Obsessive: Fascination with the weather leaving Britain ‘high and dry’


#UKStorm2013 is the hashtag being used by thousands, including Downing Street, to archive the plight of Britain. Our fascination with the weather. It has been dubbed the “worst storm for years” yet in reality it feels very much like the biannual occurrence of high winds and heavy rain. British media aims to reach to so many and so you could be forgiven for thinking nothing else has happened over the past 24 hours. Some websites have even produced maps so that viewers can “track the storm”. Worse than all, it isn’t just the ‘storm’ that will bring down Britain. Any peak of any weather type seems to grind Britain and her economy to an unflattering halt.

As some commentators observed, the motion of cancelling rail services before the storm had even arrived, had similarities to caving in before the worst arrived; others suggested it wasn’t typical of the British to simply give in, in the face of ‘adverse’ weather conditions. But that is what happened. By 5pm Sunday evening, the majority of train services in the South (before 9am) had already been cancelled, leaving rush hour commuters in chaos and stranded at home. Fallen trees, flooded lines and dangerously high winds had been predicted and predicted correct they were. An empty passenger train was hit by a falling tree, whilst power cables on lines in and out London’s busiest stations have been brought down, leaving many commuters, those as far as the North West and beyond receiving the effects of the weather that the South had suffered with overnight. It is a similar story when every type of poor weather conditions hit Britain. The rail network instantly crumbles, costing the industry millions of pounds worth of delays and cancellations, thousands of pounds worth of customer refunds and exchanges, and unimaginable amounts to Britain’s economy.

As is with the anticipation and subsequent arrival of any weather news, journalists and reporters are sent out into the depths of Britain to gain a true understanding as to how people are coping in the face of abject misery. Although many are suffering, with thousands of homes without power and schools closed, what humour can be gained is served from digital news channels. There is something eerily strange about an empty Victoria Station at the height of the Monday rush hour; for those who arrived only to find their trains cancelled, comments such as “I’m considering getting a taxi” may beg the question as to whether it is actually news. A cameraman being blown over on a beach by the force of the winds is more you’ve been framed than Sky News, whilst the drenched appearance of a journalist amongst the weather questions the safety of BBC reporters.

Some of the topics discussed during the out of ordinary weather conditions seem to be rather nonsensical. BBC Local Radio have been requesting people to email, tweet them or phone them if they have lost power in their home. Some reporters have turned consumer advisor, telling people how to cope in the weather ahead of the apparent end of the world. Coastguards have warned of the dangers of being near the coasts and so nearly every journalist covering the natural event has headed to the coast. Every breath taken by somebody covering the story seems to be point blank obvious to the extent where it becomes funny.

For hour upon hour, TV news channels tell the same story. Amongst the warnings issued, even with Downing Street advice, include not to travel. It is always a bizarre statement. How are we not to travel? In the face of such acts from above, Britain cannot just grind to a halt and wait for the rain to pass by. It is completely and utterly unviable. Over one hundred flights cancelled at Heathrow is perhaps understandable, as is the cancellation of cross-channel ferry is such rough conditions. How can motorists travelling the United Kingdom simply give in? If everybody did take advice on driving slower and taking more time for journeys then we would be in a pleasant environment. Arrogant drivers who appear in a completely different environment to everybody else are those who cause danger and death. There are still ways of keeping Britain going in the face of wind and rain.

It isn’t just the #UKStorm2013 that has got TV news gripped. The snow troubles advise thousands to simply sit tight and wait. The same footage of sliding cars, closed schools, snowy fields and disrupted airports are unimaginatively churned out every time. At the other end of the calendar lies unexpected warm weather which causes disruption, oddly. Buckled railway lines, melting roads and warnings of stay indoors and drink lots of water feels very much like a political nanny state recycled again through news bulletins. Whatever the weather, 24 hour news channels will cover events. It isn’t news, we all know. Yet there is some kind of trepidation and enigma of seeing somewhere feeling the force of the weather compared to your own comforts which are unaffected.

The fascination with our weather is unexplainable. 24 hour news feeds our habit and keeps us at home away from working and doing what we must do. Double page spreads of huge waves ‘battering’ the coast will surface in tomorrows newspapers, to further serialize the drama. The ‘storm’ may be in its full power, but Britain remains on this side of the Atlantic, so it’s not the worst…yet.

‘Educating Yorkshire’ highlights true admiration for our teachers

“Teachers have walked out in a dispute over pay and pensions…” It’s a phrase we hear all too often in our newspapers and on our television screens. You could be forgiven for thinking teachers have had an easy ride over the past years, with squeezes on pay, pensions, demand of work and conditions. Channel 4’s ‘Educating’ series, this year based in Yorkshire, has highlighted the real wealth of admiration our teachers across the land deserve. Teachers in the United Kingdom need more recognition.

Following the success of previous series ‘Educating Essex’, this 2013 observational documentary focussed on a failing school, Thornhill Academy, in Yorkshire. The course of the series laid bare the failures of the school and how head teacher, Mr Mitchell, represented as a hero amongst society, aimed to turn the fortunes of the school around. Indeed, he succeeded. Throughout, the head insisted he believes the success of the school should be based on whether his students are polite, respectful and prepared young adults ready for the ‘real world’. Regardless of exam results, if the school does not prepare the students for work and life beyond education, in his own words, Mr Mitchell said “we have failed them.”

The welfare of our students has become a top priority in the United Kingdom. Reports of abuse, neglect and failings amongst local councils have hit the headlines, suggesting children are at “risk”. Throughout the ‘Educating Yorkshire’ series, the overwhelming sense was that the school, any school, is a sanctuary. A place for young people to go, be fed, be taught and be safe. Certainly through my experiences, school is a family, a community, being encouraged to work to the best of your ability because that is a good thing. Today, much of our education system has seen u-turns and constant focus on results.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has made a number of decisions that have shown lack of insight into our modern students and teacher abilities. The desire to scrap modular exams and coursework in favour of a single end of year exam has received little support from those in the profession. Students told Labour Leader Ed Miliband, in Warrington earlier this month, they felt stressed and uneasy that these exams could replace a system that allows students strengths and weaknesses to be explored. Proposed changes to the GCSE and A Level courses, only to be scrapped, have led head teachers to warn that the education and curriculum are becoming a maze of confusion with teachers unable to plan and priorities changing very often.

The Thornhill Academy may not be the best school in the country producing top results, but throughout the pioneering documentary, the sense of students being encouraged to reach their own personal targets has been most uplifting. Stereotypically, some may say, the students come from diverse backgrounds. It takes a real inspirational individual to encourage them to do well. Last night, the final programme in the series was eye-watering. Whilst many students prepared for their final exams, there was one student and teacher who were the limelight. A shining example of why so much recognition is needed for teachers.

Musharaf Ashgar, referred to as ‘Mushy’, was shown struggling with a stammer described as “one of the worst” by his teachers. The frustration on the face of the year 11 student was apparent as he struggled to get any words out ahead of his final speaking exam. The tale of his bullying and determination to overcome the obstacles in his way was moving beyond words. The support from his head of year and other liaison staff dictated how hard, how supportive and how encouraging our teachers are. The true moment of inspiration was in the form of English teacher, Matthew Burton, who, in the face of tackling Mushy’s stammer, referred to movie The Kings Speech, encouraging the Year 11 student to listen to music and speak at the same time. It was a moment of unanimous joy. For one of the first moment in a life time, Musharaf read aloud, confidently, his speaking exam.

Speaking in his final assembly, with a pair of white headphones, Musharaf thanked his friends, colleagues and teachers for their help in “finding his voice”. For those teachers who had built a rapport with the student from the moment he stepped foot in the school door, the tears and faces were of pride, joy and profound happiness that their student had overcome his speech disorder. As his friends were moved in the audience of his warming speech, so were the viewers of a programme that had brought emotion to so many. Thousands turned to Twitter to express their overpowering sense of sentiment that a thirty year old male English teacher could inspire and help a young man overcome a disorder that had ruled his life for so very long.

The entire last programme featured Mr Burton helping his less than motivated year 11 English class. His charm, cheekiness, humorous yet authoritative role as the teacher helped bridged the gap and created common ground between student and teacher. His methods of active learning, encouraging students to rhythmically understand certain linguistic functions and assisting each individual with their personal needs shows how inspirational teachers are. In result, Musharaf gained his C grade, as did the majority in his class. Yes, the results speak for themselves, but keeping a challenging group of students in awe of English is another thing. Truly remarkable.

Often, when teaching unions go on strike, there is much criticism that they are harming our children’s education, destroying the economy and causing unnecessary disruption. The ‘Educating Yorkshire’ series has highlighted a number of clear issues. Teachers are not just teachers. They are carers, listeners, helpers and motivators. The programme highlighted bullying, gang trouble, family issues and relationship trouble. Our teachers may not be experts in every field, but they certainly have experience. They do go beyond the needs of the classroom. Go beyond the call of duty was vast. Not many other professions seek to stay behind after school helping children with their educational needs. Not many professionals would go to work when visibly very ill indeed. Above all, our teachers help inspire a generation. Without Mr Burton, Musharaf would still be seeking to overcome his stammer. Many will say it was not the way to treat the speech problem. It worked.

I admire Channel 4 for their ground-breaking and perceptive documentaries. For many parents what happens in school stays in school. Very little is given away by the children. This documentary shows exactly what goes on inside school. Not all brilliant, but the emphasis, enthusiasm and care our teachers give in what is, at times, a challenging environment, cannot be questioned. Teachers in the UK deserve admiration and applause.

Why news at breakfast really does matter

At the time it was a pioneering moment. Broadcasting news and having journalists report on national, international and regional stories. It is difficult to think of waking up without some programme providing an early morning dose of headlines and information. There was a time, however. Today, the market for breakfast television is greater than ever before. The consequence is a decline in viewers of early morning television journalism.

Our busier way of life, the increasing demands of work and economy, and demanding childcare has confidently led to dwindle in the number of viewers who want news at breakfast. It’s very much a subconscious thing. Automatically, many households head straight to a news programme. Ensuring children and pets are fed and cleaned, getting to school and work on time are the tasks that become mundane and routine. Journalism and news are simply background to the lifestyle that so many lead and it can become very easy to either avoid news or simply take these programmes for granted.

In its greater and younger life, ITV’s breakfast offering, GMTV, managed to inform, entertain and connect with the millions of loyal viewers who regularly watched the award winning programme. Today, it’s successor, Daybreak, averages less than one million viewers a day. A sharp decline. Even before ITV took full control of its breakfast content, journalism on GMTV wasn’t groundbreaking. Reports were short, often gimmicky and a bit ‘cheap’ compared to other options. However, as it attracted an overwhelmingly large audience, politicians ensured GMTV was a regular for any interview. Although not having a strong journalistic background, the connection and rapport between presenters and audience paved the way for interviews that were truthful, honest and audience orientated. Perhaps tacky around the edges, but the balances between news, celebrity and real lives made GMTV somewhat the must watch breakfast programme. An understated and less pompous approach to journalism which clearly is what the audience wanted.

The demise of GMTV was partly down to its own making. Accusations of fraud and misleading viewers in competitions led many of its loyal and regular viewers away. The demise of the programme had begun. At the same time, the BBC’s traditional hard news approach to early morning viewers was about to change.

BBC Breakfast

BBC Breakfast

When it comes to searching for reliable news, business and regional news updates, viewers seem to intuitively choose the BBC over other rivals. It was the ‘beeb’ who began the breakfast phenomena in 1983. Soon, the format changed to desk based news, attracting a substantially smaller audience than the more family orientated GMTV. It could, therefore, be presumed that even back in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, perceptions of news and hard journalism were ‘boring’, similar to some modern day ideas. Today, the BBC’s Breakfast programme captures little over 1.5 million viewers compared to ITV’s Daybreak 700,000. The programme is now completely sofa based and mixes viewer interest with the news and sport headlines until 8:30 when the focus shifts to entertainment and culture.

To me, there is something universally exciting, exhilarating and attractive about waking up to an unexpected breaking news story. Certainly the moment I heard about Michael Jackson’s death via BBC News or the rescue of the Chilean miners are amongst the stories that represent the absolute need for news at breakfast time. However, as numbers for programmes such as Breakfast, Daybreak and Sunrise all fall short of past lives, the facts show a change in the way we, as viewers, receive our news.

Viewer habits have certainly changed considerably. Gone are days of national newspapers over cereal, in are the days of watching virtually anything on TV. Given the increased demand of work and childcare, there is much criticism of television journalism in the early morning. Clearly BBC Breakfast proves to be a successful formula of news and entertainment (with a mix of light hearted features) yet there was much scepticism when the programme left London bound for Media City, Salford. Some suggest the quality of the programme has deteriorated and it is true that there is less ‘newsier’ content than in years gone by, however the overall feel of the morning programme feels identical, if not better and stronger, than when it was homed in the Capital. The idea in bringing in less news and more features represents viewer interests. It may feel like endless padding to fill the programme with content, but it is a more friendly approach to journalism that viewers want. The One Show represents a popular magazine programme with some journalistic content; it seems many of our breakfast providers want to follow this route in hope of attracting a large audience, at times forgetting the real reason behind their own early morning programmes.

For many, the news represents a dark outlook, at times bias, and at others completely downbeat. Yet if we consider it a bit more, the news often shapes the day that will follow. Morning conversations, in work or elsewhere, relate to what the days news agenda is built of. The news, of which we all have opinion, not only builds our days, but often shape our lives. Certainly for those like me, aspiring journalists, breakfast news programmes provide a strong base for experienced and new talent.

As rumours circulate that ITV could be about to once again revamp its breakfast output, it’s hard not to think about the alternatives to core news and journalism at such an early hour. The slide in ratings is more to do with a tarnished brand rather than the formula and content of the programme; ITV has become the provider of light entertainment held together with a small amount of news. Perhaps that is the problem. For those who don’t choose to watch the comedy offering on Channel 4, or digital news on Sky, there is not much else to offer. ITV’s timeslots can often change and are regularly governed by advert breaks, breaking traditions of regular news in a regular timeslot. Unfortunately, the commercial broadcaster doesn’t offer enough journalism to keep an audience interested. Regional news is less than three minutes an hour and the programme has often been dubbed ‘gossip-break’ given the lack of real, credible news. At breakfast, the BBC still remains the strong and professional broadcaster, despite criticisms of bias and unfair representations.

That’s not to say ITV should give up. Its output on the national ITV News is, at times, more balanced and in depth than the BBC. Investigative journalism has governed the ITN newsroom in recent months and the quality of journalists, presenters and editors has grown significantly. A programme with the content of what ITV has built up would be a real rival to other news providers.

Breakfast television is more a psychology subject. Questions need to be asked about what viewers expect, how long viewers can stay interested and what type of journalism they are after. To simply give up on breakfast journalism would be a tragedy. Yes, early morning news is not made up of the brand leading investigative reports, but why should it be. At that time of the morning, a summarising description of what is happening around the globe is enough. A viewer can feed on what they have learnt for an entire day.

Look at radio journalism and its increased popularity. The Chris Evans Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 attracts more viewers than both BBC1 and ITV combined. His show, a mixture of magazine, interest and interviews, strikes a core balance amongst those early morning drivers. Further evidence of a shift in lifestyle. News summaries every half hour are just the right length for the average listener and the Evans approach of news commentary certainly gains a laugh in places and applause in others. It is perhaps a clear perception that radio journalism is more popular, if not more accessible, than television journalism. Chris Evans’ lighter approach to the news must be a ratings winner, again showing that viewers do want a mixture in their media content.

Subconsciously, news has become a part of day-to-day life. Notifications on social media and mobile telephones alert the breaking headlines. Conversation on national and local radio often integrate news and information. In the 21st century, it is difficult to escape from any kind of journalism.

Whatever a viewer thinks about breakfast journalism and whether news should be shown or heard over tea and toast, for many the first connection of the day is the news at breakfast. It is a live broadcast in the sense that the news breaks as the programme airs. The energy and trepidation of the journalists that bring the headlines is all too apparent. As many strive to strike the right balance, for many the news at any time of the day is a must avoid. Yet, consider how empty a day would feel without a burst of information on world events. Breakfast journalism matters.

Ed Miliband in Warrington

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.

Labour leader Ed Miliband began his shift from leader of opposition to his dreams of future Prime Minister with a visit to Warrington on Friday with promises to the town’s people.

Soon after what had been acclaimed an “impressive” party conference, in which Labour reaffirmed its supporting policies for the most vulnerable in society, the leader toured the North West promoting the party promise of freezing gas and electricity prices as energy firms continue to increase tariffs despite reporting huge profits. Miliband’s visit to Warrington was certainly made high profile by his arrival; a media scrum dashed any hopes of a quiet entrance yet the party leader certainly ensured the voters were at the heart of his campaign.

The little over an hour Mr Miliband was in the town’s Stockton Heath Morrisons store certainly made convincing reading for any political analyst. Concerned, sympathetic and humorous are some of the traits I identified in my first meeting with the politician. Noting the importance of Warrington in party politics, in-particular the Warrington South seat, Miliband began with pledges to abolish the controversial bedroom tax if his party is elected at the 2015 general election. Describing it as a “hateful tax”, so called ‘hedge cuts’ will be removed to fund for the abolition. The concern I see at present is that the abolishing of the tax seems like Labour’s one shot wonder; it takes pride of place in their manifesto and the leader’s emphasis on the decision makes it seem like there is little else to offer the ordinary voter. The abolishing of a divisive tax will impress many of those in Warrington who are ‘feeling the pinch’ as the cost of living keeps on rising, but there was little confirmation on how the party aims to crack down on those who actively cheat the benefit and taxation system.

From one controversy to another, I tackled Ed Miliband on the HS2 project which will introduce high speed rail between London, Manchester and Leeds. I questioned what many believe is a waste of government spending, worth the best part of £50bn, and whether more of that fund should be spent on existing overcrowded networks and improving the quality of services. Mr Miliband told me he “was in support of introducing high speed rail to this country” yet added “more investment” was needed for the current infrastructure, paving the way for more trains in and around Warrington, as well as more projects including electrification of more lines across the region. For Warrington, the building of the Omega business site has begun and promises to be a leading European hub. Yet it seems incredibly bewildering that the UK’s proposed high speed network will not serve the town. A “review” of HS2 has been promised by the Labour party which could see benefits to the growth of our local economy or the scrapping of the highly controversial project.

Economic growth is on all party manifestos and certainly both the Conservatives and Labour have helped many of Warrington’s unemployed get into or back into work. The Warrington South seat is a marginal and vital swing seat for the outcome of an election. I have been told by Labour Party sources that parliamentary candidate Nick Bent “will” win the seat. Mr Miliband’s visit to the town certainly won’t be the last and it certainly won’t be the end of high profile government figures visiting the town. But what about his pledges to the issues that have concerned Warrington residents?

High on the agenda of those who were at the meeting was social care. Many acknowledged that under the current coalition and previous Labour governments there had been not enough support and recognition for social workers who are on the frontline of protecting vulnerable residents of the town. Mr Miliband pledged that his party would “raise the status of the profession” and that there would be confident “defending” of the role of social workers. However, with even the Department of Health admitting it cannot afford a 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England, the future for all departments and local governments in raising the profile of such frontline work seems bleak.

Keeping children safe is key for any government and in his promises the leader said more must be done to allow parents to work and look after their children. The current 15 hours of free childcare will increase to 25, making it “better for parents” said Miliband. He questioned how any parent can look after children and work. Explaining that the levy on banks will increase, the party leader ensured that those who can afford to pay higher levy’s will. For those children already in education, Ed Miliband was confronted by a large group of young people from a mixture of Warrington’s Further Education and Sixth Form colleges. When told how students feel “stressed” at the thought of ‘end of year exams’, the leader turned to the crowd in a simple yet important show of hands. 100% of those at the event agreed that modular exams and coursework will benefit students and the leader certainly agreed, confirming he “would look to change” the decision made by Education Secretary Michael Gove whom Mr Miliband had described as a man believing “education is for a few people not everybody”. Miliband also added that politics needed to be added to the curriculum in a bid to engage more young people with local government how decisions made in Westminster affect everybody.

On the topic of employment, the ‘zero hour’ contracts in some work places were described as “wrong” by the Labour leader, before launching a rather child-like impression to declare that hosts Morrisons were “good employers”. Certainly true yet it felt rather cheesy and desperate from a man faring well in opinion polls. More would be done to ensure regular hours meant a regular contract for thousands of employees. When questioned as to how he would improve the so called “demoralising” experience of job centres, Ed Miliband began by suggesting that the Conservatives lead people to believe that those on the “dole” and in job centres are “scroungers”; he confirmed that under a Labour government, these people would have “support not criticism” when looking for jobs. A comment that was welcomed by the Labour grown crowd.

Many of the policies that Mr Miliband talks about are in touch with Warrington. The vast majority of those students and adults alike who attended gave rapturous applause to promises of raising the stigma of mental health and ensuring each individual family are given tax breaks. For me, as an aspiring journalist, his character was certainly warm and genuine; that was the feeling amongst many I spoke to after the event. Back in 2010 when he was first elected, much of the media was critical toward his stance and appeal, yet from beneath the shadows has grown a man who looks, acts and feels like a Prime Minister in waiting.

Certainly the visit of the Labour leader was exciting for an ordinary Friday morning. Recent weeks have seen Ed Miliband roll from beneath the carpet and into the front of political debate. The Labour party conference was a success by any means and the row between the leader and The Daily Mail took any hope of interest the Prime Minister had wished for away from his party meeting. The way in which Miliband has attacked the media has shown the growth from a timid character to a powerful opposition to David Cameron. His visit to Warrington was engaging and full of promises. Although, he was one of the first to pledge his support to the Warrington Wolves in their final over the weekend, Mr Miliband will be hoping his dreams of success do not go in the same sour direction.

National Trust’s Big Brother Embarrassment


Without doubt it has changed the landscape of television culture and has circled many conversations, but is Big Brother, more specifically ‘The Big Brother House’ worthy of National Trust status? The charity acquired the property on the Elstree Studio complex last weekend for two days, allowing members of the public to step in the footsteps of many Z-list celebrities who have appeared on the programme since its launch in 2000.

Bosses at The National Trust stated that the house is “special” whilst adding that the programme has become a part of culture in the UK. The press release for the announcement actually stated that by opening the house it could pave the way for a “wittier” future for The National Trust. Hardly to be welcomed by many of its long-standing members, stereotypically an older, more intelligent individual.

There is no concern that Big Brother’s infamous house is a part of a celebrity and TV culture in the UK. Big Brother undoubtedly began over a decade of reality television; the same television flair we are accustomed to today. The television certainly has its followers with million tuning in every week for their programmes; having visited television studios, there is some kind of excitement and suspense when standing on a set of a programme you have seen broadcast to many millions of viewers. The National Trust certainly seems to be moving with modern times, encouraging more and specifically younger people to join the charity. But the house seen by so many millions seems out of place alongside properties of real history and heritage.

Whilst many enjoy the reality brainwasher, the show is not unfamiliar with controversy. Scenes that saw MP George Galloway parade the house in a red leotard are certainly an embarrassment and cowering, whilst more seriously the programme has been associated with racism following allegations of bullying involving the late Jade Goody and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. It does, therefore, gallivant the mind as to why people would want to walk in the footsteps of such controversy. The trust certainly seem to have lost their edge and perhaps credibility from allowing members to visit history rather than a modern TV programme. But if this is the road that the UK’s National Trust wants to head down, why start with Big Brother?

The recent closure of the BBC’s Television Centre in West London is of real heritage. Creating some of the UK’s best known programmes including The Two Ronnies, Blue Peter and Parkinson, the centre has welcomed political leaders, world-famous stars and even transformed, on numerous occasion, into an event host itself. Iconic is the only real word to describe TVC. Built and in operation for over 50 years, there has been a vast amount of history and heritage created in that very building.

Today, production of the next generation of iconic television programmes has moved away from the studios that have brought BBC News to TV screens across the world to new homes including Media City UK and New Broadcasting House in Central London. TV Centre has been sold on and the end of an era has arrived upon us. The National Trust could have taken a giant leap in its appeal to a new market by acquiring the iconic BBC headquarters rather than a flimsy reality TV show.

Saying that, the 500 tickets that went on sale were snapped up by members of the trust within an hour, according to The National Trust. Karl Smith, executive producer of the show, said it was a great idea to link up the show and charity, however, former MP and culture figure Ann Widdecombe said the idea was “ridiculous”.

There is no doubt that the TV and celebrity culture is becoming the norm within UK society and many charities, such as The National Trust have to adapt to welcome those with new and evolving interests. Perhaps the trust could have avoided embarrassment and controversy by choosing a setting slightly less divisive as their marker for the way forward.