The South West somehow needs to find its voice – and fast

Castle Bridge at Finzels Reach in Bristol.

It’s almost 10 years since I moved from Manchester to start a new life in the South West with my family.

I’ve spent time all over the region since 2010, working in every county. I love its culture, quality of life and the opportunities it has offered us.

The South West is an area of contrasts. It’s largely rural, with successful and sought-after cities like Exeter, Bath and Bristol. These cities are brilliant places to live and work, if you have the skills and experience to find employment there – and can afford somewhere to live.

Somerset, where I live, highlights the region’s contrasts. Many people know the county for Glastonbury festival and Europe’s largest construction project at Hinkley Point C, which is worth £50bn to the region over the coming decades. These are very different things, which together make Somerset an attractive destination for many.

There’s shed loads happening here, and we’re proud to play a part in some of this at Social since we set up in the South West. We’ve supported major developments in Bristol and Gloucester. And we helped the region’s nuclear industry raise its national and international profile.

It’s difficult to know if things would be better for us if we lived elsewhere. But, of all the places I’ve lived and worked, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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Media say old habits remain with ‘new’ PR

It’s beyond doubt that PR has changed massively, and continues to do so, thanks to the opportunities created by digital communications and the diversification of traditional media.

CIPR president-elect Stephen Waddington asked a room full of comms people at the South West Communicators’ Conference in Bristol recently how many had bought a newspaper that morning, and only one confirmed that they had. It’s possible that some people in the room were too busy on their tablets or smart phones to realise he was asking them a question. But he had made the key point; that the media is changing rapidly and communicators must respond to this. Many operators in the South West are rising to this challenge with some great work, as Bristol agency Spirit demonstrated with its support for the Gromit Unleashed campaign in the city.

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Plagiarism plagues the press at all levels

Protest the Pope - 23 - Johann Hari vs Benedict
Johann Hari (Photo credit: lewishamdreamer)

The issue of journalists plagiarising content has hit the headlines recently, most notably with the Independent’s Johann Hari last year.

He was derided as the symbol of unethical journalism in the ‘cut and paste’ age for lifting passages from the work of others to embellish his copy. Having made a name for himself by criticising the wrongs of others, the industry was never going to give him a sympathetic hearing once he was found out.

I don’t have sympathy for him either, but the rest of the media is in no position to crow about this practice in my view; what, after all, does that make the press releases regularly published at all levels of the media?  It isn’t plagiarism in the sense that Hari’s activity was, sure. But it is little more than ‘cut and paste’ reporting in many respects.

There are a couple of things recently that have brought this subject closer to home for me and added to my suspicion that this becoming more common.

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Leveson hears from old contact

Martin Salter MP
Martin Salter MP (Photo credit: stopaidscampaign)

I was interested to the read latest from the Leveson Inquiry, which touched on how an old contact Martin Salter was treated by the News of the World when he was my MP in Reading. My old paper the Reading Chronicle reported on his written evidence as part of Labour MP Tom Watson’s appearance at the hearing this week.

Mr Salter has said before that he believes he became an ‘enemy’ of the News of the World for publicly refusing to back its controversial ‘Sarah’s Law’ anti-paedophile campaign in 2000. I worked with Martin on a number of stories at around this time, and remember him explaining his reasons for not backing the campaign to name all convicted paedophiles, stating that it could endanger the children it is intended to protect by driving sex offenders underground.

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Links I like 12.05.05

Reaction to the elected mayor vote in Bristol – various
Well done Bristol for bucking the national trend and voting decisively, if in small numbers, in favour of an elected mayor to lead the city from November. They were the only city to vote yes to the proposal following a pretty low-key campaign on the issue. The Centre for Cities has published some links on the issue, while the Bristol Post’s coverage of the result and early indication of who the runners and riders for Bristol’s first elected mayor has been well-informed, detailed and sharp, as good local journalism should be. Whether the result was an endorsement of the proposal or due to more negative factors is open to question, which The Guardian poses in its leader on the issue today. Having followed the debate, I’m sure many people voted yes because the current council leadership was against the idea. Anti politics and apathy were the biggest winners this week, but all is not lost. Hopefully a new way of doing things in Bristol will start to change that.

Elections – ‘We the council’ – Kevin Jump
‘Webist’ Jump provides insight into the information provided by council websites about this week’s local elections. He concludes that interest in the local elections is high and the correct information is available, but is not entirely useful and lacks focus on the needs of local users. A number of websites in the area I cover at work are included in the survey.

Digital ambition doesn’t hide bad headlines for local press

I can only imagine the reaction of former Johnson Press colleagues when absorbing recent messages from their chief executive Ashley Highfield about the future of the papers they work for.

The ambition to make local news a successful digital product has been talked about for more than a decade, but no regional publisher has yet to make money in this area. So one could be forgiven some scepticism when hearing lines about creating ‘platform neutral’ newsrooms. Mumsnet even gets a mention.

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