Why Local News Matters

Should a network station be forced to provide local news?



For anyone thinking that local broadcast news is really just a matter for the BBC, think again. In places like Nottingham, the BBC is fast becoming the only source of local radio news. And frankly it’s a disgrace.

The ridiculous notion of merging Five Live with BBC Local Radio http://http//newsmutt.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/bbc-local-radio-under-threat/ may have  never entered the minds of people had it not been for the actions of certain commercial radio groups.

At the start of 2011, Global Radio – the operators of Trent FM, Leicester Sound and Ram FM,  decided to rebrand the whole lot as Capital FM East Midlands.

In return for reducing the number of locally broadcast programmes to 7 hours per day, Global agreed to provide what the regulator OFCOM terms “enhanced local news” – in other words, hourly bulletins throughout the day, which should be of the following standard :

  • High-quality, relevant, timely and accurate
  • Bulletins should seek to reflect the interests and concerns of listeners living in the area.
  • Local news stories should be up to date and regularly refreshed.
  • Local news bulletins should also feature nations’ (if relevant), UK-wide and international news.
  • The amount of local news, and the balance of local and national news in any particular bulletin, should be subject to professional journalistic judgements, but local news will always be an essential characteristic of a local station’s overall output.
  • Simply localising UK-wide news (e.g. conducting vox pop interviews in one area and playing them out as if from another or inserting local place names into UK-wide stories) without local news / information generation would not be regarded as a contribution towards localness or fulfilling local news requirements.

Source : OFCOM Localness Guidelines

Imagine the surprise, therefore, when the enhanced local news turned out to be 30 second bulletins containing one national, one local and – most importantly – one (compulsory) showbiz story.

Of course, it’s easy enough to say that the target audience of these stations isn’t interested in news. Which is fine, if it were true.

Sure, today’s kids are full of social media and probably don’t regard the radio as their primary source of news. But by the same logic, they wouldn’t regard the radio as their primary source of music, would they?

By contrast, Radio 1 has always offered a news service tailored to its target audience in the form of Newsbeat. if you ever have trouble understanding a complex story, Newsbeat is your friend.

And it doesn’t have to be this way. In its heyday Capital’s news show The Way It Is won multiple awards for its high-quality, relevant, timely and accurate service. And guess what? It had a local feel to it as well.

Times have changed, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s no excuse for not providing a decent news service to your audience, not least when you have the combined reesources of regional newsrooms up and down the country to do it with. Capital claimed it would be a rival to Radio 1. Maybe it should prove it.

Back in the day, its rivals used to jokingly call the London station Crapital. Funny how things turn out.

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