Will Channel 4's move to Leeds make a difference?

There are mixed opinions

1st November 2018

Yesterday, Channel 4 announced that Leeds will become the new location of its national headquarters, with the West Yorkshire city beating out shortlist front-runners such as Birmingham and Greater Manchester.

The channel will keep another headquarters in London, but 200 of its 800 staff are expected to move Leeds in 2019.

It has also announced plans to open “creative hubs” in Bristol and Glasgow in an effort to increase spending on programmes outside the capital by £250m by 2023. Just 35% of its programme budget is currently spent outside London.

Tim Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council was enthusiastic about the news.

Over 30 submissions were received from cities and regions across the UK in the pitching process.

“Leeds put forward a compelling and ambitious strategy for how it could work alongside Channel 4 to further build the strong independent production sector in the city and develop new diverse talent from across the region,” explained Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon in the official press release.

“Locating our national HQ in Leeds enables us to capitalise on a strong and fast-growing independent production sector in cities across the North of England, and also has the potential to unlock growth in the North East and East of the country, an area without a major presence from other national broadcasters.”

No specific site has yet been named as the exact location for the headquarters, which will have a TV studio and Channel 4 news bureau so that the nightly news program can be partly-filmed and anchored from Leeds.  

Grace Holliday, a 28-year-old freelance journalist from Leeds, talked about the importance of having journalists based all around the UK: “Journalism shouldn’t just be covering what is going on in the major cities like London, Birmingham and Bristol. It should be exploring the things happening the entire country over.

“With news, you need journalists in these places to source and then access stories. When it comes to opinion pieces, you can’t develop an authentic, insightful debate around a topic with only southern or London voices. Furthermore, to exclude journalism and voices from outside London implies that those voices come from people who are not worthy of being listened to or acknowledged.”

Media City
Did the BBC’s partial move to Manchester have any major effect on the industry?

The decision to open creative hubs in Bristol and Glasgow was not well-received by everybody, as not all are certain that it will do anything to reduce Channel 4’s London footprint.

“Hopefully it’s a positive, but the BBC’s part-relocation to Manchester hasn’t really had the biggest impact,” said 28-year-old freelance journalist James Oddy. “The news cycle will still be driven by the South East. Until that isn’t the case, I’m not sure we’ll see a massive shift.

“I don’t blame journalists for having a London-centric view, but there is certainly a bubble which alienates readers and viewers. Austerity in West Yorkshire, for example, means something completely different to people living in [London postcode area] SW1.”

Oddy felt the announcement highlighted how tough it is to succeed in journalism if you live outside London.

“[Not working in London] has been a huge deterrent for me,” he said. “I feel that I’ve had to carve out every opportunity I’ve ever had. Despite doing that successfully, the chance of gaining a full-time income from writing seems impossible — so much so that I’ve began training as a teacher, with writing essentially now a hobby.”

Between what Channel 4 is calling its “All 4 the UK” move and MediaCity in Salford Quays, the future of journalism outside the London bubble is looking at least somewhat brighter.

1st November 2018