A few years ago, I decided to add a bit of comedy to a speech I made at the NUJ conference. Those unfamiliar with such settings probably see the whole event as a joke, but anyhow. Reflecting on the increasing editorial patches of ITV News regions, I ran around the conference hall to demonstrate the extra distance reporters were having to travel just to get a “local” story.
It was uncannily prophetic, ITV quickly set about merging regional news programmes across the East and West Midlands, the Westcountry and Bristol and Border and Tyne Tees. Harsh economic pressures had forced cutbacks.
So surely I should be welcoming this week’s confirmation from the regulator OFCOM that ITV is to reintroduce some of the smaller regions and once again provide local news? If only it were that simple .
On the plus side, OFCOM announces that every ITV region will retain a 30 minute news show on weekdays. Except that most regions are being allowed to reduce the news content to just 20 minutes. So how does that work?
Industry sources have told me that the remaining 10 minutes will consist of filler items, possibly from other regions. If it’s good enough for Newcastle, it’s good enough for Nottingham. This is actually a worse situation than we have now – when at least the shared material is from somewhere in the Midlands.
Curiously, London, Granada and tiny Border TV are all being forced by the regulator to retain the full half hour, on the basis that distinctive audiences in certain patches demand more local news. So of OFCOM thinks that people rate local content in those three areas, why not the others?
In my view, this is a classic corporate sleight of hand. ITV gives a “commitment” to more localised news – just like the good old days of the 1980s and 90s – and in return the regulator shaves ten minutes a night off the peak time local content quota. Look more closely at OFCOM’s statement and you’ll also see significant cuts to weekday lunchtime and weekend bulletins. In all, each region loses over an hour of local news every week. What’s more, it’s likely that many of the “sub regional ” programmes will be pre-recorded, as many are now.
Curiously, these revised arrangements could be good news to the new ultra local TV channels which are due to launch in 2014. Companies like Notts TV have a strong remit to provide a significant amount of local news – possibly more than ITV.
That might well make Channel 8 an attractive alternative to some viewers.