When Channel 4 announced its decision to look for new headquarters outside London it felt like a step forward in recognising that perhaps the rest of the country deserves to have something good on its doorstep. For a broadcaster that prides itself on its mission of diversity and inclusion, moving out of the capital seemed only right.
London isn’t the be-all and end-all, but for too long it has benefited from a brain drain that has sent graduates flocking down south to chase careers in the media. For years those wanting to pursue jobs in TV have had to accept the likelihood of having to move to London, whether they like it or not, and whether or not they can afford it – although the BBC’s presence in Salford did change that to a degree. It’s about time something changed.
In October it was announced Leeds would be Channel 4’s new home. It was an unlikely winner. It was presumed MediaCity would make Greater Manchester a natural frontrunner, while others thought Birmingham’s close proximity to London made it the best candidate.
But no, it was Leeds, a city that is already home to a number of independent production companies such as True North and Rollem, that was rightly handed the privilege.
Up to 300 Channel 4 staff are expected to move north late next year, with the broadcaster setting up home in a former nightclub in the city centre. The problem? Hardly any of the staff want to move.
Last week Channel 4 revealed it is expecting up to 90 per cent of its northbound staff to take redundancy rather than set up home in Leeds. Understandably those with dual incomes and families are unlikely to want to up sticks, but surely those with real ties to London don’t make up 90 per cent of the workforce. I want to know what’s putting them off.
London is great and all that, but have you ever tried travelling to work in under 30 minutes? And have you ever survived a whole year without coming down with a chest infection? What about getting a seat on public transport, or buying a house for less than £150,000?
These things are all possibilities in the north, where contrary to popular opinion we also have vegan cafes, turmeric lattes and even McDonalds.
I’ve worked in a number of offices in the capital where fellow journalists have admitted they have never ventured north. One well-meaning person even asked me if we had an H&M in Manchester. It seems the London bubble isn’t just having a detrimental effect on the rest of the country – it’s not doing those who reside in it any favours either.
If we’re serious about fixing the north-south divide, equal representation in the media is a good place to start. The north is brimming with stories that need to be told, yet local newspapers are on the decline and just one national newspaper – the Sunday Sport – is based here. This is a disaster for democracy, and the high concentration of media outlets in London isn’t great for social mobility either. It’s hard to make a name for yourself in the media without committing to at least one unpaid internship, and not having an auntie who can put you up in central London for three weeks can be a challenge.
Of course an influx of talent from London is always welcome, but if a life up north is really such a grim thought for some, Channel 4 needn’t worry – we have plenty of talent of our own.