Thursday, July 25, 2024
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An all tweeting general election

by Justin Kings
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Media consultant Justin Kings has a sneak preview of radio’s election coverage, with an emphasis on putting listeners at the centre of it.

So, how would your station cover the election of Prime Minister Cameron?

We may or may not get a new government but one thing I know for sure is that general election planning has been underway for months for many editors.

You can expect some bold ideas – I have a preview of some of them here – because landmark stories like these give a station the chance to prove what it is made of. (There has already been one example in 2010 with the weather.)

For the first time, listeners will get to hear the three party leaders debate the big issues as they have agreed in principle to three, live televised face offs.

I understand that two of these three, on the BBC and Sky News, will be made available to radio to simulcast. Of course, this does not prevent a single radio station trying to secure its own exclusive debate. I would be surprised, for example, if LBC 97.3 has not put in a bid in an attempt to mimic the candidates’ debates broadcast during the last London Mayoral Election.

LBC’s Programme Director and Group News Editor for Global Radio, Jonathan Richards is keeping his plans in the file marked ‘Top Secret’ for the time being. BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat and GMG Radio have revealed a little of what they have in store though. They of course target different audiences but their plans have something in common – to put listeners at the centre of their coverage.

GMG’s Head of News, James Rea told me his teams are currently busy plotting where reporters need to be heading: “The Real Radio stations are working out their swing seats and crunch counts where, across the campaign, we’ll be talking to ‘real’ people to get instant on the ground reaction to all the twists and turns.”

I think hearing listeners interpret events helps hugely in making a story like this relevant to the listeners back home and I like Newsbeat’s plan to engage the youth audience.

Tom Bateman is heading up the election coverage: “BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat and 1Xtra News will be taking their inflatable election sofa around the UK and sitting their listeners down to talk about the issues that matter to them. We'll be finding out what first time voters are thinking and saying, and we'll be putting listener interaction and social media at the heart of our coverage.”

I find the social media angle to this election particularly exciting. This is the first General Election in the twitter age and it provides radio the chance to offer a new, inclusive commentary.

A successful example happened last year when CNN teamed up with facebook to cover President Obama’s big inauguration event. Facebook users were able to log on via the CNN website. A live, rolling feed of their comments then appeared next to live video coverage of the event. (This is part of the facebook Connect service.)

An average of 8,500 remarks was posted during Obama’s speech, providing ‘real’ commentary of the historic event. Again, this was an attempt to put the audience at the centre of coverage.

Don’t get me wrong. Listeners still need good quality radio journalism, hopefully making sense of what is happening and what it means to the listener. For example, Steve Hothersall, News Editor at Radio City, and his colleague John Pickford, News Editor at Key 103 tell me their focus is on providing local cover for breakfast bulletins the morning after the election.

However, anything new – like social media – gives broadcast journalists and producers the chance to think differently and I am all for that.

[i]Justin Kings runs newsleader media consultancy. Previously, he oversaw news and programmes at BBC London 94.9 and spent almost 12 years at Capital Radio.[/i]

You can read Justin’s thoughts on how the party leaders debates will work on commercial radio by visiting his [link=]blog[/link].

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