1. On Saturday The Guardian published a story by Andy Beckett likening the north east of England to Detroit, the U.S. city that famously declared bankruptcy in 2013.
Beckett said the north east of England is “teetering on the brink.” The north east of England seems to disagree.
Since then Beckett’s story has been attacked for generalising and relying on outdated stereotypes that misrepresent what’s actually going on in the region.
Bizarrely, one of the main cruxes of Beckett’s argument relies on a quote from a 1994 book written by a Middlesbrough writer. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” Harry Pearson wrote in ‘The Far Corner’. “Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”
Lots has changed, so much so that the north east of 1994 looks little like the region in 2014.
3. Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, also says she pointed Beckett towards positive aspects of the north east but that didn’t make it into the finished piece.
The article also highlights Wonga’s sponsorship of Newcastle United’s football shirts as “a similarly dispiriting story”. Except that’s not abnormal – plenty of payday lenders back football clubs and that doesn’t instantly mean that their local economies are doomed.
5. The Guardian story also references Lord Howell’s suggestion that the north east contains “large uninhabited and desolate areas” that are prime for fracking.
It’s mentioned in jest, but Beckett seems to forget that Howell later admitted his comments were about the north west, not the north east. And besides, Howell’s comments were debunked in style by Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling when they were first made.
Similarly, the story also implies that it’s bad that the leader of the local development agency is leaving, even though he’s off to run a new bank in the region emplying 120 that last month The Guardian covered positively.
6. Beckett also spent half an hour in mima, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, on a Thursday evening. He says he saw only four other visitors to the gallery.
Thursday nights aren’t usually peak time for art galleries. In reality, around 285 visitors a day visit mima.
The visitor numbers are around a fifth lower than the target set by Middlesbrough Council for the gallery, yes, and that needs to improve to justify local and national funding. But it’s slightly more successful than Beckett implies.
8. But the region still builds things. Quite well. The north east is the only region to run a positive balance of trade.
Its manufacturing sector is worth £7.5 billion, and exports £14 billion-worth of goods every year.
9. Meanwhile, private sector business activity is at a four-year high, say Lloyds Bank, and public sector employers are increasing their presence in the region.
Car manufacturer Nissan regularly reaffirms connection to the region, with a large manufacturing plant based in Sunderland churning out vehicles for global markets. Earlier this year they announced a plan that would bring a further 5,200 jobs to the region by 2017.
10. A petition has been started to ask Andy Beckett to return to the region for a more balanced look at its pros and cons. But part of the problem is that the area is often ignored by the national media.
The local correspondent with in-depth knowledge of his or her geographic patch has become a rarity. Less than 40 years ago The Guardian had 94 journalists based in the north, in its Manchester offices. Now there are just two England-based staff writers outside of London.
As Danny Savage, the BBC’s northern correspondent said earlier this year, it’s best to be based in the region to cover it properly: “A northern correspondent has to live their life here, bring up their family here, and get to know here,” he said. “Locals can spot a non-northerner a mile off and that can count against you.”