The journey so far

We should be fomenting a thriving cacophony of north east magazines, websites, broadcasters and bloggers who are driven by values, not business models, argues Ian Wylie

As we launch our latest, “journey”-themed issue of The Northern Correspondent, now seems a good time to pull over, take stock and chart our journey over the last 12 months.

A “New Yorker for the north east” – that was the rather lofty notion we deployed a year ago to help readers get a handle on the kind of longer-form, slower journalism that we wanted to create and curate about our region. We certainly haven’t scaled the towering heights of the New Yorker (yet) – but to be fair, it took Harold Ross and colleagues more than a few decades to establish their weekly magazine into the international institution it is today. Still… in my humble opinion… The Northern Correspondent is beginning to find its own, unique voice and purpose.

The Northern Correspondent #4 - available now

The Northern Correspondent #4 – available now

Choosing themes such as “cities”, “appetites” and “journeys” means our writers, photographers, illustrators and designers don’t have to follow slavishly the agenda set by others, but instead go looking for stories of real interest and relevance. Our weekly email gives a platform to north east folk with something important to say. And our quarterly events bring all these people together with our readers for some proper conversation.

But we want more. At a time when our region is anticipating the devolution of responsibility, power and autonomy from the capital, north east media ought to be seizing the same opportunities. We should be analysing how our lives and communities in the north east are currently reflected by local and London-centric national media outlets. For better or worse, London still sets the news agenda for much of the reporting about our regions. So if we’re not content with that, how else should we be communicating, reflecting and story-telling the north east’s needs and aspirations?

If the recent general election showed us anything, it’s that in many respects our region is out of sync with the rest of the country. But Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales have begun to show how it might be possible to create new regional identities based on shared regional values. Likewise, I’m convinced that the opportunities and challenges which arise with the decline of traditional, regional media and rise of social media give us an exciting change to consider a fresh, more values-based type of journalism for the north east.

We’ve learned too that, increasingly, no single political party can represent our views and aspirations. In the same way, we’re aware now that no single newspaper or broadcast organisation is able to represent the totality of our opinions and values. And certainly not newspaper groups where the performance of journalists is assessed on page views, unique users. Instead, we should be fomenting a thriving cacophony of local media magazines, websites, broadcasters and bloggers who are driven by values, not business models (although sustainability needs to be something we figure out at a later stage).

The Northern Correspondent wants to be a part of an exciting eco-system like that – and we’re discovering many like minds. Over the last 12 months we’ve unearthed an abundance of talented writers, photographers, illustrators and designers. We’ve been overwhelmed by good will and support. And we’ve found evidence of a real and growing appetite for longer-form, more reflective storytelling, as well as an appreciation for the medium of print that goes beyond mere nostalgia.

But we’ve also come up against some challenges. There is no shortage of people in our region willing to express their ideas and opinions. But we haven’t found so many reporters – the people willing to do the hard graft of seeking out fresh facts and tracking down alternative viewpoints. This essential discipline of reporting is one which local newspapers used to teach, but can sadly no longer resource. We need to find a means of keeping this vital craft alive.

And there’s a deficit of listeners. We have no shortage of people willing to speak at our Northern Conversation events and argue their case. But I’ve not yet seen much evidence of people with the maturity and willingness to also listen, dialogue, compromise and reach agreement. We want to figure out how to “do events” which achieve that.

Are we nearly there yet? No… not even close. Are we going in the right direction? Mmm… I think so. Are we enjoying the journey? Absolutely.

Ian Wylie is editor of The Northern Correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter.

Do you agree with his view of the opportunities and challenges for north east media? Tell us your views in the comments section below – by clicking on the little speech bubble.

(Views expressed on our website and in our magazines and emails are not necessarily endorsed by Northern Correspondent.)


3 thoughts on “The journey so far

  1. Ian Wylie deserves the thanks of all those who care about the North East. The Northern Correspondent has already established itself as a properly public institution and I see no good reasons why it should not go on from strength to strength. In the light of what is happening in Scotland raising the quality and reach of the media in this part of the world is not a luxury it’s an economic and political necessity.

    Ian raises some challenging questions. The one I worry about the most is the absence of serious regional reporting in the North East. People like me can add their comments and arguments but opinions are two a penny. What is, literally, more costly, are proper journalists who can get behind the scenes of the regional power structure. I’m not just talking about local government but the business sector, unions, arts bodies and other groups that are shaping this place. In 2015 even talking in these terms sounds kind of worthy and journalists respond by telling me that people aren’t interested. I don’t buy it: in fact, it’s in those stories where the real drama lies. In the longer term we need publicly funded and regional media that isn’t just a badly funded footnote of the BBC.

    • Congratulations to Ian Wylie and the team at Northern Correspondent on a year of success. I commend the appearance of the magazine and the way the team have sought to place it at the heart of a conversation about the past, present and future. The main achievement of the magazine to date has been to help raise the quality of this debate.

      Ian offers a thoughtful set of remarks about the experience of the past year. In particular, I endorse his emphasis on the need to develop a culture of listening. This is a difficult task but an important one. There are no easy solutions to the issues that confront the region and no person, organisation or sector of society has all the answers – despite the impression they might sometimes give. Intelligent debate is short supply and NC is to be valued as a place where this can occur.

  2. I completely agree with John and Alastair – it’s crazy to think that serious and considered reporting about the North East and other regions just doesn’t exist. It seems that a whole generation of potential reporters and observers in our 20s and 30s have grown up with the expectation that media isn’t within our power (the pay is too low, there are no jobs in journalism, etc); there’s a similar lack of value placed on culture and the arts in general – what with everything having to benefit the economy, etc.

    Anyway, I think NC and Ian’s ambition to make the North East a place with its own voices and industry is really inspiring. Good luck.

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