expect, with most of the national institutions in London,
much of the review centred on places such as the National Gallery, Tate
Modern and the Barbican – though to be fair, he did give Baltic on
Tyneside a plug. But I quote: “I repent for writing about so few things
outside London this year, and wish to mention the following shows that
– mainly for practical reasons – I failed to review.”

He spends a
few words on exhibitions around the country which presumably have long
finished leaving readers with no chance of taking his advice and having
a look, and then launches straight back into the Tate Britain in London.

I
would love to know what practical reasons prevented him from reviewing
things outside of London, where many of his readers live and go out,
but at least he was honest enough to admit it, and The Independent is
hardly the worst offender. But national newspapers are giving their
non-London readers a raw deal, and with northern offices closing, that
situation is hardly going to improve.

Still this is great for
regional papers – which can include useful local information, such as
listings and football write-ups the next day, which they know people
are unlikely to get from their national.

The Sun’s front page
lead on Stan Collymore always looked like it would be an open and shut
case at the Press Complaints Commission.

For those who missed it,
this was where Collymore admitted he was a ‘lying scumbag’ for saying
he had been beaten up by Bath rugby union players at a nightclub in
Dublin.

But his signed confession, it emerged in the fifth
paragraph on an inside page, was a scam, as the newspaper admitted
tricking him into signing it. So The Sun was duly censured for its
‘serious’ breach, carrying the adjudication on page 32, but
surprisingly flagging it up on page 2 with a headline which said ‘Colly
Rap’.

But I could not help but wonder what possessed them to do it in the first place.

Admittedly,
they clearly can’t stand Collymore as a human being, and his past
exploits of girlfriendbashing and dogging are not going to make him a
Sun favourite.

But could they have been in any way influenced by
the fact that Collymore’s autobiography was being serialised in arch
enemy The Mirror ?

They wouldn’t be the first paper to take a
hard line on a rival’s buy-up, and nearly as bad is a paper which
airbrushes the past of its celebrity scoop.

But it does make it
very difficult for readers to work out the true mettle of someone when
they are constantly getting such polarised and extreme views on people,
which are actually influenced by pride and commercialism.

Presumably
that is why minor celebrities such as Paul Burrell (feted in The Mirror
, despised by the rest who missed out on buying his story) are
resorting to appearing on reality TV programmes so the public can
really get the measure of them.

How many hacks do you know who
say they have a book inside them? And how many actually get down to
writing one, let alone getting it published?

Just because you earn a living with words doesn’t mean writing anything longer than 400 of them is going to be easy.

So
all credit to The People’s Matthew Clark for being one of the select
few to have a book on the shelves at Waterstones as I write.

Clark,
who was launched into journalism on the Beccles and Bungay Journal ,
now owned by Archant, is not claiming to be the next Sebastian Faulks,
Helen Fielding or Barbara Taylor Bradford – even though the money would
not go amiss.

Instead he has penned Playing Away (published by
Cutting Edge Press, not Mills and Boon) which lays bare, in
impressively thorough detail, the A to Z of soccer sex scandals.

As
a massive Man United fan and headline writer/designer for The Sun , The
Mirror and now The People, this is clearly Clark’s natural habitat.
With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Clark describes it as a cross
between the Karma Sutra and the Rothmans Football Yearbook. But he is
not about to give up the day job yet. It entered Amazon’s UK sales
chart at 140,000th and peaked at 38,000th.

And although The
Independent graciously described it as ‘timely’ and footie magazine
Four Four Two loved it, one website review remarked: ‘What is the world
coming to, how did this get published?’

Clark has gone for an
alphabeticised list of people and incidents starting with Nadia
Abrahams (who accused Sir Alex Ferguson of sexual assault in South
Africa) to Dwight Yorke and Zorro. This might mean he has not had to
agonise over a beginning, middle and end like many authors. But it
makes it easy to dip in and out of, and more importantly it is a right
riveting read, as they presumably said to him at his paper.

Alison Hastings is a media consultant ajh@alisonhastings.demon.co.uk

Next week: Chris Shaw

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