Target town and country in the west

The urban/rural divide in the West Country creates a kaleidoscopic media scene, as Tom Williams reports

Clichés of cream teas, Cornish pasties and cider drinking may still dominate many people's ideas of the West Country, but the media scene in South-West England covers a vast and hugely diverse area, belying those traditional, time-worn images.

It is true that the region has lagged behind the rest of the UK in terms of economic growth, with Devon and Cornwall its poorest spots. But Bristol is a booming example of urban regeneration, with a revamped marina and office developments springing up.

The city is served by the Bristol Evening Post, which enjoys a circulation of 60,394 (ABC Jan-June 2005). The paper also takes in parts of north Somerset and towns such as Portishead, Yate and Chipping Sodbury.

From the same building, Northcliffe Newspapers also produces the more rural Western Daily Press. With a circulation of 45,115 it caters for the areas holidaymakers associate with the West of England, such as Dorset, Devon and the Forest of Dean. But both papers are currently experiencing significant editorial redundancies as parent group Daily Mail & General Trust tries to make them leaner operations ahead of a likely sell-off.

Town and country
The pattern of urban versus rural is repeated across the region. Devon is served by the Western Morning News, while the county's main city, Plymouth, has the Evening Herald and Exeter has the Exeter Express & Echo.

The importance of the South-West's very local media is not lost on broadcasters. Both the BBC and ITV cover the region with two separate news channels. The BBC's nightly Spotlight covers the more rural west of the region, and takes in the Channel Islands. It enjoys the biggest viewing share of any BBC regional news programme, underlying its inhabitants' strength of local identity.

The BBC's Points West programme covers Bristol, Bath, Somerset and Gloucestershire and is the second highest regional audience puller. ITV covers these areas with The West Tonight and Westcountry Live.

Local radio has flourished in the region, targeting younger audiences.
Pop music station Pirate FM has 190,000 listeners per week in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, while the slightly younger GCap Media-owned Gemini FM serves Torbay and Exeter with two separate news offices.

'I would encourage PROs targeting a particular county to contact the journalists we have based there,' counsels BBC Radio Devon's managing editor Robert Wallace.

'A story has to be newsworthy. We are not going to do a piece about a new firm of solicitors in Exeter unless there really is something different about it that will raise our interest,' he adds.

Graham Buckley – founder of Mercury PR in Truro in Cornwall and a former Stroud News reporter – argues that younger, commercial stations are more open than the BBC to stunts, with the latter having an older, arguably higher-brow audience. When promoting a new book on Cornwall's now largely defunct tin-mining industry, for example, Buckley invited Pirate into a working mine. Such a tactic, he says, might not have worked with the BBC.

Plymouth Sound news editor Michaela Richards says her station's listeners are typically aged between 25 and 35.While coverage can be as wide as any local media, touchstone issues include drugs, alcohol and antisocial behaviour.

Buckley maintains that economic growth has been sporadic, and hard times have left the West of England's media hungry for good news stories involving the creation of new jobs.

Environmental issues
Simon Willis, series editor of the BBC's local TV magazine show Inside Out, says his team covers a raft of topics including local heritage and the environment. But he says he never uses information pitched by PROs on the basis that 'there is virtually no trade magazine or publication that I could not get the same information from'.

That said, the West's diverse nature means attitudes are different in the economic hub of Bristol and its more affluent surroundings.

Bristol Evening Post news editor Rob Perkins describes PR as 'manna from heaven' for his paper's business desk, the main point of contact for which is reporter Hugo Berger.

'We are interested in business news and to a certain extent we rely on PROs for that,' says Perkins. 'Particularly if they have a good picture.'

Redundancies at Northcliffe could sever the more established relationships local PROs have with some of its journalists – so a challenge lies ahead in forging new ties. But for those who are willing to do their homework, the changes afoot in the South-West's media could present some interesting opportunities.

Bristol Evening Post
News editor Rob Perkins, business reporter Hugo Berger
0117 934 3333

Western Daily Press
Editor Andy Wright  0117 934 3223 

Evening Herald (Plymouth)
Editor Bill Martin 01752 765529

Western Morning News (Devon)
Editor Richard Best 01752 765538

Exeter Express & Echo
Editor Marc Astley01392 442238

Points West News gathering editor Neil Bennett; output editor Antony Door
0117 974 6877

The West Tonight
News editor
John Alcock 0117 972 2151/2152

Spotlight Output editor Simon Read
01752 229 201

Westcountry Live Head of news
Phil Carrodus 01752 333 329

BBC Radio Bristol
News editor
Liz Parker

BBC Radio Cornwall
Editor Daphne Skinnard 01872 275421
L BBC Radio Devon Managing editor Robert Wallace01752 260 323

Plymouth Sound
News editor Michaela Richards01752 275 600

Gemini FM
Editor Michelle Hosley
Torbay 01803 202 813/
Exeter 01392 354 231

Pirate FM 102.8
News editor Tristan Hunkin 01209 314 314

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