Now Here’s The News From Your Area

Richard Lutz clicks on the tv to see what’s happening on the local news.

What with the deadstop UK economy, the Norway massacre, Amy Winehouse’s death and the trailing clouds of vomit over Murdoch, maybe…just maybe…it’s time to switch over to local news to see what tempts us.

For West Mids readers, let me remind you this means ITV’s Central News at 6pm and BBC’s Midlands Today effort at 6.25.

Local news has been a target of abuse, laughter and high pitched groans ever since God invented the remote control. Last week, in fact, there was even a BBC4 documentary on its past…a snigger here, a muted titter there.
But it is important. It does tell us what- theoretically- has happened in this vast universe called the Midlands  that is home for millions of folks and (in Lincolnshire) a couple of hundred thousand sheep.

I took up notebook and had a go at analysing the product- and as a former tv guy I can say I have a minimal if fast fading insight into all this.

Let’s kick off with Central. Main presenter Bob Warman still has the sheen of a confident Jaguar car dealer and, with his Walsall roots and West Midlands business contacts, knows the patch well. His younger (much younger) reader is Sameena Ali Khan who has been kicking around Birmingham with both ITV and the BBC for quite a while.

Both offer a personal knowledge about the area and their performances, because that is what they deliver, are slick and professional.

Of course, these two (like the Beeb) have no input into what is on the show. That is up to a raft of producers, reporters and editors. Last night, they led on Network Rail’s campaign to stop kids killing themselves on the train tracks; a tale that is known in the trade as  Summer  Fodder. An organisation throws up some good CCTV of possible tragedies, a company bod fronts an interview and, importantly, a person who illustrates a problem is offered up.

Correctly, Central led on the man, now a responsible adult, who was almost killed by mucking about near a rail track when he was a kid.

Second lead was an interview from the parents of Lindsay Hawker- the young woman killed in Japan. Or rather an interview brought in from ITV’s softsoap This Morning show. Passable, Ok-ish and, unfortunately, with nothing to add to the horror of the Japan trial that finished a couple of days ago.

Question: Why weren’t the grieving parents live in the Central studios in Birmingham being interviewed by  Warman or Ali-Khan?

Then a roll out of what is known as ‘mid table’ stories. More on Stafford Hospital and its irresponsible abuses; a quirky tale about a lady (a lucky lady) who fell down a well and then an athlete who broke her back and is now, literally, up and running.

The show ended with something nice and pretty about the Peak District (remember that Central had been forced to include the empty East Midlands in its coverage a couple of years ago) and then a plump juicy promotion about its features concerning the Midlands and the Olympics.

A nice show, perfectly executed, well presented by Bob and Sameena and…well, pretty boring. Nothing stood out. There was no sparkle and, it seemed, the whole team, from the presenters to the backroom boys and girls, were just really waiting for their holidays.

Zip. Over to Midlands Today on the BBC.

Nick Owen still has that rictus smile. Suzanne Virdee, who cut her teeth at Central, chirps along. The identikit older man and younger woman presenting duo. They portray the couple that aren’t a couple, the pair that are not a pair, the hubby and wife that aren’t a…well, you get it.

It’s all slightly creepy.  Stepford Wives on local tv.

Interestingly, their producers and editors had a different news agenda than Central . They led on the regional perspective of the economic standstill. And herein lies the difference between the two shows. Central has always had the aim of telling stories through people. The Beeb has that Reithean goal of educating you (‘You are a viewer. You WILL be educated.’)

This had the effect of literally stopping the show immediately after 3 minutes.

The programme then also did the story about the lady and the well (happily shorter than the Central effort which seemed to interview everyone including the garden gnome in its coverage) and then had a good hard story asbout the M 5 being closed after that lorry crash- a tale that would have effected tens of thousands that Central missed or ignored.

Then it went to Coventry to find out how most kids in hoodies don’t want to rip your head off.

Buried somewhere in MidTableland was the Network Rail stuff.

The show ended with an interminable and un-understandable piece about science where Suzanne, professionally, had to ask the reporter in the studio just what this piece was about. Thank you Suzanne because I hadn’t a clue.

So the two shows covered two stories together but went separate ways on most things. And that is good. It reflects viariety.  But both news shows showed a gleaming lack of imagination or valuable investigations.

Summer can be fun. But it can be a wasteland when it comes to events (except for this incredible summer). And it’s not as if the regional tv producers or editors couldn’t see the season coming. It follows spring year after year.

More effort boys and girls and make us understand our area better.