Thursday, May 30, 2013

When someone is trying to crack on, do they deserve a kick in the teeth?


 I used to be a journalist (boo, hiss). Am so glad I no longer am. The amount of seriously flawed and biased reporting I see these days disgusts me. I saw an appalling example last night on the BBC. It really struck home to me, since it was about Market Rasen, my old "home town", and featured someone I am proud and privileged to call a friend. 

Before I moved out to France, I had a little "grottage" (formerly a grotty cottage) in the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the much sought-after tiny village of Stainton-le-Vale. I started working as a freelance copywriter for Sarah Lamballe Copywriting, and Sarah became a very great friend.

Market Rasen in those days was like many other small market towns - slowly dying the death. A Tesco on the edge of town was bleeding the lifeblood out of the High Street, footfall was dwindling away to nothing, shops were being boarded up. A familiar picture in many parts of rural Britain.

Then Queen of Shops Mary Portas launched the Portas Pilot project, a chance for towns to bid for a valuable cash injection to encourage High Street regeneration. Little Market Rasen, population 3,230, was one of the smaller towns to try its luck, and was one of the first 12 winners to be announced, beating off competition from 370 towns.

My friend Sarah Lamballe was one of driving forces behind Mr BIG, the Market Rasen Business Improvement Group, whose mission statement is "Crack on." Having lived and worked in Lincolnshire myself for more than 10 years, I know it's not always easy to drive change - the local population, known affectionately as "yellow bellies" are sometimes a little resistant to new initiative.

Improvements were quickly under way. Money was spent on a much needed town tidy. More was invested in regenerating the market, with its lovely character-filled cobbled town square and covered market area. Pop-up markets were held, hugely successful, drawing in people from the surrounding areas and visibly breathing life back into the town. The extraordinary pop-up market prompted Mary Portas herself to tweet: "Truly fabulous, guys."

And when Mary returned to visit the town, she announced her delight at what had been achieved.

So I was really excited to sit down and watch Look North last night to see my friend Sarah being interviewed about the success of the project. Instead I saw her trying hard to set the record straight with facts when being hit with data alleging more shops had actually closed since the Pilot project began.

I've known Sarah for more than 12 years. A person of higher integrity would be harder to find, nor anyone more hard-working, and that can also be said of the many volunteers who have put their all behind this project.

The data presented was flawed and out of date. Some shops have relocated, not closed down. Sarah explained as much to the interviewer before filming began. But it was glossed over - in an attempt to create a "better" story? What a sickener for all those involved.

I've been following the Mr BIG blog with envy, reading of all the wonderful things which are now happening in Rasen. I'm in discussion to use the new BIG corner shop as a retail outlet for Sell the Pig - that's how much I believe in the success of the project. It's not just about opening more shops, it's about putting the heart back into a community, which is certainly what is happening in Market Rasen.

I must be older than I thought. When I trained in journalism at the Harris Institute, Preston, back in the 70s, we were actually expected to get facts for our stories and present evidence for our claims, balanced by full right of reply for both sides. This was just gross misrepresentation of the worst possible kind.

As Sarah told me afterwards: "It's crushing, just so sad for the volunteers who put so much in."

So come on, Look North, here's a challenge. Make public your data, in which you say more shops have closed since the project began, and allow Mr BIG to present their data to show why yours is inaccurate. Surely that's fair?




 

 


 


21 comments:

  1. I have always thought of the BBC as having integrity. Clearly I was wrong and this saddens me. Well done for speaking out and hope they do put the record straight.

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    1. Thank you. It is just so bad, had they allowed proper facts to be presented, it would have put a completely different slant on the piece. But perhaps that's what they were trying to avoid.

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  2. Well said. I hate watching the current spate of 'knocking' hard working people to make up a story programmes.

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    1. Thank you. I can here my late first editor turning in his grave. His favourite phrase was: "It's a publicity stunt" and I think he's right about this one, although goodness why the need for so much mud-slinging.

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  3. Shame on them. I bet the same ones would sell their grandmother for a story.

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  4. Yes, I fear you're absolutely right. So glad to be out of the industry.

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  5. The Beeb have lost it when it comes down to truth, it'll always stretch a lie ! Propaganda with All their programmes :(

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    1. Very true. It's like the night of the long knives for this project, for some reason.

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  6. Time was that Aunty could be relied upon for well informed,factual reporting.
    alas, that all ended years ago...

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    1. Absolutely right, dear, and I don't know why there is such an assassination attempt going on over this project :(

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  7. Thanks you Tots. Really kind of you to get behind your old town and your old pal. It seems everyone wants to knock the Portas Pilots, even those like Market Rasen who against all odds have had some success. Apparently it is BBC Radio 4 You and Yours that shared their 'intel' with local BBC teams but I don't know the source or the dates so it's impossible and unwise to compare without transparent disclosure on their part. I do know lots of what the presenter showed me was sheer nonsense - Priceless is a closure and Jacques Home Hardware an opening. Just ask anyone on the street here and they will tell you it is same business with a name change. We also have several other businesses as both closure and opening - so rather unsurprisingly they are relocations! Sadly they don't include any mention of the many new businesses that have opened (and a couple more that are about to). I had one hour's notice of the interview and walked the high street beforehand to be sure of up to date info, pointed out all the new businesses that have taken over vacants, explained about the new service businesses that have come into town in renovated vacants bringing lunchtime and after work spend. I also told them about the new development by Chestnut Homes that is bringing trade to our various builders merchants as they create 66 new homes in walking distance of high street shops. I spoke to Chestnut Homes yesterday morning and despite Hunters Place only being on the website for a day, they had already received 30 enquiries. We have emailed BBC Look North and our Government representatives but are yet to receive a reply. Will keep you posted!

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    1. Please do. This all smacks of a hidden agenda and it's so rotten for you and Rasen to get caught up in the crossfire like this as I know how hard you have all worked and how much time you in particular have put into it. Bon courage!

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  8. Fiona Jane MarshallMay 30, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    Sarah, I hope its a small comfort to know that despite knowing nothing about you or Market Rasen, I am SO used to being fed half truths and dodgy stats by the BBC, that I KNEW by your positive nature and the things that you said that things were on the up! Your enthusiasm shone and I thought you came over as a really genuine force for onwards and upwards :)

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  9. Such reporting, as well as being dishonest, is hardly likely to encourage economic growth as people will be put off investing their money and efforts in their local high streets x

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  10. I am also absolutely amazed that today's media chooses to voice only negative coverage of any 'story' that comes their way - there never seems to be a 'good news' story. It isn't just factual news that is receiving this treatment - I have also noticed it in sports coverage.

    Well done Market Rasen and Mary Portas (and, of course, Sarah Lamballe!).

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  11. Must just clarify that we are yet to receive a response from Look North but our contacts at Dept for Communities and Local Government are hugely supportive and on the other end of an email day or night. Evidently we're not the only Portas Pilot town disputing the figures so it will be interesting to see what transpires. The challenge as ever is to keep a mood of positivity and confidence - luckily we have an amazing team of volunteers and a wonderful sense of community in Market Rasen so onwards and upwards.

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  12. Thank you everyone for your words of encouragement and kindness, it really helps us to keep the momentum and appetite for innovation.

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