Annals of crisis management: Meridian bosses go AWOL as viewers lambast local news changes

The new Meridian Tonight has got off to a predictable start.

The show went out for the first time last week, combining what used to be three separate ‘opted-out’bulletins for ITV Thames Valley, ITV Meridian South and ITV Meridian South East.

The new Meridian territory stretches from Banbury in the north, eastward to Canterbury and Brighton, and westward to Weymouth.

We’re talking about a potential audience of 8m across an area that includes 12 county councils, 60 district councils and 86 MPs’ constituencies.

On the show’s blog, Robin Britton, head of news, engaged in some unwise corporate boosterism:

The new service is the culmination of months of planning and collective effort from newsrooms all over the country. We have developed new technology and work patterns that enable us to run a number of ‘opt’services. This will ensure ‘sub-regional’audiences will get the news from their area, and at the same time services will combine to keep audiences in touch with important pan-regional issues.

Eh? Oddly, Britton makes no mention of Ofcom’s decision to relax the rules on local news as they apply to ITV. Nor does he mention the slightly cash-strapped nature of ITV’s finances.

Ah well. What’s that the gurus say about blogging? The bit about authenticity of voice?

Presumably, Britton hasn’t ever encountered such gurus. Touting an ‘exciting new onscreen relationship’between Fred Dinenage and Sangeeta Bhabra, he sounds more like a corporate speak-your-weight machine.

This might be tolerated by employees. But viewers are a different species.

Britton’s blog post has so far attracted 379 comments. So far as I can see, every single one is negative.

Sadly, Britton doesn’t seem very interested in responding to the critics. Nor has he perceived that these complaints are actually a token of respect for the local news service viewers used to receive.

After writing that initial post, Meridian’s head of news seems to have high-tailed it. The job of responding appears to have been left to ITV Meridian’s online editor Jonathan Marland. The poor bloke has been visibly overwhelmed.

Kudos, then, to the comment poster called Media Muppet, who makes the following sensible suggestion:

Support Meridian’s talented team while you still can because unless we all start complaining to our MPs soon there won’t be local news outside of the BBC — be it a small or large region.

Hopefully, the unhappiness of viewers might be turned to good account.

If that happens, it will be despite — not because of — the way in which Meridian has handled its viewers’ complaints.

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